Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Insecure Writers: The Reality of Fear

NOTE: It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Ok, everyone. I'm going to do it again. I'm going to get serious, and talk about fear.

Here's the rub: I'm afraid.

The novel I'm currently working on is about love. Specifically, it's about two souls in love. Here, in fact, is the blurb I wrote about it for NaNoWriMo:

"Two souls chase each other through time and space in a love story that spans entire continents and eras. A Greek god falls in love with a mortal youth; a born-again preacher falls under the spell of a brilliant yet icy scientist; a young tribal leader risks everything for the sake of a wild nomadic shaman. These stories intertwine with many others to form a complex tapestry that explores the intersection of faith and love, and the very human fear of making leaps in both."

Way in the very beginning of this process, when I decided I was going to write a book about souls, instead of people, I knew I was going to play with gender. It didn't even occur to me to not do that. In a previous IWSG post, I mentioned this, noting (to quote myself, here) "And what better way...to explore how our souls love, than by taking gender out of the equation? I mean, does a soul have a gender? ...it's such a fascinating issue and question that I want to raise it."

And that's what I'm doing. As of now, there are going to be at least six lifetimes in this book (although I reserve the right to add or subtract as needed.) Three will have a love story between a man and a woman. One will be between two men. Another will be between two women. A third, which will begin and end the book, and weave throughout the other stories, will be between a woman and a narrator whose gender is never specified.

I know that many people will read that last paragraph and think, "So what?" And some others might think, "Cool!" I also know, though, that many others - more than I might think or hope - will read it with mild disgust at best, and outrage at worst.

This is not exaggeration. There are entire countries where loving someone of the same gender can land you in jail, or in a grave. In the modern world. In 2014. The US isn't exempt: despite the Supreme Court's ruling in 2003, there are some states that still enforce (unconstitutional) laws that target homosexuality.

So it's with some trepidation that I write this book. Look, I'm realistic; I know I'm not doing anything seriously dangerous, or even trail-blazing. Many, many activists, plenty of normal people, and a large and growing number of writers have done and will do much more, and risk much more. I salute them and support them in any way I can.

But I'm human, and I'm flawed, and I'll admit that I don't want to be hated or judged. I want people to read my books. I want people to buy them, and read them, and talk about them, and I don't want to become a target of vitriol (who does?), or preach to the choir - and incidentally, M.L. Swift has a great, brave, eloquent post about not doing just that, which you can read right here - simply because I chose to write about love. Judge me for writing badly; for being boring; for being untruthful in my work; but please don't judge me for what I believe, in my heart, about love. Or for who I love.

Because I do believe it, deeply. I believe that gender, like race, is skin-deep; that many if not most of our assumptions about gender come from social mores, not biology; that our souls, whatever those gleaming, intangible, vital streams of light and spirit may be, do not obey the laws of gender; that when we love, truly love, we love with our spirits as well as our physical bodies. And I want, desperately, to tell this story: the story of souls, not people, who love.

And so I can't write this book any other way. And yet, I'm still afraid.

Is that silly? Maybe. But I can't help it: the fear of judgement is very real. I have friends here online, and a whole world of readers I hope to attract, and I don't want them to dismiss me, or my stories, because of prejudice.

And yet, they might still. Ultimately, it doesn't matter - I'm going to write this anyway, no matter what people might think. I would guess that writers who censor themselves out of fear of judgement probably end up creating terribly dull fiction. Certainly some of the world's great books have offended, and will continue to offend, giant portions of the population. I'm not completely crazy; I don't think I'm writing one of those masterpieces (I have a very long way to go, and a lot to learn, before I could even hope to do that.) I just hope to tell a true story - not a real story, but one that vibrates with something true about what it means to be human - and yes, to reach some hearts that might be surprised to find themselves reached.

56 comments:

  1. If you're interested, I thought "Cool!"

    I really want to read this book!

    And I agree with what you said about writers who censor themselves. I also understand your fear. I don't believe it's silly, and I wish you all the best because I really do want to read this book.

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    1. Are you kidding? Of course I'm interested :) Thanks so much for being supportive. It helps - it really does.

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  2. Oh Liz...this post gave me chills and put a tear in my eye. So much inequality still to overcome, even if everything were "legal" and "constitutional" for all people. It's about changing people's minds.

    I'm co-hosting IWSG this month and you were on my list of folks to visit (I would've visited anyway), but I applaud you for this post and am so glad you are raising your voice on the subject and writing stories. I'll be tweeting and FBing your article.

    It is through works like yours that change WILL happen. I'm proud to be a witness to it, and will be joining in on the effort. I'm taking my blog in a different direction (slightly, as I've always voiced my opinion) and will be discussing such topics. They may be hotbeds of social discord, but I'm willing to go there. After all, I picketed the Republican National Convention in 1996 supporting the freedom for all people to marry. Hoped for a change back then. Here it is, eighteen years later and it's still not set in stone, but it's getting there.

