Keeping Fear on a Short Leash
By Francine Puckly
Beginnings. Everyone loves a good beginning. And, no. I’m not talking about the beginning of your novel or picture book, the one the reader sees. I’m leaving that to Annie.(hook-em-into-your-book.html) I’m talking about when you begin anew: take on that new challenge, go after that dream or bucket list item that’s been nagging at you for months or years, or start that new manuscript that you know, deep in your soul, is what you’re supposed to be writing next.
Launching a new project makes us both a little scared and dizzy with excitement. The energy is electrifying.
For a little while, anyway.
But when the meat of the work begins—when you take inventory of the skills you currently lack, but must acquire in order to bring the project or endeavor to fruition—the energy wanes and you are left with the sobering reality that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. It takes courage to continue when we inevitably falter along the path.
I began four new and intimidating projects all in the same week this fall. What fanfare! Bands played, banners waved, and confetti rained down on me as I sprinted toward my figurative playing fields. But that only lasted a few weeks. Because what I did was begin a new historical fiction novel (something I said I would never do because "I don’t know how to write historical fiction”); took on a sewing project for which I have no skills, no pattern and no training; started alto saxophone lessons which has included trying out various reeds and mouthpieces, none of which sound like music but rather just ear-piercing noise and squeaks; and signed up for a Ladies’ Tap dance class when I’ve never danced a jig in my life. The “good for you!” enthusiasm from family, friends and other spectators only carries you so far. At some point you realize, “I really stink.” And the next thought might be, “Maybe this was a bad idea.” Followed quickly by, “Maybe I should quit.”
Energy ebbs and flows. And now that it has ebbed big time, I’ve pondered the following questions: How can we sustain projects when we’re fearful of the next steps and doubt our ability to finish? How do we stare down our fear and intimidation and increase our odds of sticking with a project when the going gets tough?
Here are a few suggestions I’ve put into play.
1. Pull the fear into positive action. I’ve become an expert at recognizing my fear. It makes daily appearances in the form of procrastination, edginess or looking for a quick fix elsewhere such as social media, online shopping, chocolate or whatever else will take away what I’m feeling. One of the quickest ways for me to wrestle it to the ground is to set my timer. For 8, 10, 15 or 20 minutes or whatever, I say, “Don’t think. Just do.” I race toward one unsavory task that I’ve been kicking forward with the clock ticking.
2. Care for yourself.
Wait. What did I just say? Yep, that’s right. Take proper care of yourself physically and mentally. You can’t continue a project if you run yourself into the ground with negative self-talk, or by skipping balanced meals, proper hydration, sleep and exercise. Because this is the first thing out the window for me, I have to track it daily in writing. If I stop tracking, I stop doing. “Have you been walking, Francine?” is the first thing my 24 Carrot family asks me when I’m in a mental and physical slump. It’s rhetorical, of course, because we all know the answer.
3. Seek out support from trusted sources.
A shoulder to cry on is essential. Those cheerleaders in life must be sought out and embraced when you are tackling something new. Likewise, don’t trust a naysayer with what little energy you have left on a project. Pause before confiding. Will this person be helpful or just convince you to quit?
4. Sometimes it’s okay to quit.
What?! Yes, it is okay as long as you quit for the right reasons. Sometimes this means quitting entirely, like I did with the afore-mentioned sewing project. After spending nearly 8 hours on it one day, I wasn’t even close to being done. It was going to be expensive from a financial standpoint, and even more importantly, it was going to be costly from a time standpoint. I decided I would rather write than sew. So I called my favorite seamstress and let her take over. Someday she’ll read my book, and someday I’ll happily sit on her cushions. It’s a win-win for both of us because we’re both doing what we love. Other times we only “sorta” quit. Like I did with a novel a few years back. I loved my characters but after three drafts, I hated the actual story. I knew the project didn’t hold enough joy for me to spend another year or more revising and rewriting until it was polished. So I lassoed those characters and superimposed them into a new plot! Problem solved. I kept what I loved and abandoned the rest.
I’m by no means out of the woods with my three remaining projects. Days when my fear is front and center are exceptionally hard. That’s when I try my best to focus on the basics—respect myself mentally and physically, reach out to friends, and set the timer and force myself to complete something. Anything.
Whatever new project you’re venturing into, take your fear with you but be sure to keep it on a short leash. Throw a few of these tools in your hip pocket and keep going!
10/18/2016 12:13:58 am
Francine, I simply love this post! Thank you for being so brave, adventurous and honest.
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