How Not To Be Afraid
Have you ever heard the advice, “Do one thing that scares you every day”? This is actually a famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt.
The first time I heard this quote, I was like, “Huh?” Why would you purposefully set out to do something you’re AFRAID of? EVERY day?
But then I started thinking about it and it occurred to me that doing things you’re afraid to do is the best way to get over being afraid of them.
Like I am actually afraid of speaking in public (not of acting in plays, but of speaking AS MYSELF, not hiding behind a character).
But when I learned I would have to do that a lot as an author, I signed up to do ALL these speaking events in schools. Not because I’m a masochist and I wanted to torture myself, but because it made sense to me that, with practice, maybe I would get used to speaking in public, and it wouldn’t be so scary anymore.
And it worked. Public speaking is no longer that big a deal to me (well, I don’t actually LIKE it, but once you’ve addressed an auditorium full of rowdy eighth graders, a few readers in a bookstore—who are there voluntarily and actually WANT to hear you–aren’t nearly as scary).
The thing is, no one said you have to completely get over your fear all at once. What you are doing is FACING your fear every day, not necessarily OVERCOMING it.
Baby steps. It’s all about baby steps.
All of this is leading up to the fact that another thing I used to be afraid of, but that I have (almost) gotten over by doing it every day, is letting people read my stories.
Yeah. I used to be TERRIFIED that someone would read a story I’d written and laugh (and not laugh in a good way, like at the funny parts), or not like it. In fact, up until a few years ago, I used to hide all my stories under my bed. Unlike a lot of you, who post your stories and fanfics online (so brave!), I NEVER showed my stories to ANYONE (and I do mean, ANYONE).
Every once in a while in school, a teacher would read one of my stories out loud to a class—against my will–but that was IT. That was all anyone EVER got to hear of my stories. I was WAY TOO SCARED to show them to anyone.
When I finally decided I had so many stories under my bed that I had no choice but to try to sell some of them (i.e., He Who Shall Not Be Named In This Blog said I had to, or he was going to do it himself), but I was still too consumed with fear to let anyone actually read them, I signed up for some creative writing workshops.
I started to realize there was really only one way I was ever going to get over my fear: I was going to have to show people my stories, over and over, until I was so used to getting feedback from them that negative feedback (i.e. them laughing at me) didn’t bother me anymore (well, it will always bother me. But just not as much).
I figured if I HAD to show my stories to someone, let it be to a room full of other aspiring writers, because—since they were aspiring writers, too—at least maybe they’d be nice to me.
Was I ever wrong about the nice part (which was fine, since, like Grandma Cabot always said, you’re not a hundred dollar bill, not everyone is going to like you…or your writing). They DID laugh at my writing–and not always in a nice way.
But not always in a mean way, either.
By the time I had finished that first creative writing workshop, I wasn’t exactly over my fear of letting people read my work. But I was a few baby steps closer to being over it. Close enough to it to enroll in another workshop…and then another….
And then to finally get the guts to start the baby steps of looking for an agent.
So what if it I got something like 500 agent rejections in three years? The 501st agent I queried took me on.
And she’s still my agent today.
Now, what if I’d let my fear of letting people read my stories keep me from trying in the first place?
The truth is, I’m still not completely over my fear of letting people read my stories.
But every day, by facing it head on, I’m a little closer to overcoming it.
Now if I could just overcome my fear of tomatoes….