Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: fear

Fear and Breaks

I was thinking about taking a break from my book.

This is my third novel. The first one was practice. The second one was supposed to be a stand-alone fantasy. Then it got away from me. It crept toward 200k words and, as I was ending it, I realized it wasn’t ending. My book had turned itself into a series without my permission.

That scared me. I didn’t think I was ready to write a series. To go from practice to epic fantasy series in one book … terrifying. And the fear weighed on me. Hard. I felt like I needed to take a break. Needed to take some time out for, I dunno, training or something. I felt like I needed to stop writing the book and maybe do some blogging or write some poems. Or maybe throw together that cute sci-fi novella I have been thinking about. Or, since NaNoWriMo is nearly here, write up a crappy novel just so I could say I did it.

I was about to do it. I had basically decided on my way to work last night. I was going to walk away. Part of me silently wondered if I’d ever return.

Then I started asking myself what I still needed to do with this novel I’m working on. It’s already pretty big. More than 100k so far. What still needs doing?

I drew up a list.

There were four items on the list.

That couldn’t be right, I thought. It’s huge. It’s insurmountable. It’s terrifying. How could there only be four things left to do? Why do I feel so overwhelmed?

Maybe, just maybe, because fear is a dirty liar.

Maybe because fear whispers insidious words into the secret places of my mind. And those secret places spread the news: You cannot do this! And that news flows through my consciousness, taking away confidence. And they travel through my body, sucking out energy. And the words grasp at my heart, making me question my identity, my abilities.

Fear.

I’m not going to take a break. I’ve taken them before and I know what kind of damage they cause. Just like you never really hate your job until you return from vacation.

I’m a writer. It doesn’t matter that I’ve only written two books. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never made a cent from my words. I’m a writer because I write. I’m a writer because I choose to be one. And I have no need for breaks.

You know why they call them breaks?

They break things.

Thoughts on Starting a Novel

     You might be tempted to think that a writer deserves a break once he or she has finished a project. I don’t really think so, though. Writing is a habit. And there’s no reason to kick a habit in the shin once it’s started to pay off.

     So I started my next book already. It’s neat to stand here, staring out at the ocean of blank pages to fill.

     It’s scary, too.

     I’ve got amazing plans and visions and ideas. A billion of them. They’re everywhere. And they scare the shiong mao niao out of me.

     Sitting down to write a book is like deciding to procreate. It’s generally a pretty easy process to get started. But it’s a terrifying one to see through. Getting ideas is as easy as having sex. But turning those ideas into a good and true story is as hard as raising a son or daughter to fulfill all the infinite and beautiful possibilities they are born with.

     So, yeah, I approach this new book with a healthy amount of trepidation.

     But if writing a book is scary because it’s like raising a kid, then it’s exciting for the same reason.

     My kids are wild. Ask anyone who knows them. They are bursting with personality and ideas and that wild, creative spirit that makes them little snapshots of God. And they have hardly even begun to show the world what they’re really capable of. I try to guess what they will turn into, and I can’t. Sometimes I think it’s blasphemy to even try. So I sit back, tweak things here and there, and let them run free.

     Starting a novel is like that. The idea was mine. The initial acts were mine. And I retain control even as the story progresses. But, in the end, it goes wherever it wants. And I’d be a fool to hinder it.

     So I stand on the brink, looking down at a virgin world, and wonder what will grow there when I start plowing and planting. It scares me, because I could screw things up royally. But it excites me, too, because the possibilites are endless. And I know, deep down, that if I just let the story be what it is, it’ll turn out fine.

Cloak and Dagger

     My wife blew my mind with this year’s Christmas gift. She bought me a cloak. It’s amazing. It’s a woolen, brown winter cloak that reaches to my ankles and is warmer than any coat I’ve owned. It’s the perfect thing for winter. Best gift ever.

     But not everyone thinks so.

     You see, when you dress funny, people stare. I’ve always dressed a little funny, but I’m getting the impression that the cloak crosses a line. The stares are pretty blatant now. And not all of them are amused.

     So what do I do? What do I do when I walk through the grocery store, cloak flowing behind me, and kids start laughing? When old men roll their eyes? When people stare with that look that says ‘What’s wrong with that guy?’

     I smile, give my cloak a bit of a flourish, and move on.

     Because I wear clothes for only two purposes: Function and Fun. I don’t dress for strangers. I don’t care if people think I look like an idiot. Wearing a cloak is fun. You know it is! Everyone wishes they could wear a cloak. But nearly everyone is too afraid.

     Fear is dirty. Fear cripples every good thing you wish you could do. Especially creative things like writing and clothing.

     For a brief, tiny moment I wondered if I shouldn’t wear this cloak outdoors. But I knew that since I loved it, I had no choice. Because all the harsh stares in the world are nothing compared to the suffering of the man who makes his decisions based on what others will think of him.

     So I wear a cloak when it’s cold outside. And I write my book the way I want it written. And I live my life the way I want to live it. Anything else is dishonest. And woe to the man who is dishonest to himself for the sake of pleasing the world. That man lives a shallow life. That man lives a boring life. That man wastes his life. That man needs to read this comic from xkcd, pour his true heart onto a piece of paper and get himself a cloak.