On Writing and the Fear Factor

December 28, 2015 § 19 Comments


Jacki Skole

Jacki Skole

By Jacki Skole

I read to put off writing, and lately, I’ve been reading a lot.

Sometimes I read about writing—books like Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Sometimes I read the nonfiction I’d like to write. Recently, that’s meant a lot of magazine-length and flash nonfiction. I suppose I’m hoping for some sort of literary osmosis to take place.

All this reading makes me a bit of a hypocrite. When I speak to students in a Writing for the Mass Media course I teach at my local community college, I tell them, “To become the writer you want to be, you must read, and you must write—write a little every day.”

And yet… I don’t write every day or every other day. Sometimes weeks pass.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve never considered myself a writer. A journalist, sure. I spent a decade in broadcast journalism before stepping back to raise two daughters. Missing the work, but wanting to be with my girls, I launched a second career teaching journalism to college students. Still, I missed the reporting.

So, inspired by my dog—I’m living my own “who rescued who” story—I wrote a book. Even had it published. Am I now a writer? Or since the book is the outgrowth of my reporting, am I simply a journalist? Do I do a disservice to journalists—story-tellers all—if I consider journalism distinct from writing?

Recently, I’ve been struggling with what it means to be a writer and how I want to incorporate writing into my life.

Is writing a calling? I’ve heard some say it is and that it’s as essential to living as breathing. Or is writing merely a skill to be capitalized on in pursuit of a career, be it in journalism, advertising, publishing…? Is writing both? More? Must I answer this question if I’m to move forward?

Back to why I’ve been reading. A few hours with The New Yorker or Creative Nonfiction, a book by Tracy Kidder or Barbara Ehrenreich, and I feel productive, empowered even. I’m learning new things about our diverse, too often dysfunctional world, discovering innovative ways to cover it, uncovering fresh approaches to writing about it. That same time spent in front of a Microsoft Word document can yield nothing—or at least nothing worthwhile.

But perhaps the primary reason I read rather than write is fear. It tells me the book I wrote was a one-off, that essays rejected by newspapers and literary magazines more accurately reflect my talent, or lack thereof. It never lets me forget the Boston Globe reporter who taught newswriting at the University of Michigan, whose criticisms remain fresh twenty-plus years after they should have become stale. Fear has, until this essay, grounded my ability to write.
I’m hoping this essay is a first step in taking on, if not overcoming, my fear. I’m also making a New Year’s resolution—unusual for me as I’m not a resolution maker—to write a little every day, just as I tell my students. But since I don’t think I can go it alone, I’m getting help from a book I bought several years ago and let languish. It’s part teacher, part butt-kicker. The title is going to be my mantra: Now Write! Nonfiction.

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Jacki Skole is a journalist, adjunct professor and mom (not necessarily in that order). Her book, Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem, was published this summer by Ashland Creek Press.

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§ 19 Responses to On Writing and the Fear Factor

  • cacramer says:

    I’ve made the same goal, but armed with 642 things to write about; everyday is covered.

  • rachaelhanel says:

    I used to feel bad for reading when I had writing to do, but now I’ve learned that reading is part of the writing process. Or watching a well-crafted movie or TV series. Lately I’ve been rewatching “Mad Men” and it’s actually helping me find a narrative arc in my own work.

  • I’m right there with you Jacki. You’re essay made me feel better about it too, thank you for sharing. I’m working on a non-fiction book and I’ve found that the actual writing is much harder and scarier than the editing process. Grabbing a bottle of wine and going back a couple days later and seeing how much better you can make your piece is a lot of fun and can be very empowering. Its like the reward for making yourself sit down to write in the first place. Keep at it!

  • Little Voice says:

    Great essay. If you haven’t read ‘An Artist’s Way’, you might want to pick it up. Talks about the benefits of daily writing.

  • C J Grabinski says:

    Thank you, Jacki, for helping me confront some of the same and some parallel issues concerning my own behaviors to delay the writing I know I should and want to be doing, but also my work as an artist. You have reminded me that I don’t have to be working on a publishable work every day–sometimes the writing just needs to be writing.

  • theagavin says:

    I appreciated (and identified with!) your thoughts on this! Thanks!

  • Inkhorn says:

    i have to agree, there are times as much as i live to write i avoid it like the plague. i think its because there is so much to write about its overwhelming and i dread the work it takes to narrow it down.

  • prachymohan says:

    Just because writing seems necessary doesn’t mean we don’t need a break from it. Sometimes I find it better when I’m not writing and instead letting things percolate in my head. But this year my resolution is also to wrote everyday🙂 so good luck to you!

  • S. Gold (aka Wolfman Alabaster Jones) says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Hello Jacki:) I came across your post as i sat tonight to explore wordpress; i was not familiar with it, with the follows, and the people on here and different blogs, except till recently.. I come from a part of the world where online platforms and the internet is unfortunately not really ‘trusted’ source for anything: purchase of services or goods, upgrading of skills, let alone, on exchanging posts and lessons with people from all over, virtually. Yet, here i am on wordpress now, recently, despite all odds because i needed to feel accountable to someone, or somehow, “to write”. So, reading your article tonight about writing, and the hesitations, and/or fears, and/or perfectionism sometimes that all accompany us when we decide to write a little every day, touched me and spoke to Me. I also ‘preach’ a little more than i actually “do” myself, like writing daily. I learned the importance of writing, about anything, on a daily basis, following a traumatic accident; ever since, because i was alone in my misery at some point last year, writing to the university paper, and then to more public websites was the only thing i could do to communicate to others in my life in this period. And so there i was, even on the worst of my days then, I had a little something to share. Consequently, writing makes/made me feel seen, heard,and valued, i became a better person, and i realised it was because i genuinely enjoy writing, like you and every comment-er here i believe. Yet, I am a perfectionist, i think i hesitate to write mainly because i just would love the piece or blog post or journal to be just perfect, with the perfect message, etc. So since all last year’s revelations, my own personal resolution since October 2015 and reinforced this Jan 2016, like yours, is complete devotion to writing on my new personal blog launched only this Nov.2015, but also, launching another professional blog, which i had in mind since last year. What worked for me, may work for you, so i am compelled to share my experience and current experiment: give 5 minutes every day, morning, eve, or afternoon depending on your schedule, to write whatever comes to your mind.Truly, aim for 5minutes to fill your notebook/papers. Then stop and get on with the rest of your day. Day after another, (after around 21times or days), this 5-minute dedication to writing will become a Habit. This means, at least for me, I began to feel “horrible” if 1 day passes and i miss out on my assigned 5-minutes.Also, i noticed once this habit is formed, then i started feeling more confident about my writing and less of a perfectionist. So i ended up writing more, and then my 5 minutes turned into an hour, and so on..
    Thank you ever so much for your wonderful platform, post, and the pool of comments and people-interaction with your post say so much about you as a person, your intellect, and the quality of your audience.

    Keep writing, I’ll keep checking on you through here, i promise i will as often as i can !! Sincerely yours.

    • JackiSkole says:

      Thank you for the “5 minute” suggestion. I have actually started a similar habit for myself. On the advice of a commenter above, I picked up “Artist’s Way” and the author’s suggestion is to handwrite three pages in the morning–every morning. So that’s what I’m doing–“morning papers” the author calls it.

  • Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Today’s re-blog, though from a non-fiction writer, is still good for fiction folk.

    It has many questions you may have asked yourself and an interesting resolution🙂

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