insecurity

Pre-Writing Conference Anxiety and Me

Airport

I’m going to my first writer’s conference since I had to quit the day job due to my chronic health issues. It will be my first time traveling alone since that auspicious event as well. And I’m somewhat nervous.

I used to travel a lot for work. And I used to attend conferences all the time. I’m no stranger to airports and sleeping in strange hotels. I am an introverted extrovert. Or is that extraverted introvert? Either way, I enjoy being around people and can handle the buzz of the masses for a few days with grace and aplomb. Or at least, I used to.

Why am I nervous? I’m nervous because I will be navigating the airports by myself . I move slower than I used to. I can’t managing being on my feet for long periods of time anymore. And if my February vacation taught me anything, it’s that the lines are longer and slower than the last time I travelled alone. I’m going to need to give myself more time to make it through the security check and then wind my way to whichever terminal my gate happens to be at. I’ll need to stop and rest along the way.

My stress level is going to be elevated, which is something that triggers the pain and fatigue in my body. I’ve already started making checklists of checklists I’ll need to have with me. Already plan to have them in Evernote and printed out. Cuz it will be just my luck that my phone dies at any point along this journey in July. And I’m not planning on my bringing my laptop. Maybe my iPad and a keyboard. But my laptop is too damn heavy for me to lug around by myself.

It’s going to be hot and humid in Orlando. No, it’s going to be OHMYFUCKINGGODWHYDOESANYONEGOTOFLORIDAINTHESUMMERIAMGOINGTODIE hot and humid in Orlando. This means using my down time to remain cool and comfortable in my hotel room. Maybe at the hotel bar. Definitely not anywhere outside. I love Disney World from the one brief trip I had there during a work trip about ten years ago. I’m so very sad I will through necessity need to skip all the park stuff and will be held hostage by the conditioned air. Heat aggravates my health condition. Humidity nearly kills me. My friends will be having great fun with Mickey while I…won’t be.

I may need to skip sessions or events like the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony. Not because I can’t afford a new outfit (which I can’t), but because if I’m going to make the most out of the conference, I need to save my spoons for workshops and fangirling people like Farrah Rochon, Erica Monroe, Kristine Wyllys, Kimberly Fisk (who is also going to be my awesome roommate), and everyone else I read and stalk follow on Twitter. If a morning is difficult, I’ll have to make the difficult decision to skip workshops or meet ups. If a migraine is coming on, I’ll need to hide in my room for a while. If the fibromyalgia is being a PITA, I’ll need make sure I don’t flare so badly I am in my room for the rest of the conference.

Which means I’ll need to pace myself. And not commit to too much ahead of time. And give myself permission to find a dark corner to sit and cry in when my energy flags and I become very upset with my health. My body and I have this epic love hate thing going on and I’m not too proud to say my body mostly wins. Living with chronic health issues can almost break me, especially when it means I can’t do what I want to do. It’s like I’m the unpopular kid at school crying into her ice-cream because all the other kids got invited to Susie’s birthday party except for me. Okay, it’s not quite that junior high. But it is frustrating.

So, I’m nervous. Sometimes at night I’ll whisper into my pillow just how terrified I am about this trip in July. I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. I love my fellow romance writers and spending time with them in person is just about the best thing in the world. But I’m also terrified that my body is going to fall apart and I’ll have the most expensive health flare ever. Expensive in that I paid good money to go to HELLA HOT ORLANDO in order to have it.

I’ll be okay. No, I’ll be better than okay. There are going to be people at this conference who get it. They understand living with chronic pain and fatigue and the choices that must be made every hour of every day. If I need to breakdown, I know there will be people there who understand and will help me to my room, or lend me a shoulder. It’s a sisterhood within a sisterhood. And that’s what we do, we’re there for each other.

And no, this won’t be like the last time or five I have been to this writing conference. I’m trying to look at this as though I’m a newbie writer attending for the first time. My experience may just be that different. And I need that to be okay.

 

Photo by Hernán Piñera via Flickr, cc Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Introducing My Good Friend Fear

Haunted Trees

As I have stated in an earlier post, I am a writing course junky. I have taken far too many writing courses, actually.

