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Top Nine Writer’s Rules #7: Fear

It will catch any serious writer in the end: that familiar dread of the blank or page or screen as it stares back at you, daring you to give it  some words which, the blank page just knows, will be disappointing, or surprisingly weak, or in some way inferior to everything you have written before.

The question is whether the author’s fear is friend or foe, creative or crippling. 

Opinion among those who really should know is, as ever, divided.

 1. A.L KENNEDY

‘Let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear  and all you’ll get is silence.’

 

2. STEPHEN KING

‘I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.’

 

    3.  DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

‘I have a lot of dread and terror and inadequacy-shit, now, when I’m trying to write. I didn’t used to. Maybe the terror is part of the necessary reverence, and maybe it’s an inescapable part of the growing-up-as-a-writer-or-whatever process; but it can’t — cannot — be the goal and terminus of that process.’

 

4. GEORGE ORWELL

‘To write in plain language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox.’

 

5. MURIEL SPARK

‘Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity…  as if it were never going to be published.’

 

6. NICHOLSON BAKER

‘Without some sort of anxiousness writing loses its charm. There is the straightforward suspense that is built into a certain kind of novel  –  a first-order plot-anxiety that I often dislike and find physically uncomfortable  –  and then there is the much much more important second-order thrill that the writer himself shivers gleefully as he writes: “Ooh boy, I’m really going to catch it this time! They’re going to cremate me! I’m going to be pulverized!”                                                                                                       

7.  NORMAN MAILER

‘I never sit down to begin a book without thinking I’ve lost it, it’s not there any more. And then the feeling comes back.’

8. J.A. BAKER

‘Learn to fear. To share fear is the greatest bond of all. The hunter must become the thing he hunts.’

 

9.  PAUL AUSTER

Every time, you start from nothing. I really do feel as if I have to re-invent everything from the ground up, I can’t tell you how lost and afraid I feel. What the process of writing a book is, is learning how to write that book  –  and you’ve never done it before.’

 

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