Fear is a choice making itself obvious.
When a choice tugs on your sleeve to get your attention, it forces you into awareness. The possibility of consequences sharpens. Your stomach ices over and you second-guess your current path. Something is at stake. There’s a clear split between your next two options: to proceed, or come up with a different way.
Fear isn’t a warning of inevitable doom; it’s a reminder that there are other options.
There are a few fears directly associated with writing. What if the audience doesn’t get it? What if my intentions are misconstrued? What if I reveal too much of my vulnerable self? What if my parents read that sex scene? What if I’m judged for my characters’ choices?
There is one question at the root of all of these: Why do you care?
What is it about a particular audience that makes THEIR reaction important? Is there anything you can do about it? If not, is your work truly aimed at them?
You can only take a certain amount of responsibility for your work. You can edit for clarity by getting feedback. You can tell people whether it’s aimed at six-year-olds or adults. You can omit the sex scene from the manuscript you send to your parents. You can decide, also, that you’re going to keep the self-indulgent part of the manuscript because that’s the core of what you’re writing about.
You are not responsible for:
- Interpretations of racism, sexism, anti-disestablishmentarianism or any other –ism
Who got shot the week before your release date, and the social commentary that your work got caught up in as a result
The delicate sensibilities of audience members pre-disposed toward hating your subject matter (and, by extension, you)
The happiness of the human race
The turmoil of the human race
Anyone else’s reaction in general.
You are, however, responsible for your own reactions. Fear reminds you to consider outcomes. Stephen Fry had a great point when he said that claiming something’s offensive is meaningless. Sometimes it’s not worth pursuing, but sometimes you’ll feel compelled to. Try to find out why they were upset. It it might have nothing to do with you or your work.
If it did, what if you didn’t mean to offend? Are you in a position to stand firm, or compromise? Do you honestly regret what you wrote, or that it caused a reaction in someone else? Do you need to care about, or regret, their reaction? Why?
Why do you care?
I suggest this approach as a means to help navigate fear; not carte blanche to be a jerk. Balance is key. Write. Share. Learn either way. Seek deeper understanding of ideas and process; rather than deeper understanding of idle pettiness.
“Having received His Majesty’s commission to be the general of his forces and beholden assuring the success of your kingdom, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept.”
– Sun Tzu
“I do not know how to find out anything new without being offensive.”
– Charles Fort