    Thanks for mentioning my post. I plan on more like that. :)

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Thank you so much, Mike. And thank you for sharing this!! I thought twice, then five or six times about writing it, but I'm glad I did. And thank you, as always, for your honesty and courage (1996??? Wow. You're amazing). I'm heading over to visit you now :)

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  3. You can never please everyone, so don't even try. But the way your craft this story and the things you focus on will make the difference in how it is received. If you treat it as an exploration and not a soapbox, you might just write something epic that readers feel oddly drawn to, regardless of their beliefs.

    IWSG #298
    (Yup. I got culled and had to start all over. *blush*)

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    1. Thank you, Melissa. You put that so beautifully: "If you treat it as an exploration and not a soapbox, you might just write something epic that readers feel oddly drawn to, regardless of their beliefs." That's what I'm trying to do - tell a good story, not prove a point. Here's to trying!

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    2. I echo Melissa. Exploration...not soapbox. Same with anything controversial (i.e., religion): nobody likes anything crammed down their throat, just something offered on a plate to say, "yes, thank you" or "no, I'm not hungry."

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    3. Yup, she's a smart one. I'm with both of you...and I'll keep reminding myself of that!!

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  4. You write the story that's in your mind. It comes to you that way and the characters demand it. When it excites your creative mind you don't ignore it.

    Souls, from the point of reference you are creating this story, have no gender so it makes sense. Challenging and fun task to put together.. Go for it.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

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    1. Thank you! It IS challenging and fun. And worth a try :)

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  5. Many, Many controversial reads make it big somehow. Everyone likes to add their two cents, whether good or bad. Go for it! Write what makes you happy and forget about the rest.

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    1. That's true - I guess if people hate it and talk about it, they'll just increase the number of people reading it. I'll try to think that way!! Thanks! :)

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  6. I think that if you're afraid that's precisely the reason you should write it. To confront the fear and prove to yourself you had nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

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  7. I'm of the opinion that souls do have specific genders, but taking it from a different perspective would be an interesting exploration. Explore away!

    As for the whole love thing, I don't mind different definitions of love, as long as people don't try to force on me into a new definition for the age-old institution of marriage. People can love who they want, but humanity still only propagates with a man and a woman. It's my belief there's only one stable way to ensure a nation's future and strength: through solid traditional families.

    Liz, I hope your project turns out amazing!

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    1. Crystal, I really appreciate your comment and support even though we disagree. We might have to agree to disagree on this one. I agree that solid families ensure a strong future, but I don't agree that they have to be traditional to be solid, or strong. I know a lot of amazing, loving, inspiring families who wouldn't fit the small definition of 'traditional'. I also challenge that definition, because there are many cultures in the world where it means something very different.

      But, I don't need to go on and on. Thank you again for supporting this project :)

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  8. So much of writing is simply exploring the things that don't come easily to us. Which is counter to what many people think writing is. (Write what you know, etc.) Do your best to understand real issues, because it can only help with the depths you're able to go to. But don't believe you have to cover every inch of something to be able to write about it effectively (or responsibly). You're telling a story, not THE story. :)

    Think it's an awesome concept btw!

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    1. I very much agree - and I think 'write what you know' is a terrible piece of advice ;) Thanks for the good advice, and the support!

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  9. Can I just second what Crystal said?
    Taking on the idea of souls instead of gender is quite ambitious, but if you can pull it off, and if it's the story you feel most passionate about, then it's the one you must write. And trust me, now matter which way you write the story, someone will disagree.

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    1. Thanks, Alex. Yes, you can second Crystal, and I can avoid repeating myself and just thank you for coming by, and supporting me :)

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  10. Yeah, hard to imagine you have to be afraid of writing about this topic still in 2014. But as you can see by the comments, people have different beliefs and always will. But for any animosity you might experience, you'll also get a lot of cheers and thank yous. :))

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    1. Yes, they will, won't they? Sigh. Thanks for the cheers, Luanne :)

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  11. The description of your story reminds me of Cloud Atlas.

    I am of the camp that likes to read about love. Don't try to convince me your definition is right, just present the evidence that love exists and I'll decide for myself. Romance is different, at least for me. Romance exists between two lovers and leans more toward lust. Love can be between friends, family, or complete strangers.

    I'm interested in reading what you produce and how you go about delivery.

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    1. I'll take that as a high compliment, because I loved that book. And it's a good reminder not to preach but just to tell a story. That's the goal :)

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  12. If someone is offended by what's in your book, or anyone's book, then clearly s/he's not the right audience. People who do like what the book is about will be your fans and love the book.

    So much of gender is a social construct. Sex is determined by biology, but gender is determined by society and your own feelings. One of the books I'm planning to indie publish this year ended up with two female best friends (not the protagonists) becoming more than friends. I don't think I should have to put a warning in the beginning of the book in case anyone would be offended, just as I don't think I should have to put a warning about certain language, racist views in a historical context, or anti-religious remarks. People can't read only what absolutely agrees with them, and shouldn't be so offended by fiction or other ways of being.

