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On fear, permission and writing.

I don't like to write about writing.
I don't like to talk about writing, much of the time. There is a reflex in me that makes me close down whenever anyone asks me about what I'm working on, how I write, how I'm getting on. Oh, I can talk about the generalities -- voice and pace and dialogue and so on -- if I have to, but even then, I'm not really comfortable.
You see, in my head, writing and fear are all tangled up. And I do not like to be afraid.

If I have a single talent, it's fear. I'm really really good at it. I can fill myself up, inch by slow inch, until my skin is no more than a thin boundary on terror and every single part of me is sparking with alarm. I can turn enjoyment into duty and duty into fear in a matter of moments.

It doesn't really matter why this is so. Let's say it's how I'm wired, and move on. There are lots of things that scare me, mostly irrational (it's a fact that I am far more afraid of zombies than I am of being run over. When it comes to things like that latter, I'm fairly calm). And when the spiral, the heavy dead grip of fear takes hold, I find it almost impossible to break free. Once that shiver is under my skin, it takes over.

And writing is scary. People say this a lot, and there are endless lists as to why. Fear of being exposed, of failure, of taking risks... I understand all of those and I sympathise, but, for all their familiarity within the language of writers, they are not really what I mean when I think about the intersection of writing and fear. What I mean, what this fear means to me is this: I am afraid to lose permission.

It sounds ridiculous put like that. And, on the scale of real fears -- of being murdered for one's race or gender identity or sexual orientation or faith, of famine, of flood, of homelessness, of loss of freedom, of persecution -- it is a tiny, unimportant thing. It's ridiculous. I know it's ridiculous, and yet there it is, making me unsafe in my skin.

I'm not good at permission. There are lots of reasons for that. Some of them are socio-cultural, to do with class and gender. Some are personal, to do with lived experience. Many of them are just plain irrational. But in the end, most of the time I hover on the edge of feeling I am not allowed to write, that me writing somehow takes away from others, that it's wrong. I've felt this about writing since long before I was first published. It isn't about public space (though I worry about that too, because there are enough white writers already, and I'm nothing special). It is, quite simply, about whether or not it's okay for me to set down words in a line on a page. Even if no-one will ever read them but me and a handful of my friends.

This looks nonsensical, even to me. But for whatever reason, because of how I'm wired, because of the things that have happened in my life, I find it incredibly hard to give myself permission to do things. And writing matters. I've written since I was 7 or 8. It used to be easy. No-one minded me writing stories for myself and my friends. It was only in my 20s that I discovered how competitive some people can be, how confrontational, about writing -- which is not a competitive activity. And, well... if there is something I can do that others want, I'm wired to think its my duty to step aside and let them have that space. And once that happens, I find it very hard to try and find any new space for myself. Someone else wants it. So I mustn't have it. And I stop writing. Even just for myself, because someone else might not approve.

It's ridiculous. Writing is not a competition, though equally it is far from a level playing field and there are many many writers out there, probably far better than me, who face huge institutional, social and cultural barriers. It matters hugely that writers who face fewer barriers -- writers like me -- boost and support those voices. They matter far more than my nonsense.

But fear is funny and it smothers us. When that inner place where my writing, at least, comes from, is bound up in fear, it paralyses everything else, too. I stop feeling like me. And I am doing it to myself. Those other people are not withholding permission. I don't matter to them at all. And so I'm writing this, to remind myself that this is my fear, not something external to me. To expose the fear to the open gaze of the web, to remind myself of my own ridiculousness. To expose it, even, to anyone who does think I shouldn't have permission.

Because it isn't up to them. It's not up to anyone but me to grant that permission. And, well... I need to learn how to do that by myself.

Skirt of the day: blue cotton print.


( 59 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 8th, 2016 06:40 pm (UTC)
And while you learn to give yourself that permission, we've got your back. And after, too. *hugs*
Feb. 8th, 2016 06:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Catie.
(no subject) - mevennen - Feb. 8th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 8th, 2016 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jemck - Feb. 8th, 2016 09:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - Feb. 9th, 2016 02:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Feb. 9th, 2016 11:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2016 07:15 pm (UTC)
Occasionally I have thought that freeing oneself of needing either approval or permission to be our true selves is the very definition of being grown up. But so many people, myself included, continue on feeling those things are secretly necessary that that cannot be right. It would be good to be fearless. Let us keep trying.
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:24 am (UTC)
Yes! It's so hard, and yet so necessary.
Feb. 8th, 2016 07:23 pm (UTC)
No one else writes like you. No one else can write like you. Yes, you are something special, and acknowledging that may be as hard as giving yourself permission.

