Friday, October 19, 2012

Secret Fears

Can I keep the light on please - M Charlton, circa 2001

Last week, tutoring at Ty Newydd, our course began with secret fears. In the first workshop, each delegate wrote a list of the anxieties that restrict their writing. There was silence as the group pondered the question, then a frantic scribbling into notepads. We gathered the anonymous worries and transposed them onto a flip chart.

It was me who wrote, that, said one participant, referring to a concern they'd be misunderstood. I think the same, declared their neighbour, and also, that I haven't a good vocabulary.  There were fears about style, about revealing oneself, of sounding pedestrian, of appearing selfish... As I scanned the list it occurred to me I shared them all - or had done at one time or other.

The course proved successful; we had thirteen hardworking and enthusiastic writers. There was a range of abilities and everyone made progress of sorts. We never returned to the list of fears - and it struck me that we hadn't needed to. For in the very act of declaring them (anonymous or otherwise) they had lost their power.

I suspect every artist lacks confidence -  frankly, if it were all a breeze, there'd be scant satisfaction. Of course, experience helps, and I no longer worry when I begin with little more than a notion (as I type this post, I have no idea how it will end). I used to fret about my limited vocabulary too - until I  realised it saves me from flowery prose.

It might seem strange, but despite writing this blog and publishing a deeply personal book, I find it difficult, embarrassing even, to put myself forward. The other week I went shopping with Jane and avoided the library and Waterstone's. Why not tell them about your book, she said. I made an excuse, for the truth was, I wanted to do it alone for fear of rejection. I went the next day, and guess what, the staff were generous and warm.

The truth is I'll always be reticent in some spheres. But sometimes there's a chance happening which helps us overcome. And last Friday I had a call from an agency, Hi there, I'm the publicist for Counting Steps, said the breezy voice of a seasoned PR professional. Evidently, the Welsh Books Council gets behind a number of titles each year, and they've chosen mine to be one.

Have you read the book I asked her? It's beautiful, she replied, it makes me want to have children. That's a delightful endorsement, and as we talked of promotional opportunities I felt most (though not quite all) of my fears dissolving. A week later,  I have three articles lined up, I've rejoined twitter and I might even appear on the radio!

Some business guru once told me that FEAR stands for False Expectations Appearing Real. I'm not sure that's true when a tiger's on the loose - but it's not a bad daily maxim. Tutoring the course last week showed me I had something to give; that I do what I do, and that it has value. Every endorsement helps build my confidence - the publicity is a reward, not a trial.

We all harbour fears, but for that, we ought to be glad - for in many ways, overcoming them is what makes the effort worthwhile.


  1. Wow, more great news, Mark! Good luck with all the new publicity.

    The only public writing I've ever done is my blog and to be honest I so enjoy it that I don't feel any fears in connection with it. Where I experienced exactly what you're talking about was when I first started having to speak in public, as I started my training for the ministry. Could I do it properly, would people understand what I was trying to say, etc, etc.... Even now, more than 25 years on, I still feel a flutter of apprehension when I stand up to speak.

  2. The comment about fears losing their power over you when written down is very true, and one of the reasons behind using writing as therapy. Of course, it doesn't work for everyone, there are those who cannot verbalise what is going on, those who feel their limited vocabulary holds them back from saying what their fear is. But often, just a little nudge can lead to one or two words, which can lead to more.
    It sounds as if your 'star is in the ascendancy' and I am guessing you are going to make the most of it. Enjoy. Good luck with it all.

  3. Congratulations on a successful and productive-sounding course, Mark. I only ever write posts for my blog and don't consider that "serious writing", so it's not doing to risk rejection. I like the FEAR analogy - I think in terms of the negative What If?'s and try to dispose of them as soon as they pop up. Good luck with the publicity for your book :-) Jo

  4. Congratulations again!

    I clicked on the link on Amazon to request that the book be made available on Kindle. Shipping to Canada raises the price on the hard copy book to more than I can handle at the moment.

  5. Wise words. Fear, when you look back on it, sometimes provides the most beautiful scenery on the journey.

  6. I'm glad you are feeling happy about 'doing' the publicity...and pleased also that the publicity will allow more people to appreciate what you write.
    Do let us know if there turns out to be a podcast (even I can listen to those).

    I did not think I had fears in blogging until a recent incident involving enonymous e mails...but thought it best to put things like that in the open for scrutiny and then get back in the saddle and continue. I was grateful for your support at that time.

    I used to have a worry when putting a client's case in oral argument. I made sure I had all my notes clearly laid out and particular points underlined, but had to make sure I listened very carefully to the other side in order to try to wipe the corners of every window.

    I think it comes down to being confident for myself...but jolly bothered when it's a matter of an outcome for someone else.

    1. I do that too Fly! And sometimes I'm listening so hard to opposing argument that I almost can't hear it. However I prepare to the nth degree.
      Writing is different. I fear failure. Running out of ideas. The words being the wrong ones in the wrong place.
      Such a good post Mark. Thanks.

  7. Glad the course went well - your timing did not work for me as I had a commitment to look after my brother for that week. Go for the publicity! No point in writing something great if people don't know it's out there.