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    1. You're probably right, but I still want to reach those people, anyway. Isn't that how change can happen? Maybe? Sigh. I don't know.

      I'm with you on sex and gender, and I think your book sounds great, personally :)

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  13. I didn't think "cool" exactly--I thought, that sounds awesome! Best luck in finishing this and definitely don't hold back while you're writing. :)

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    1. Haha, thanks, I'll take that!! Thanks so much for the support!

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  14. It’s ok to be afraid, just don’t let it stop you. Write the story that keeps you up at night. Write the story that occupies your mind. Write the story that swims behind your eyes when they are open and when they are closed. Write it and if people agree or disagree, if they talk about it or become passionate about it, then you will know you've done something incredible, you would have written something that touched people's hearts and minds. Is there no better reason to write?

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    1. You're so right, and it was beautifully and eloquently said. I'll do my best!

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  15. If you're remaining true to the story you want to tell, you can't go wrong. Plus, some of the biggest books of our time were based on someone taking chances. I say go for it!

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    1. Thanks! That's definitely the goal, as so many wise commenters have pointed out. The Story is what matters. I'll try my best to stay true to it :)

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  16. I know you have the creativity and the courage to write this story as you want it to be. I know you'll get lots of encouragement from the readers of your blog as you should. Whether you'll find the same attitudes from the world in general? I think you will from the parts of the world you want as your fans.

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    1. Thank you so much, Susan. The encouragement and support is so much appreciated :)

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  17. Loving your book blurb. It sounds amazing. Good for you for being open and honest in this post. I think these days it is a lot easier to write gay characters in fiction than even 10 years ago. It's not nearly as scary as being an activist like so many folks are doing in states like Indiana where gay marriage is being fought out in the political sphere. Your writing might open someone's mind about homosexuality, which would be awesome. Go for it. Write from the heart.

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    1. Thank you! I agree; it IS easier now, thanks to so many pioneering authors, and part of me feels silly for being scared...but I can't help it. I'll take your excellent advice, though, and go for it :)

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  18. Write the story that's in your heart. Sure, there will be people who don't like it, but you have to be true to yourself. If you pour your soul into it, it will show, and it'll be something you're proud of.

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  19. All I can say is, accept the fear, embrace it and let it pass through you, then keep going.

    I'm in a bit of the same place as you with TAW - writing a YA with two lesbian protagonists means I'll be a target for hate and fear if it gets published. I'll be accused of attempting to corrupt the youth, and worse. I realized this a long time ago, and decided that I didn't care. These characters mean too much to me for me to write them as any less than who they are.

    Something else to think about: your book might be exactly what someone who loves like you do needs to read. For any hate targeted at you, there will be love as well. And I think that's worth it all in the end.

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    1. I was thinking of you when I wrote this, actually :) Thanks so much for the understanding and support, and the reminders of why we do this. Off we go, right? :)

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  20. If you haven't, you might enjoy Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness.

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    1. I have! A brilliant, strange, pioneering book. I love her :)

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  21. Based on this post alone, NOBODY is going to judge you for writing badly. This was beautiful.

    My advice is to not even take a second to think about others' judgement while you're writing. There will be plenty of time to deal with that when your work is out in the world. This story sounds so very deeply inspired and wonderful, and it would be a shame to see any of that stifled.

    Maybe take some confidence in knowing that whatever you write will be judged no matter what it is. I seriously find myself judged every once in a while for my characters being too traditional. Not every reader will connect with what you write, but those aren't who you're writing for---and do NOT deprive those of us who are dying for an epic love story. ;)

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    1. Wow. Thank you so much, Nicki. I'm doing my best to avoid worrying about what people will think - you're right, I'll have all the time in the world to do that once it's finished!

      Isn't it ironic, you can be judged just as much for being traditional as for not? Sigh. You're right. We have to do it, anyway.

      Thank you, though - your words of support, belief, and encouragement are awesome, and I really appreciate them :)

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  22. It sounds like a really great book! And I think it's important to remember you can't please everyone--just write the book that makes you happy, and the rest will fall into place.

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  23. I struggle with this too. Is there such thing as a perfect balance? I don't think there is. The guilt comes at me both ways. I feel bad for not spending more time with my family and then I feel bad for not reaching for the things I want in life.
    I have to look at like this...do I want my daughter to think her dreams are possible? If so (and it is so), I have to be able to show her I can go after mine.

    Leanne Ross ( readfaced.wordpress.com & @LeanneRossRF )

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    1. Thanks! I can bet you're a wonderful role model for your daughter - and it's a great way to look at it.

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  24. Your courage shines through your whole post. Don't let the worries peck away at it. This is a huge, complex, worthwhile undertaking. I'm not saying that. You are. It's all through the post. Keep believing it.You know I do.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ava. The support I've gotten from writing this post is amazing, and means so much to me. THANK YOU.

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  25. Be strong. Be courageous. Write for yourself, first and foremost.

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  26. Write the story. Let it flow out of you. It sounds interesting and it looks like you've invested a lot of time in it.

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