Why I’m Afraid to Write Fiction


Fiction writing and I have a peculiar relationship with one another — one not even the “it’s complicated” Facebook relationship status can summarize.

I want to write stories. I just…can’t, for some reason, and it’s not because I don’t have any to tell. Quite the opposite. I’ve liked stories and storytelling since I can remember.

When I first started playing with action figures, there always had to be a storyline. They could never just fight for no reason. The stories contained nothing groundbreaking. For the most part, they were generally slightly tweaked versions of the garbage I saw on TV and in movies.

I’d grab a bunch of my action figures and give each one a role: “This one is the main good guy, this one is the main bad guy, this one is the good guy’s best friend who gets killed, this one is the tough henchman, this one is the henchman who has a change of heart,” and so on. As I got a little older, the stories got slightly more intricate. Sometimes there’d be more than one hero. Sometimes a story arc would last days. Sometimes I would even do sequels where I brought the figures to exotic and distant locales like the backyard. Perhaps my favorite thing was when I froze a figure “in carbonite” (meaning I put a figure in a cup of water, put the cup in the freezer, and waited).

In third grade, we had a reading assignment called “Know and Predict.” The teacher let us pick a book at home to read, and each week we had to write down what we knew about the story of the book and then predict what we thought would happen next. Being a lazy student even back then, I didn’t feel like reading an actual book. So I picked the title of a real book, and then just made the story up as “Know and Predict” went along. I pieced the story together mostly from the stories I made with my action figures.

I truly loved coming up with these stories when I was a kid. I loved it so much I tried to write my own book one afternoon (only a 4th grader could think an entire book could be written in an afternoon).

I’m not trying to say I was some kind of precocious prodigy. I’m sure many, many, many other kids did stuff like this. I’m saying storytelling/fiction meant a lot to me. It was one of the only escapes from a less than ideal childhood I had before the Internet. And since my family had low brow cultural interests (I often quip I was raised on pro wrestling and Disney on Ice) and my parents were not readers, the only sort of fiction I was exposed to was TV shows and whatever I could come up with myself.

By the time I got to middle school the world taught me not to be a writer.

“You can’t make money doing that,” everyone said. “Find a real career.” I still knew I wanted to write though. The drive to tell stories never went away; I just feared telling anyone. Even though I was too old to play with action figures by this point, I found another way: Video games.

Some of my favorite characters and stories come from video games, as low brow and horrible as that is (and as embarrassed as I am to admit that in the wake of GamerGate). My parents bought me one of my all-time favorite games, Warcraft III, in 2002 when I was in eighth grade.

The game’s story wowed me when I first played it. But I needed more. I went into the skirmish mode (individual battles not tied to the story) and imagined a new storyline for every map I played. I enjoyed this so much I continued the story even after I beat the opponent. I’d build structures all over the map and then tell stories of bureaucratic bloat and corruption.

When I got to high school, I started thinking about writing professionally again. I jotted down ideas. I came up with characters and concepts. I dreamed of a novel parodying torture porn called “Graveyard Thrill.” I dreamed of a novel based on what would happen if the Cold War became hot and went unresolved for a hundred years. I dreamed of tense sword fights in long forgotten desert temples. I dreamed of massive space-faring fleets colliding.

But the world told me putting those fantasies to paper was a bad idea, and I lacked the strength, the bravery, and the confidence to disagree.

It’s been seven and a half years since I graduated high school. For some reason, I’m still too weak, cowardly, and fearful to write fiction.

And I’m still not sure why.

I think part of me is afraid because I’m just so bad at it.

I wanted to do NanoWriMo this November. I followed a bunch of writing advice blogs on Tumblr. I found a great post on gearing up for NanoWriMo and followed a ton of the advice. Then I made the mistake of going on Twitter. A follower of mine who’s a great writer retweeted something from an account named Guy in Your MFA. I can’t find the original tweet, but it mentioned using a broken vending machine in the office as symbolism. Embarrassingly enough, I thought of doing something like that in the novel I wanted to write.

I looked through Guy in Your MFA’s tweets to make sure I didn’t mimic anything else (which, thankfully, I didn’t). Still, I decided to skip NanoWriMo because I thought I wasn’t talented enough.

I was also scared.

Some of the stories I have planned are just fun, popcorn fantasy that aren’t super important, but the novel in question was important to me. It was a story I wanted to tell, needed to tell, and felt I could tell with my current (deficient) skills. The whole scenario got me thinking “What if the stories I truly want to tell aren’t good? What if I’m not good enough to tell them? What if they’re worthless?”

Fiction helped save my life last year. I struggled with severe depression. One of the only things to get me through the year were stories I read and stories I dreamed of telling.

So if I can’t tell them, or if nobody wants to hear them, I lived for nothing. How can I write with that much pressure?

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