I’m trying to get my writing groove back after the world altering events of the last four months and I’m proud of myself. I haven’t purchased another writing course! Instead I’m procrastinating filling the well by revisiting some meaningful courses I’ve taken in the past.

Years and years ago I took a course from author and teacher Bob Mayer titled Warrior-Writer Overview: How to Go from Writer to Author, Creatively and in Business. Bob is a former military man with a long and varied career that includes time in Special Forces. He has more than 40 books published and teaches novel writing. I don’t know if he teaches this course anymore. I do know that the course kicked my ass when I first took it. And it’s kicking my ass again.

I’m revisiting the second lesson and the thing that has struck me most so far is fear. Right now I’m supposed to be writing out goals. Instead, I’m circling the exercise, an oily feeling deep in my gut. Bob states that anything that causes anger or causes us to be upset is something that we need to look at because anger is a sign that change is needed. That oily feeling, it’s not anger, but it is upsetting. I thought I had banished this fear to the ends of the earth. Instead, it crawled out of the ooze and is attempting to freak me out. All it took was one little exercise to resurrect it.

I talked to a friend last night and we talked about fear. Fear can be a good thing. Fear can keep you from injury or from doing something stupid. Fear can also keep you from doing something risky that will benefit you in the end. Fear can be your ally or it can be your enemy. Today, fear is the enemy. I’m learning, again, to push through it. To identify it and to see it for what it is – a stumbling block that will keep me from truly attempting my dreams.

A few years ago I was part of a writer’s loop where we had little exercises where we were to write about something that was going on in the moment. I was going through some soul searching about my life, my job, my career, my goals and I was honest about where I was at in that particular moment. Funny, eleven years later and I’m struggling with some of the same fear.

In this moment I am surround by my demons. A gut-wrenching, stomach-twisting, brain-paralyzing fear that I will never write. That I will never finish. That I will never accomplish my dream. That my passion is misplaced. That it’s all an illusion created by a dissatisfied soul. That I am lazy. That I am rebelling against the better angels of my nature. That 9-to-5 is what I am born to do. All I am born to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In this moment I stare at the sunflowers I have positioned to the right of my computer at work. In this shades-of-grey cubicle, they offer sunshine and whisper to me incoherent words of hope. I stare at them and I am grounded, if only for a little while. Until the demons start to seduce me again.

In this moment I crave silence in my soul. So I can hear my thoughts. So I can find my voice again and speak. So I can have peace. So I can know that peace does exist and isn’t a wistful wish tossed up to a falling star.

In this moment I hear the clack of keyboards, of good, dutiful worker drones pushing through their call lists, connecting with applicants who desire higher education. I hear muted conversations and nasal cackles. I feel alone in the middle of business and not a little lost. I want to jump up from my cubicle and yell and convince someone that there’s more than these glass walls and shades-of-grey cubes and pointless conversations trying to sell the idea of knowledge. I want to toss my project lists to the four winds and dance on my manager’s grave. I want to shuck this life of expectations and conformity and politics and perceptions.

At the same time, i feel naive in this want because no matter where I go or what I do, the world is made up of shades of grey and politics and perceptions. Visionaries are lost by those who are afraid of different. 9-to-5 means shackles but it also means regular pay. Security in exchange for freedom. I’m torn. I’m tired. I’m afraid.

So where do we go from here? I stop talking about change and I start enacting change, that’s what. The next exercise I have in this course is to create and claim some goals. I’m going to do that. And post them here. Fear has a way of keeping us from making time to pursue our dreams. Goals have a way of creating concrete ways to move through the fear and toward our dreams. So even though I’m torn, tired and afraid with my writing I’m not going to let fear win. Not this time.

Thanks, Bob, for this course. And to think I almost didn’t sign up. That would have been a tragedy!

Photo by Dan Zen via Flickr (cc by 2.0)

Climbing the Mountain

It’s been difficult for me to accomplish any writing as of late. My languishing blog included. I even thought about discontinuing my blog a time or ten. Why pay for a domain name when I’m no closer to being published than I was 16 years ago when I started writing?

mt-hood

It’s beautiful, but still one helluva mountain to climb

I have felt like this dream of being a multi-published author and actually making a living from the sales of my craft is like climbing Mount Doom. Or driving up to see Mount Hood in a car with no gas. The raw majestic beauty is there, right in front of me, but I don’t seem to be making any progress toward the summit.

