“Living in fear is just another way of dying before your time.” – Mike Cooley
I stumbled across this quote the other day, and it stuck with me. I had to look up who Mike Cooley is, because I’m old, and even when I was young, I was never very cool. (But I listened to a bit of his music, and I’ll definitely be listening to more…)
In any case, at the confluence of being 51 and thinking about where I want to be in ten years and looking at the changes our family is going to undertake this year and what the world has been through over the past year, this particular quote churned some ideas out of the old noggin. And so as is my wont, I thought I’d let my ideas wander out in blog form.
What does it mean to live in fear?
The first thing I thought about around this quote is what it really means to live in fear.
I don’t think I’m a particularly fearful person. When people ask me what I’m afraid of, I often have trouble coming up with an answer. There are things I prefer not to encounter, like spiders the size of Smart Cars, but I’m not especially afraid of them. There are things that make me uneasy, like heights, but I know that if I stay back from edges and hold onto railings, I’ll be okay. There are things that paralyze others in fear that make me sad to consider, like the death of a loved one, but I don’t really fear those things.
I’m a fairly cautious person in my personal life. I drive reasonably safely and wear my seat belt and don’t take stupid risks in vehicles. I only walk or run when it’s light out, and I try to “watch my six.” I wash my hands and clean cutting boards after slicing up chicken and lift with my legs (usually). I don’t click on mysterious links, and I hang up when I get “your car warranty is expired” calls.
But though I’m cautious, I would not call myself obsessed with safety or a “safety mom.”
So if someone asked me if I “live in fear,” I would reflexively say “no.”
Am I living in fear after all?
Here’s what I realized: I do have fears, and they are dictating how I live and work.
I fear offending someone on the Internet and being canceled.
I fear alienating people because of my beliefs, even though I mostly follow a “live and let live” philosophy in the every day.
To some degree, I fear bad reviews–not because I can’t handle people not liking my work, but because I am afraid they are right.
I definitely fear publishing crappy stories.
All of these fears have consequences–self-censorship, reluctance to write and edit, hesitation over any “publish” or “post” button… I have found myself editing for an audience that may or may not even encounter my work–one that may not like my portrayal of certain characters or objects to the worldview that flows through my work. Of course, these things affect my creativity. I censor my Muse before she even gets started.
This is no way to live.
Dying before my time?
If I’m going to make a living writing and publishing fiction, I have to leave fear in the dust.
I am 51. In ten years, when all of my kids have (hopefully) fully launched, do I still want to be struggling with Unquickened, hustling for commercial work, and dreaming of a future where I’m making more than $30 a year from fiction?
There are enough obstacles to making a living writing fiction without throwing fear into the mix.
Right now, when I sit down to write or edit, I open the door to all of my own personal writing demons. They whisper a lot of crap…
You’re not good enough for this.
Your ideas aren’t what people want to read.
You pull too much Jesus stuff into it, you’ll bring down the wrath of the Internet.
You share that idea, you’ll get canceled, and then you’ll never make a living from fiction.
There are also the other, more personal demons…
You get too wrapped up in this world, you’ll hurt your family again.
Writing is what got you into trouble all those years ago.
Your kids/husband will hate you doing this.
You know what? Screw that.
I’m tired of letting fear dictate my writing future. There’s an answer for every one of those demon taunts, and I do not have to entertain them.
Get Busy Living
So here we are.
This year is about to get really busy for a whole bunch of reasons. But I feel like my family and I are ready to get busy living. We’ve all been on a gigantic pause for a year, and while it’s possible to blame that on a virus or government restrictions or elections or what have you, the truth is that the only alternative to “get busy living” is to “get busy dying.”
So I’m done.
Done entertaining demons…
Done entertaining “what ifs” and “if onlies”…
Done holding my breath and waiting for someone to approve of my next action…
Time to leave fear in the dust and get busy living.