Feb. 9th, 2016 11:24 am (UTC)
Thank you: from you, that means a lot.
Feb. 8th, 2016 08:03 pm (UTC)
What they said. Got your back.

Give yourself all the permission you need because a) you deserve it and b) you are a fine writer and your readers need you.
Feb. 8th, 2016 08:36 pm (UTC)
This. Absolutely this!!!

(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Feb. 9th, 2016 11:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clothsprogs - Feb. 9th, 2016 11:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Feb. 9th, 2016 02:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2016 08:11 pm (UTC)
If you need someone to say "yes, do this," I volunteer. But you have to say it back to me. Because I grok this on a visceral level, and I think it's partly why I'm having trouble settling down to edit book 3. *sigh* *lean*
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:25 am (UTC)
There are lots of negative things about the internet, but one of its greatest positives is that it lets us find and support each other. I have your back, always.
Feb. 8th, 2016 09:22 pm (UTC)
Something to think about. And you know I've read your writing, so you know I have the experience to say this. Your work is you, is unique and special. No one else can write what you write or bring the reader those special insights that you have struggled so hard to develop.

So if you were to deny yourself permission to write in order, you think, to make a space for another writer, you would also be denying us, your friends and readers the very unique privilege of reading your work. And while that hypothetical other writer might be interesting and enjoyable to read, she would not be you. There is only one Kari, and she is irreplaceable.
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:26 am (UTC)
Thank you!
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Feb. 9th, 2016 11:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2016 10:09 pm (UTC)
Oh love, I know what you mean. I went for years trying to find a "duty" and "responsible" reason for going to cons, because enjoying them wasn't permitted. It went against everything I had been brought up to believe. Of course we have permission to write and to enjoy things, just sometimes it's hard to convince that little demon, sitting on our shoulder, whispering in our ear of it! *hugs* Keep giving yourself permission cos I love what you write!
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:27 am (UTC)
I work at cons to justify being allowed to have fun :-) We are quite the pair.
Feb. 8th, 2016 10:29 pm (UTC)

You have a right to your writing. You writing doesn't stop anyone from writing too.
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:27 am (UTC)
Yes: I try to remind myself of that latter.
Feb. 8th, 2016 11:07 pm (UTC)
Give yourself permission. Practice on days when it's easy. You're a fine writer, and you deserve permission.
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:27 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Feb. 8th, 2016 11:13 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're fighting the good fight, and understand yourself well enough to know all this about yourself. I know far too many women who have decided that they don't have permission, and are sitting on manuscripts or telling themselves that they have no right to a voice...

I'm glad you're doing this, knowing this, and fighting to allow yourself write, and know that you're the only one who can do it for the long run. Just as I'm the only one that can free me to write, too.

Thanks for voicing this.
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:29 am (UTC)
Thank you.
I wrote this partly to challenge myself but also because I know many writers who have similar issues, and, well, I thought I should say it, so that they might perhaps feel safer. Or something like that.
(no subject) - liralen - Feb. 9th, 2016 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Feb. 10th, 2016 11:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2016 11:27 pm (UTC)
Wisely said, and I am so happy to see your words appearing here, which means maybe some will appear in a book when you are ready. Yay!
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:29 am (UTC)
There are two books that are 3/4 done.... Sigh.
(no subject) - sartorias - Feb. 9th, 2016 01:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Feb. 9th, 2016 02:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2016 11:34 pm (UTC)
No two books ever occupy the same space (well, short of plagiarism, of course). One need not give way for another.
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:31 am (UTC)
There are issues around reaching the gatekeepers which disadvantage some --- writers of colour, QUILTBAG writers, writers living with disabilities and others -- which are very real, I think. But yes, voices are unique.
Feb. 9th, 2016 07:51 am (UTC)
I'm glad you have this much understanding of yourself. I hope it helps you to do what you need to in order to write.

It actually sounds like you could do with being a bit more selfish all round...
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:32 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm not sure on the selfish front, but I could use more courage some days.
(no subject) - andrewducker - Feb. 9th, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Feb. 10th, 2016 11:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 9th, 2016 10:18 am (UTC)
Anna _Wing here. I wouldn't venture to talk about writing, but every day is about dealing with fear. Mostly minor uncertainties and apprehensions if you are lucky (will this new route go where it is supposed to go? Will my hat stay in place if the wind gets stronger?) but dealing with those as you go along is good practice. Small issues faced can usefully be treated as training exercises for big issues.
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:32 am (UTC)
That's a good way of looking at it: thank you.
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