In the middle of my writing crisis (pity party), after consuming much chocolate and wine, I came to the realization that I have a blog now because writing is a journey. Why not use my blog to share that journey in all its messy glory?

The blog has been dusted off and while I’m looking into template and web hosting options, I’ve decided to use my blog not to try to inspire others, but to inspire myself. And to share my journey. And to keeping myself honest.

To that end, I’ll be posting some of the exercises I’m doing for a writing course. And I’ll be rejoining Kait Nolan’s Round of Words in 80 Days. Which requires posting here. Which builds in a small level of accountability.

Writing is hard. Learning craft is hard. Finding the motivation in the face of that damn mountain is…so incredibly difficult. And exhilarating. And terrifying. And rewarding. And that’s what keeps me going on this crazy journey.

I have written my way through depression, job loss, health issues, chronic pain, creative drought, self-doubt. I’ve climbed my way out of a hole of writer’s block. I’ve written THE END. I’ve stared at the blank page and made it my bitch.

I am a writer.

No apologies. No justification. I just am.

J. R. Ward, Writing Courses, and Mentorship

First, I must have a total fangirl moment. The incomparable J. R. Ward responded to one of my tweets with just the words I needed to hear to pull myself off the brink of panic and despair. Like, seriously. I’m printing these out and putting them on my laptop so I can remember this always. Because one of the things that makes writing difficult for me is that sense that I’m not good enough. Yes, it’s all tied to my inner demon bitch. But it can be paralyzing and cause anxiety attacks.

JRWARD tweets

J. R. Ward is one of my writing heroes. While I don’t want to be her, because I want to be myself, I would love to be able to write stories that are as emotionally compelling as her stories. And I get there’s no magic bullet or formula for writing. It’s hard work, y’all. Beautiful and sweaty and challenging and rewarding and soul crushing and spirit filling work. But it’s still work. And sometimes it’s lonely and more soul crushing than it is spirit filling. In those moments, words like J. R.’s, they matter. They matter a lot.

And it makes me want to be the kind of writer who is willing to pass on the love, you know? Even if I never publish. Even if my writing becomes something that is just for me. I want to be able to pass on hope and encouragement. And where it’s valid, my writing journey. You never know who may need that kind word while they are in their own dark place.

Speaking of writing journeys, I did something I told myself I wasn’t going to do. I purchased yet another writing course. I say “yet another” because I have purchased probably thousands of dollars worth of courses, books, conferences, etc., over the years. And most of the things I buy, except for the conferences, sit on my shelf or my computer and languish. It’s not that I don’t want to learn, I do. It’s that, well, let me start with the first course I purchased.

In 2008 I purchased the beta version of Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways writing course. It’s an excellent course that I never made past the first four months because my life imploded. Then I lost my job in a company downsize. Then I found a new job almost right away. Well, the why’s aren’t important, but this started a trend of purchasing writing courses and not actually finishing them.

I finally realized I’m a knowledge junky and use the act of learning and acquiring knowledge to procrastinate. I procrastinate because I’m afraid my writing will never measure up. Or that I can’t really spin a tale. My dream is safe as long as it’s simply a dream. It all comes back to that inner demon bitch, doesn’t it?

Last year a thread of an idea wove its way through my mind. It’s a good idea. There’s merit to the story, on the surface a simple story, but depths that round everything out and make it interesting. Life is full of deceptively simple stories. I think that’s why this one grabbed at me like it did. But I couldn’t write. I had snippets of scenes, a story idea, but nothing deeper. Nothing more. So I did what I never do. I grabbed a journal and starting writing all the information as it came to be. Nothing is ordered. The journal is a mess. But there are the bones of something there. I just need to excavate and put them together.

How does this lead back to purchasing another writing course? Well, this mad and haphazard way I have of slapping the story ideas together showed me I needed to try something new to capture the gist of the story while it’s in that embryonic stage. Pantsing things completely isn’t working for me anymore. But what to do? And where would I find the “expert” advice I felt I needed?

