A Few Thoughts On Page Fright

One of the many things I thought I wanted to be when I was a child was a writer.   That dream stuck, and carried over into adulthood.

Even now, when people ask me about what job I’m going to do next, I make some pithy remark about the poor state of the economy and my lack of qualifications for most positions and say, “Well, I guess I’d better get to work on that writing career!”

Yet, for the past three years–by May, anyway, it will have been–the only writing I have done amounts to journal entries, blog entries, a handful of mediocre poems, and one very rough, complete draft of a genre fiction short story.

You see, I have this condition:

Page Fright: This is when you appear before that blank page and freeze up. There it is, that new Word document, staring you in the face, asking you to perform, to do something brilliant and entertaining and witty and utterly fabulous. And all you can do is stare back, dumbstruck and paralyzed.

I’ve started things, of course, most notably two novels.  Then, when the initial rush of happiness to be writing again wears off, I see all the naked flaws of the plot or the character(s) or my writing itself, and either abandon it or delete it.

This is assuming I even start in the first place.  More often than not, I sit there staring at a blank page, either on the computer screen or in a notebook.  Inevitably, I decide that the idea in my head that has me sitting there in front of a blank page is stupid, and I go read people’s blogs or a book by a successful author instead.

I fail to remember, in the moment, that I can’t be a writer if I don’t write.  I forget that it doesn’t have to be perfect in its first draft, or that I can actually just keep writing and let the story develop if I don’t already have the blanks all filled.

Then, there’s the certain amount of shame I feel at the sort of stories that seem to most often come to me.  You see, I graduated university with honors, Magna Cum Laude, with a B.A. in English Literature.  I was swallowed by academia, happily so for the most part.  However, the stories that most often bubble up for me, wanting to be told, are what academia looks–and, generally, scoffs–at as the literary equivalent of Cheez Whiz; in other words, genre fiction, especially category romance.

It’s not that I have something against genre writers.  I quite frequently enjoy their work, especially paranormal romances.  Those are, for me, on the guilty pleasures scale, like eating a few too many Lindor truffles, only they don’t add fat to my bottom.

It’s just that my Inner Academic is a snob when it comes to the expectations I have for myself.  Said Inner Academic also worries about how I’ll be perceived by my former professors and classmates if, after all that hard work, I didn’t continue my quest for brilliance but settled happily into guilty pleasure territory.  (Yes, I know there is the option of using a pseudonym, but what would I say if I was successful and not working another job if they asked what I was doing with myself?) So, you see, I feel internal pressure to be exceedingly bright and shoot for the literary stratosphere instead of merrily skipping along the Earth’s surface.

I need to stop trying to be perfect, or as perfect as possible.  That’s really the root of the problem.  Very few things in the world–except maybe the aforementioned truffles–are perfect.  There’s nothing wrong with writing something to be quickly enjoyed on a rainy, weekend afternoon, just as there’s nothing wrong with writing something so obscure that scholars may never be sure of its full scope.  Personally, I would like what I write to be intelligible to the public-at-large.  I’d like the readers to find it entertaining, to gobble it down with surprising speed and want more.

Sighs.

So, I can add something else to the ever-lengthening list of things of which I need to let go: Page Fright.  I have a writer inside me somewhere, if only I could let her out and she would stop being afraid.

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