This is my latest guest post on the topic of fear, in which Jody Casella talks about challenging our fears.
Several years ago I hit a writing wall. I'd been working seriously for years, but I couldn't break through. Editors expressed interest in my books then told me in a variety of ways: No.
A turning point came when I attended a Highlights Children's Writers workshop. I showed up, I'm ashamed to say, reluctantly, almost arrogantly. I remember thinking, "What can these people tell me that I don't already know?"
The first day I met with my assigned mentor to go over a manuscript that I thought was finished and perfect. She pointed out a few things I might want to try. She was kind, not critical in the least. But the conversation almost destroyed me.
My arrogance disappeared. In its place was fear. Fear that my writing wasn't good. Fear that I had no idea how to make it better.
The rest of the week I became a sponge for information, attending every session, taking notes, asking questions. One of the speakers, editor Patricia Lee Gauch, discussed why so many manuscripts went wrong. Climaxes would happen off stage. Essential scenes were skimmed over.
It was almost as if the writer pulled back right at the moment when she should've "gone all in."
A light bulb went off in my head. I had been doing exactly this. Holding back just as the story took off in a direction I hadn't planned. Glossing over moments that hit an emotional nerve. I wasn't going all in with my stories.
I wasn't going all in as a writer either. Holding back was a way to protect myself. Because, what if I tried my hardest and I still failed?
But if I didn't give it my all, could I ever succeed?
After the workshop, I started writing a book called Thin Space. The usual fears and doubts plagued me. What if it wasn't good? What if no one ever wanted to read it? And what the heck WAS it anyway? I thought, as the story turned into something kind of weird and horrifying.
I kept writing anyway. I let the story go where it wanted. I threw everything I had into following it to its conclusion. It was the most exhilarating experience of my life and I decided that even if it never made it into print, it was a book I was proud to have written.
Thin Space, Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2013
"There’s a fine line between the living and the dead, and Marsh is determined to cross it in this gut-wrenching debut novel."
Jody Casella lives with her husband and two children in Ohio.