Enter the advertisement that has been hounding me online for the last six months. James Patterson is teaching his brand of writing over at www.masterclass.com. I’ve seen the ad on Facebook and popping up every damn where for a while. It looked interesting, but Mr. Patterson doesn’t write in the genre I write, and he’s like uber successful. What could I learn from him? Plus, yet ANOTHER course on writing.

Well, I caved. Why? Writing and social media for authors guru Kristen Lamb took his class and blogged about it. And I read and reread her post. Then went to check out the course information. And finally decided, what the hell. He’s uber successful. And success isn’t out of my reach. And mentorship comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Which brings me back full circle to my fangirl tweet to J. R. Ward. Did her tweet promise me mentorship? No, lord no!  We are so not BFFs because she took the time to reply. And only in my dreams will we sit over coffee and talk about the craft and business of writing amazing stories. However, her general encouragement is a form a mentorship. As is her willingness to share some of her process and journey with authors. If you don’t believe me, go get a copy of her The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider’s Guide and read it. She is one generous lady.

In addition, I get to read her books both as entertainment and to see what works for me as a writer, what sings. And maybe I can apply what I find to my own writing. If it fits. I may never sit down and have a serious discussion with Ms. Ward regarding writing. I may never meet her in person outside of book signings and writing conferences. And I highly doubt I will ever meet James Patterson at either. Though never say never.

That doesn’t mean I can’t count these two others, along with a plethora of others (I’m looking at you, Patti O’Shea) , as sort of mentors. As guides along my journey. Their guidance is indirect. Subtle. Definitely not a formal mentorship affair. And 100% on me. I have to do the work. I have to apply what I learn to my own writing. I have to find what works for me. I have to apply that guidance to my writing, while keeping my writing something completely my own.

 

 

The Mystery of Voice

Once upon a time I attempted to figure out the mystery of voice. I had been in and out of writer’s groups and conferences and reference materials and I stumbled on the notion of voice. My writing voice. What was it? What genre did it fit best within? How could I be true to my voice while continuing to grow as a writer?

I turned to an author and teacher who I admired and enrolled in a six week online course on discovering voice. A friend had previously taken this course and raved at how it helped her determine her voice, which helped to determine the direction her writing would take. I wanted that confidence so I signed up for the next offering and learned…not a lot.

That’s not quite true. I learned that my voice has a poetic cadence. I learned that I cannot mimic someone else’s writing voice to save my life. Which is probably a good thing. I learned that I was confused about voice and how several of the exercises related to a writer’s storytelling voice. I felt rather slow. I hate feeling like I just can’t get something.

Upon finishing the course, all the attendees were invited to a private email loop for all the writers who had ever taken the course. There were continuing exercises and discussion related to writing voice. I participated in several. It wasn’t earth shattering, but it was nice to have little exercises where I could write and be myself. It was also a great place for some ego boosting. Come on, you all know that there are points in time when we need a good ego boost. We are feeling low and discouraged and we need a reminder of what is true. This group did that. The author/teacher disbanded the group a year later. I miss it every day.

I was cleaning up email the other day and I found all the emails I had kept from both the course and the group. I read through them all, wondering if years later I could finally grasp that elusive concept of voice. I know I don’t have it all, but right now, voice is the feel of the writing. The word choices. The cadence. The rhythm. It’s how we tell our stories. I’m an intuitive person. I intuitively make my word choices. I can’t tell you why I make any one choice over another. I just…do.

Below are two exercises from this exploration of voice experience. The first is a timed writing about the topic of a first kiss.  I had five minutes to write, and I fictionalized my very first kiss experience. I wrote it more like an memoir than a story.

