How to Write Stories That Scare You

Some stories are just meant to be written.

I was not prepared to start writing another book. In fact, the idea of abandoning one project for another was so ridiculous that when the idea approached me I actually laughed out loud in an empty room … to myself.

“No,” I said. “Go away. I’m busy.”

I actually spoke these words, as if saying them out loud would convince the idea before me that it truly was not welcome here.

The trick did not work, of course. I am a busyness addict (not proud, just stating a fact). I never claim to be too busy for anything, especially when it comes to writing.

So what was really going on inside my head?

The truth — as much as I can reveal to you at this particular moment in time — was that as the idea began unfolding in my mind, taking up more space, expanding inside me to fill all the empty space reserved for random and passive thoughts, I quickly came to the realization that if I were to give it the level of attention it begged for, I would be heading into something I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle.

What I learned, not long after that, is that fear is strong. But so am I.

My current prediction is that I am less than a week away from finishing the novel I never wanted to start writing in the first place.

If you’re tired of hearing about my work in progress, understand that it’s on my mind constantly, and what good would that be if I didn’t use this space to share my raw, honest thoughts about what I, a writer, am going through as I attempt to accomplish one of the hardest things a writer can do?

I’ll try to combine the most significant things I have learned throughout this process in one longer post. For now, I just want to tell you that the first step is almost complete.

And that I am still scared out of my mind about all of it.

Why didn’t I want to write this book? To put it simply, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to writing dark stories. I don’t know if there’s something seriously wrong with me, but I have ALWAYS gone dark when it comes to storytelling. My mom actually asked me if I was okay after she read a later draft of a book I wrote while in college. Sometimes I forget not everyone is used to thinking about worst-case scenarios and turning them into books.

Anyway, for the past few years I’ve been trying as hard as I can to lighten up my writing a little bit. For my own sanity. I don’t think you realize how emotionally exhausting “dark writing” is until you’ve been doing it for almost six months straight and you actually feel like you’re going through what your characters are going through. It’s draining. I needed a break.

And then this new idea came into my head. And I wanted nothing more than to wrap it up in a blanket, shove it under my bed, and forget it was there.

Ideas that morph into stories that need to be written, it turns out, do not let you forget about them.

I sat on the idea for as long as I could, stubbornly hoping it would give up.

Almost five months have passed. I have cried at least five times about this book in the past week. It feels like too much, like I’m throwing caution to the wind and just “going for it” and I feel more vulnerable and exposed than I have in a very long time.

But I just keep writing … with small breaks here and there. Why am I doing this to myself?

Because I want to believe there is a reason this idea found me.

I want to believe this story might mean something to someone someday.

If that’s going to be the case, then I can’t quit. Someone is counting on me, and they don’t even know it.

So no matter how scared I might feel knowing someone else might unknowingly look directly into my soul through these pages someday, I’m going to take as many deep breaths as I need to take. And I’m going to keep writing this thing one word at a time.

When you’re afraid of a story, there is always a reason. But I’ve personally found that it’s the stories that scare you the most that end up being the ones most worth writing.

You become a different person when you write more things that scare you. You become ever so slightly more confident. You learn to be more honest with others and with yourself. You might even discover that even though certain fears will never fully disappear, the more you address them head-on, the more you’ll want to face each and every one of them.

Writing about things that force you to open up to a potential audience is not an easy thing to do. It takes all your courage, all your power, all your stamina not only to decide you’re going to do it, but to then begin to do it, and continue to do it for as long as you want.

If there is a story in your heart and you feel like you need to tell it, then you should tell it. Even if it’s going to change everything. Even if you don’t feel ready yet, even if you aren’t sure how people are going to react.

Just write it.

The only way to conquer a fear is to run as fast as you possibly can toward it, knowing that you might crash and burn. Knowing it might hurt. Knowing you might not be the same person you were before you started running.

If there is a story, let it be told.

You can say, “No, I don’t want to write that. It’s too much. It’s too soon. I’m too tired.”

Maybe what you need to say instead, what you’ve needed to say all along, is that you are afraid. Then, at least, you might begin to figure out what you’re going to do about it. Then, at least, you can write fearfully, until all of a sudden you are writing (almost) fearlessly.

I don’t know you. I don’t know what you’ve struggled with, what you’re facing now, how these things have shaped you creatively and whether or not you someday want to take the emotional journeys of your past and forever preserve them in some kind of story.

But if you do … I want you to know that even if you don’t believe you can do it right now, trust me. You are more capable than you know. You are stronger than you know. You are THE person to tell this story. So tell it.

Take a deep breath. Look your fears in the eye. And write.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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