Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Do one thing every day that scares you.
-Elanor Roosevelt

Kathleen Duey is doing something pretty amazing. She's writing a novel on twitter. In her words:

A novel. A whole novel in Russet's voice, written in Twitter's 140 (or less) character bursts.

In public. Real time. No revision. (via Cynsations)

Why would she do this? After all, so much could go wrong. She's writing on the fly, without an outline--and while I do that, too, I also know I could drop the story and quit writing it if it doesn't work. And--even crazier--she's posting immediately as soon as she writes it. Which revisions. No changes. Once it's up, it's up. You can't unpost.

So why is she doing this?

In a word: fear.

She said that
At a conference, I heard myself giving advice that I hadn't followed in a long time.

I wasn't experimenting with anything that scared me to death anymore. (via Cynsations)
I've been thinking about this since I read it yesterday.

I've always been a bit afraid of my best writing.

And my writing that's dry and stiff--that had no association with fear. I was just getting words on the page.

And it shows.

I can pinpoint scenes that gave my heart a squeeze or my stomach a clench. That scene where the characters kiss? Terrified--what if I didn't make it sincere enough? What if my readers laughed at the awkwardness of it? Oh, and that final battle scene--I was on the edge of my seat, in part because I was scared of not making that scene good enough for a last battle.

And there's other kinds of fear in writing. Breaking outside of your norm is one way. I'd once blogged about how much I hate first person POV in present tense. I like fantasy, not sci fi. But this most recent novel I'm working on? A first person POV present tense science fiction novel.

And I'm terrified.

More scared of this one than I've been in a long time. I don't know what I'm doing--and all those old fears of writers keep cropping up. I'm not good enough, I couldn't write my way out of a paper bag, who do I think I am to be putting these words down? And then there's the actual writing. It's a murder mystery (in space!), so is my killer creepy enough? Are my characters Nancy-Drew-enough? And then there's the genre. Will anyone even like this book? Will an agent? Will an editor? It's a weird little novel, a strange little thing that I'm not sure could even find a home with anyone but me.

See? Terrified.

But oh. It's been fun.

I feel a bit like Kathleen:
And when I thought about all the ways it could blow up in my face I felt almost sick. Bingo, eureka, perfect. I was scared to death.

Still am. But it has been worth it.

So, what about you? Are you doing something that scares you? Is it working?


Keri Mikulski said...

As soon as I'm done my latest proposal, I am.. A flashback novel and it scares me...

I'm going to have to check out the Twitter novel. Love it when people constantly challenge themselves. :)

lotusgirl said...

Yeah, I'm starting over. Scares me, but invigorates me at the same time.

Traci said...

Beth...great post. I am paralyzed with fear at this point and I actually wrote a post about it, but decided not to publish it. I have a first draft ready for editing, and I am afraid to even touch it. UGH!! I think I'm going to publish the post anyway. ;-/ Thanks so much for the info!

Stacy Nyikos said...

Writing on the fly is like flying without instruments, I think. It sharpens your skills and makes you feel alive. And the best part is, you don't die if you screw up!

Anonymous said...

Okay, first, I'd TOTALLY read Nancy Drew in space!

I know what you mean about the fear. I'm always a bit uneasy with books that are seriously grim and dark. I'm very into being entertained by my reading, and there are subjects, frankly, where I just don't want to go. That doesn't stop me, though, from reading some of those books (Wintergirls, Lessons from a Dead Girl) and being blown away by the craft and skill that makes that dark stuff into an incredibly powerful (and necessary!) story.

My WIP is dark. Two fears here: Am I writing a story that I, on many days, wouldn't choose to read? And, of course, can I write it well enough to live up to the dark subject/problem of the story.

I'm just going to try. You, too? :)

Shannon Morgan said...

When I was doing revisions recently, I had an idea I thought would give greater depth to my book. But deciding to take the step was scary because (1) I would have to change the time setting and technology of my story, and (2) my agent was getting ready to sell the book -- if he hated the changes, I'd have to start over. I felt like Indiana Jones, with his foot suspended over that chasm at the end of Last Crusade, about to take his leap of faith.

Finally, I took a deep breath and made the change, then went about making all the OTHER changes it caused. Then I sweated bullets while my agent read it. Luckily, he really liked my choice, and confided he thought it was a brave one. Whewwww.

So, fear is good. Our band teacher in high school always sprang a new piece on us a week before state competition, just to ensure we'd be on our toes while playing it. That worked, too.

Good for you, exploring fearful territory. I wager you'll emerge from the other side knowing things you never thought you needed and hankering for more adventure.

PJ Hoover said...

Trying things you are afraid of is so freeing! I love it.
This whole writing world is scary. I was scared to send my book to anyone for reviews. I was scared for anyone to read it. I was scared to comment on blogs. Ok, the list goes on and on and on.

Davin Malasarn said...

For me, my fear comes from being more and more personal about my writing. I recently got a short memoir piece published, and the thought that people will know it's true terrifies me. I'm not yet sure if I did the right thing. I'm not yet sure if doing the thing that most scares you is healthy. But I'm willing to entertain it.

Robyn Campbell said...

You know EVERYTHING about my story scares me. But in a good way. Meaning that when I read something that I have written, and it feels right, my stomach lurches, wondering, how do I know it's right?

And sending chapters to you, terrifies me. Not because you're some creepy alien, but because I want you to like it. And I wonder if you will. Being scared is a part of this whole thing. Rejections are part of the process, but if we can make it good enough that it catches an agents eye, that's the good stuff. I'd write if no one ever reads my stuff, just because it is what I love to do. :)

Danyelle L. said...

I love this idea! I have a twitter account for my characters to vent. It's been very helpful condensing the main feeling and idea of a chapter into 140 characters--all the while doing it in the character's voice. :D

Kate said...

OMG! I would be petrified. Good luck to Kathleen.

Heather Zundel said...

I totally aim for that whenever I am writing something new. It's what keeps things new and interesting for me. And that is how I know I am still growing as a writer. If we can't face our fears, what business do we have here? :)

(and my newest project deals with time and chronology. That's all I'm going to say about that. Except that I'm terrified, and that thrills me). :D