Friday, 22 April 2011

On Fear

“It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality” – Virginia Woolf
Today has been a good day.
For a start, I managed to only lose half of it to reading fanfic, and have, as a result been feeling supremely virtuous, diligent, and self-disciplined. I have made some (minor) headway on my paper, I’ve got some kinks ironed out in the website, I’m reconnecting with my fictional characters, and my lovely friend posted a reply on my Facebook page (where I’d posted a link to the website: self-promotion FTW) telling me she thought it was wonderful and had no idea I was such a ‘prolific writer’.
‘Prolific writer’. Verbatim. I cannot tell you how much I needed to hear that.
See, here’s the thing. Since I was tiny, I’ve always written. If anyone has visited the Bio on my website (and if not, why not? Go now! Nah, I’m just kidding: stay here and listen to me witter for a bit…), then they will know that I wrote my first “novel” at the age of five. Yes, I do the air quotes when I say it out loud as well, but it meant a lot to me back then. Writing isn’t something I do, it’s something I am. I read, years ago, about finding your Flow – the thing you do just for the sheer joy of doing it, for getting lost in it. That’s writing, for me. Without it, I’m diminished, as though something very fundamental is missing from my life. And I do believe that’s part of what scares me, because this feeling is like being on fire, it’s like being in love. It’s like jumping off a cliff with no idea if the pool below is deep enough to cushion the fall, or if I’ll go careening at breakneck speed into rocks hidden beneath the waterline. There have been other things, Big Things, going on for me over the past number of years, things that have needed to be worked through, and I’m not sure I had enough room in my heart to make space for this level of, well, obsession as well. I kind of feel like I turned my back on a fundamental part of me, because I didn’t have it in me to give into it properly. And now that’s a little bit tinged with regret, because here I am, older and (hopefully) wiser, and I’ve been denying something that I need the same way I need air and sleep.
Wow. Sorry. Deep.
But my best friend and I had a long conversation last night about fear and self-confidence, and the triumph of the one over the other. My doctoral viva, almost two months ago, was not a particularly positive experience (I passed, but with substantial revisions to make) and it was only last night, talking to C, that I realised just how much of a blow it had been. The thing is, I have it on good authority that every single doctoral candidate walks into the room terrified that their work isn’t good enough, and, for the vast majority of them, that turns out to be entirely unfounded. And, technically, it was unfounded for me: the feedback I got was positive – I have a publisher for my thesis, for heaven’s sake – but the fact is, there was a lot that my examiners decided they wanted me to do differently. It’s like having all your worst fears confirmed. God, I hope this is good enough. I really don’t think it’s good enough. I’m terrified it’s not good enough…
It’s not.
This is my thesis. My baby. Three years’ work and counting; a lifetime’s preparation and love and Fangirly adoration. To hear that it’s fallen short of the ideal has been an absolute blow to the core of me, and it’s been incredibly difficult to come back from it. I will – I do – I am. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m some kind of delicate, fading flower that can’t take criticism, because that would bode very badly for a future in (a) academia and (b) writing, both of which would bode badly for my sense of self. I will come back from this; it was simply a question of connecting with the fact that I’d been knocked away from it in the first place. It would take a lot to knock me out altogether, and I want this badly.
But not quite as much as I want to see my novels in print. And, by finding other things to do with my time; by not making space for this burning desire; by allowing the Angel to whisper in my ear; by procrastinating and prevaricating and letting years slip by without trying, what I’ve accomplished is a soft cushion of certainty that I have not failed to get them published. How can you fail to achieve something when you don’t try?
It’s scary. It’s huge and scary and it terrifies me in a way that nothing else does. But that’s not a good enough reason anymore…


  1. Love this Rachel! Self-doubt is such a bugger! I'm glad that my little FB comment had such a positive effect - and you did keep your writing talents quiet, although I do remember you once said you were going to take a trip around Ireland so you could draw inspiration for writing. Go to it my friend and don't worry if its absolute genius, rubbish or indifferent - who decides whether it is or not? Just do it because you need to and because you enjoy it and because its brave to put something new into the world of your very own creation....


  3. I'm relatively fortunate that self-doubt is a lesser worry than most.. after all i am an amazing individual. :P