Todd was tall and gangly, with a greasy face, an eager smile and a shock of red hair that amused me. I was sixteen when we met at my cousin’s house, visiting my relatives in Victoria, and Todd intrigued me. I had not had a boyfriend. I was blissfully unencumbered and loving life as a woman who did what she pleased when she pleased. Okay, as a teen who finally had the keys to her father’s car.
Over dinner, Todd shyly flirted. His attempts were almost laughable, but I was feeling generous and he was trying. He listened to my young feminist self talk about why it was stupid for women to shave and why we were the smarter, more intelligent sex. He laughed at my jokes and he wasn’t scared away when I announced that I was going to run the country some day. Looking back, I think he was either in shell shock or saw me for the mark I was. I was so sure of myself, so certain that I could control any male who came near me. I knew they all wanted one thing. sex, and I was in control now of when and how I would give that. Or if I would. I was sixteen and I was free. Or so I thought.
We went walking after dinner, down the dark, treelined road. The moon wasn’t up and the stars were wild pin pricks in the sky. Todd’s arm settled on my shoulders and I felt powerful. So I stopped and looked at him and asked him if he wanted to kiss me. Like an eager puppy, his eyes widened and his hand shook, almost violently. I walked my fingers up his chest in the way I had seen the Femme Fatals in the movies dance their hands across the chest of the man they were about to ensnare. My hand curved around his neck, tugged at the hair at his nape and my smile deepened as his breathing caught. On tiptoe, I settled my lips on his and kissed him, my tongue gently caressing his lips, my mouth exerting a little pressure. I thought I was working magic. The rise in his jeans told me I was working something.
Then, before his arms could come to life and touch me, before he could use his mouth on mine, I pulled away and started walking again.

There is more to that story. Pieces of the tale colored with anger, violence, and shame. Still, as I read this snippet, I see my earnest, over-confident self. I can feel that night. I can also sense that things are about to turn very, very wrong. I don’t know what the writing of this says about my voice.

This second exercise was one of the impromptu ones that were tossed out on the voice class alumni loop. It’s a timed writing, again. I don’t remember how long we were to write. We were to answer the questions “What in this moment what frightens you?” and “What in this moment excites you?” I remember at the time of the writing that there was nothing that excited me. I was plagued with doubt. When it comes to my passions, I’m often plagued with doubt. It’s a theme in my life I’m working on. I want to change my narrative and live in hope and joy. But on this day I didn’t feel like it was ever going to happen. I was never going to be big enough to live my big dreams.

When I shared my fears I wasn’t expecting feedback. I wasn’t expecting anything. In fact, I regretted hitting send once I wrote it.

What happened was something that spoke to that terrified writer within me. I have these snippets printed out and pasted them by my computer. These have pulled me through whenever I’m too much in my head. The last one, that’s the one I read to myself most often.
I can’t help with the security angle, but I can assure you that you are most certainly a writer, and all you have to do is let it fly. Wonderful post.
I echo Barbara’s sentiment — you are a writer! Reading your post, I heard the keys click beneath fingers, the low conversational buzz. You brought me into your world which is the hallmark of a writer, isn’t it?
What a cool post you did on Barbara’s loop!  I just read it.  With every word you used to question whether you’re a writer, you actually *proved* you’re a writer.  Powerful stuff.  Way to go!
Whoo-wee, girl!  That’s a lowdown secret sly and fancy voice thang you got goin’ on!  That’s one of my rewards! Your voice — I want more of that! I often think others can describe our voice(s) more accurately than we do ourselves.  So sure, use my description as you see fit!  I’d love to know I helped you get a deal, sell a mss., launch a career.  Or just blather.  Not that I believe you blather.  You got that lowdown secret sly and fancy voice thang!
I agree. I think we need to rely on others to describe our voices more accurately than we can ourselves. Lowdown secret sly and fancy voice thang. Never in a million years would have used those words to describe my writing voice. But dayum! I read those words and something inside me loosens and I know with everything that is within me that I can be big enough to live me dreams. Hell, I AM big enough. So what if I can’t pinpoint my writing voice. The point is that I write. And that I’m true to myself. Isn’t that the point for all of us?

I Have Art Inside Me, Dammit!

I have wanted to be many things in my life. A songstress, a teacher, a psychologist, a life coach, a surgeon, an anthropologist, a writer (published and making more money than Nora Roberts. Dream big, right?), a trainer, a photographer, an artist. I became a few of these and other things along the way. Things I fell into rather than made conscious career choices regarding. I rather let life happen to me. And fear. This post is as much about fear as it is art.

When I was a young girl I had a fascination with photography. I watched my dad lug around his huge ass camera and flash set up and saw his face as he framed those perfect-to-him shots. He was rather good. This was long before digital photography and photoshop and I listened to him talk about shutter speed and f-stops and many other things that my younger mind didn’t completely take in. But I knew, I knew in my bones I wanted to be a photographer. So he gave me an old point and shoot and let me go at it. And many rolls of film later I realized I needed to learn more about what made a good shot and how to actually frame up a picture. And maybe how to process my own film. Which would take money we didn’t have. So I set my inner photographer aside until I was older and had money.

