Irrational Fears

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photo by "Sam UL" on flickr

Fear is the great un-balancer.  It distorts and narrows our awareness until we can only see what’s directly in front of us, whether it’s the blank page, or that query letter to an editor, or the send button on an email to someone who doesn’t know you.

When Brion and I made the commitment to launch this podcast, the first step was to make a list of authors to have on the show as Guest Hosts.  We set our sights high… we wanted great discussions with credible and creative individuals. We built our wish list of dream hosts and, looking at it, I remember thinking, “Oh yeah… I’d listen to that podcast.”

First on the list was J. Daniel Sawyer.  I knew his site and clicked the “Contact” link… and froze.  I had drafted a brief introduction – very formal without being stiff – hoping it conveyed that we were more than just a couple schmucks on a lark.  I pasted it into the contact page… and my pulse started pounding in my ears.  I was scared… terrified, to be honest.

Since then, we’ve discovered that the community of authors is a very welcoming place and very open to exploring new formats and venues (like ours).  That’s great news for the podcast and we’re profoundly excited to share these sessions with our audiences.  But that jolt of terror really threw me off balance.

I’ve thought about it (a lot) since then.  It hasn’t gone away… when I sent requests to Chuck Wendig and Gail Carson Levine (her agent, actually), the same cold-sweat-pounding-heart-oh-my-god-what-am-I-DOING fear closed my throat.  It took a conscious force of will to click “send.”

I actually went off on Phillipa Ballantine, writing a paragraph-long rant in my reply to her, all because she had the temerity to put “you’re far too flattering” in her affirmative response to my query.  I apologized, of course, and I think she’ll still be appearing in a future episode… but clearly I had lost my inner balance in all of this.

I told myself (repeatedly) the old cliché of “they’re just ordinary people” but you know what? They’re not.  I don’t care how they put their pants on, these are individuals who – through dedication, skill, and talent – have achieved something remarkable.  Something that many of us seek to achieve… the ability to tell a story that captures the hearts and minds of their readers.  There’s nothing “ordinary” about it.

That’s not to say anyone else couldn’t do the same.  But there’s an old joke around the theater green rooms of the world:  How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb?  One thousand and one… one to screw it in and the other thousand to say “Oh hell, I can do THAT.” These authors we were inviting had DONE it.

So I thought, “Maybe I’m intimidated.”  And yeah, I am a little… but that’s a far cry from fear.

Fear is generated almost exclusively by a perceived threat, real or not.  So I asked myself what threat these gifted and generous people could possibly represent.  The podcast?  Piffle… the podcast will rise or fall on its own merits.  Their good opinion would be a benefit, but not a requirement.  Besides, they’d already agreed to be on the show so they must see some value to the project.

Then I realized… the only other thing on the line was my self-esteem, which is absurd.  To gauge one’s merit or worth by someone else’s opinion is the very height of dysfunction, in my opinion.  And yet, the more I looked at it, I wondered… was I terrified of being somehow judged inadequate by these people?

I started to consider therapy, but a little more thought brought some clarity that I wanted to share with you.

Fear is the great un-balancer.  It distorts and narrows our awareness until we can only see what’s directly in front of us, whether it’s the blank page, or that query letter to an editor, or the send button on an email to someone who doesn’t know you.

I’ve discovered that fear can be very useful.  Fear is a survival impulse evoked by a threat to what is most important to us.  So when you feel your pulse start pounding, it’s like a Geiger Counter for proximity to something vital and powerful (at least to you).  You deal with it by getting a hold of yourself, stepping back from that instinctive response, and consider what’s really at stake… and how far you’re willing to go to achieve it.

So to Pip and any of the Guest Hosts we’ve approached or will approach… thank you.  Thank you for your craft and for your generous spirit in sharing it.  And thank you for yet another gift you weren’t aware you were giving: a chance to turn fear into conviction.

This podcast is important… not in the grand scheme of things maybe, but in the opportunity it represents to both the writers and the authors to connect and discuss something that is profoundly important to us.  I think those connections and dialogs are essential to embrace and explore the spirit that drives many of us to write in the first place.  And I think Brion and I can help foster that spirit with the podcast.

Acting on your ideals can be terrifying.  You’d think it wouldn’t be, but it’s all too easy to wonder if you’re up to it, if you’re actually worthy of those ideals.

Which is ridiculous.  If you love and revere something, the only course of action is to pursue it, to support it, and make sure it thrives.

Acting on your ideals is scary… but always worth the risk.

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About Author

Dave Robison has indulged in creative pursuits his entire life. His CV includes writing Curious George fan-fiction at the age of eight, improv theater at age ten, playing trumpet at age twelve, as well as a theater degree, creating magazine cover art, writing audio scripts, designing websites, creating board games, hosting mythological roundtables and generally savoring the sweet drought of expression in all its forms. His years of exploration give him a unique, informed, and eloquent perspective on the art of storytelling.

3 Comments

  1. Fear is indeed the mind killer. Glad you reached out to those folks and I, for one, can’t wait to see what you’re gonna do.

    As to this “If you love and revere something, the only course of action is to pursue it, to support it, and make sure it thrives.” hell to the yeah.

    • Thanks, Scott! I appreciate the support. I know everyone’s had to deal with that “What the hell am I doing?” feeling… I was just glad I could work it out so I wouldn’t have crippling terror dogging my heels. 😉

      We’ve been recording episodes so we have some in the can before we launch and it’s been remarkable. The insights and ideas just keep sparking and tumbling… it’s like a creative fusion reaction.

      But each episode is a complete mystery until it happens, you know? It’s edge-of-your-seat time from a host perspective, but so far we couldn’t be happier with the results.

      I can’t wait to share this stuff! March 6th can’t get here soon enough!

    • Complete non sequitur, but, I had a bumper sticker once that said “If you love something, set if free. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.” I suppose that could applied to writing…in a way…sort of…