I did the same thing with other forms of artistic expression. There was only so far I could go on my own with how to books, and later the internet. I’m an experiential learner who requires a bit of a hands on approach. I’m also afraid of failing. Put these two things together and you get the perfect formula for procrastination.

I do the same thing with writing. I have books in me, but all the online courses on writing and all the how to books don’t make a lick of sense to me when I actually proceed to write. I don’t know if it’s the fear of failing or if it’s how I’m wired or something else. I suspect it’s a combination of things.

For a long time I wrote and never showed a soul. Not even my good friend and amazing author Farrah Rochon. We were both writing and trying to figure out the path to publication and when we both had day jobs we would email all day long about writing. Even have writing challenges. It was the most fun. I miss those days. Farrah went on to become published and is no longer working that day job. My hat is ever off to you, my friend.

Farrah eventually did see a few chapters of a novel I wrote. But never an entire novel. And nothing in recent years. I haven’t had it in me to allow anyone to read what I’ve written. Why? Failure. Perfectionism. Because if it remains unread on my laptop then it’s forever art at it’s purest and not something someone can smash away at with their verbal hammers.

This is not a new sentiment. I was bullied a lot from grade three until I graduated high school for being weird. I was the poor kid in an upwardly mobile neighborhood. I lived in my head and was awkward socially. My favorite pastimes were reading, making shit up, and wandering around in the woods looking for enchantments I knew weren’t real. I knew I was weird. I didn’t need people helpfully pointing that out all the time.

Of all my favorite things, I was acknowledged the most for making shit up. I won awards for my creative writing and just when I started to feel really good about myself and my strangeness, someone would say or do something that sent the very clear message that I was never ever going to fit in. I lived on this crazy precipice of giving all my detractors the finger and giving up pieces of myself in order to fit in. I sometimes wonder if I did give up my love to create and is there a way I can ever get that back.

There is art in me. There are stories. I see them sometimes bubbling below the surface of my consciousness. I have actually completed projects so that should tell me something, right? Yet every time I sit down to write I feel like a fraud and I question my right to create. Who am I to think I could ever tell a story that others would want to read and would actually resonate with them?

Then I remind myself of the single word of advice someone ever gave me: write the story of your heart. Figure the rest out later.

This may not be the best path to a career in commercial fiction, but it is the mantra of my soul when I sit down to write. Someday I’ll be brave enough to share my words with the world. Just not today.

Anxiety, Writing, And Me

My last post was about my inner demon bitch and how she tries, and often succeeds, to derail my writing progress. And life progress, if I’m honest. Today’s post is a follow up to that. I apologize for the length of this post. It started longer. See, I’m attempting to learn brevity. 😄

I know I’m not alone in feeling almost paralyzed by doubt. The therapist in me wants to send myself to therapy for some DBT or for some talk therapy. I have done both in the past and found the DBT route to be more helpful. Why? Because life is full of dialectics and because I believe the key to overcoming almost anything is rooted in mindfulness.

I love this definition of dialectics:

Dialectics, in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, refers to the process of investigating and synthesizing apparently opposing or contradictory ideas. (online source)

Opposing or contradictory ideas. How novel.  How true. A current dialectic that I’m processing is this: Writing makes me anxious, and I love to write.

I had to put this into words to really understand what has been blocking me. To understand this dialectic between anxiety and a propelling need to move forward with writing, I need to understand where the anxiety is coming from. Which means I need to make friends with this anxious energy. Friends, you say? Are you mad?

Don’t drag out the straight jacket just yet. Let me explain. Anxiety has a purpose.

However, even though anxiety and fear may feel unpleasant or uncomfortable, they are in no way negative. They actually serve a very important purpose, and it would be very hard to get by in life without these emotions.

Anxiety and fear are natural human emotions. They are our body’s alarm system. They occur in response to situations where we may be in danger or at-risk for some kind of harm. Fear is an emotion that is experienced when we are actually in a dangerous situation, whereas anxiety is an emotion that occurs when we expect or anticipate that something unpleasant may happen. (online source/ emphasis mine)

Did you read that? Anxiety is an emotion. Anxiety occurs when there is an expectation or anticipation of something unpleasant. I used to get anxious before oral presentations in college. I had to stand at a podium in front of 100 of my closest friends and string words together in a coherent manner. My hands would shake, my neck would become drenched with sweat. My voice would wobble. It was torture. Until I looked up from my notes one day and realized no one was laughing at me. No one was having side conversations and ignoring me. They laughed at my attempts at jokes, and looked almost captive when I provided a story to drive a point home.

Slowly, I stopped being anxious when in front of a crowd. I could verbally communicate and communicate well. I started to enjoy these presentations, which eventually gave me the motivation and courage to try my hand at training. To this day I get a rush with public speaking of any kind. And the impact of the stories I would weave into my presentations to make information more accessible ignited a passion for storytelling.  But, not only did I have to have enough successes, I also had to understand what was feeding the anxiety.

For public speaking, it was a fear of being judged unworthy or not good enough, which was a judgement I lived under throughout my childhood. I was not a popular child in K-12. I was shy and awkward. I was the poor white girl going to school in a district of higher middle class white kids. And kids can be cruel to anyone who is different. I was very different. I lived in my head. I kept to the outside. I didn’t have the right clothes or the right anything to be considered worthy. And when I did make friends, I lived in fear that someone would tell them about my unworthiness and I would be left alone.

That same childhood gave me a love for stories. I read to escape. I read to experience. I read because I could relate to the characters. And when I immersed myself in these worlds, I wasn’t awkward or weird or unworthy.

I also learned the gift of inner strength. And self-advocation. If no one else was going to be there for me, I was damn well going to learn how to be there for myself. I also learned empathy. There are many gifts I was able to carve out of those experiences.

When I realized that my fear of public speaking was rooted in the same fear I had of humiliation and failure to fit in, I was able to do something with that anxiety. I was able to determine if there really was a threat that was amping up the anxiety, or if it was old fear responses that were no longer adaptive. It took time and some therapy, but I was able to make friends with my anxiety, and when it was a response to a non-threat, I was able to thank the anxiety for looking out for me and reassure it that I was okay. I was really, truly okay.

This is what I’m currently doing with my inner demon bitch. She’s there, amping up the anxiety around my writing skills. I’ve taken courses. I’ve read books. I’ve listened to advice. I’ve some written book length stories. I’ve started and stopped even more. Everytime I try to incorporate advice, I end up treating my writing like my master’s thesis and I freeze. What if I can’t write a compelling character arc? What if my issues with the sagging middle are because I don’t have enough plot? Why can’t I seem to plot out a book anyway? Is something wrong with me? Do I have a passion but no talent? Am I wasting my time? Dear fluffy lord, is my desire for something I cannot have?

What do my fears have in common? They all seem derived from the question, am I good enough. I wasn’t a natural public speaker. This took time and practice and learning from others. I may be a natural storyteller but crafting an actual publishable story, for me that may take a learning curve over time. And I won’t know until I get the words on the page and get the feedback from trusted people who know their shit. And can communicate their critiques in a compassionate and affirming way.

I know I can learn. I know I can work hard to master something when I’m invested in the process. I know these truths about myself. I also know that to become proficient, even excellent at something, I have to practice. And analyze. And fail. And figure out where I went wrong. And get up and start again with that new knowledge.

This is what I mean by making friends with my anxiety. It has a purpose. It wants to protect me. In the case of writing, it can’t protect me, because to protect me means never actually writing. Never putting my work out there. Never striving toward my passion and my dream. At the same time, that anxiety about not being good enough, it can also be reframed to push me to do my best and to continue to learn and hone my skills. It doesn’t need to be debilitating.

Mindfulness comes in when i allow myself to feel anxious, allow my body to have it’s response, and I don’t judge it or push it away. This allows me to feel my Feels and to begin to understand my thoughts. And to let these thoughts go. More on mindfulness in my next post.

I can be anxious about my writing and I can have a deep passion for writing. These two things can exist at the same time. They can even work together, if I can give them the time and space to learn to play nice together.