E. Katherine Kottaras is originally from Chicago, but now she writes and teaches in the Los Angeles area. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine and teaches creative writing, composition and literature at Pasadena City College. Katherine is at her happiest when she is either 1) at the playground with her husband and daughter and their wonderful community of friends, 2) breathing deeply in a handstand, or 3) writing.
Her debut YA contemporary novel, HOW TO BE BRAVE, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press (November 3, 2015).
“Writing: How Do I Fear Thee?”
With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I fear thee? Let me count the ways.
I fear thee to the depth when no words come.
I fear thee to a pain akin to my Carpel Tunnel-afflicted thumb.
I fear thee freely as the incessant cursor blinks.
I fear thee purely, when the sentence (and rhythm) absolutely stinks.
I fear thee with the passion of a reader’s sharp gaze.
I fear thee with a fear of a truly lousy phrase.
I fear thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life;
I shall fear thee tomorrow, but I shall still continue to write.
I have been writing, both professionally and in secret, for many years. I’ve always written for school and work – academic essays, reports, lesson plans – and I love these kinds of writing, but I’ve also always written just for myself – stories, poems, journals – ever since I was a child. For years, I hid the fact that I wrote from most everyone I know.
Throughout my twenties, I took writing classes in secret. In my early thirties, I wrote a novel in secret. In my late thirties, I queried agents in secret. Two years ago, when I signed with my agent and subsequently made the announcement to the world on Facebook, most people commented or messaged me, first with notes of congratulations, and then with the exclamation: “I didn’t know you were a writer!” I would first say thank you, and then, I would giggle at that word: “Writer.” I still couldn’t call myself that word. I still didn’t feel like I was that word.
It took me until last year (I’m almost forty!) to be able to say, “Yes, I am a writer.” Why? The answer’s easy enough: I was so incredibly scared. I was scared of the thoughts that were pouring on the page. I was scared of the prospect of sharing those thoughts with others. I was scared that my writing was terrible. I was scared that it might actually be good. I was scared of asking people to read my work (it seemed so intrusive – I didn’t want to waste their time with my maybe-bad writing). I was scared of rejection. Maybe I was even scared of acceptance. After I’d written my first book, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it all again. I was scared I’d run out of ideas, storylines, characters, words.
I’ve heard many people say that the only antidote to counteract the fears that come with writing is to write. And yes, eventually, if I want to feel like I can call myself a writer, then I must face the blank page with moving pen, the empty screen with the taps on keyboard. But I’ve also found that sometimes I need to step away, to stop writing for a short while. Sometimes I need to go for a long walk through my favorite canyon, Lana del Rey in my ears, all of L.A. below me. Sometimes I need to travel or go to a museum or spend time with friends. Sometimes I need to teach or call a friend or go see a movie. Sometimes I need to stop writing so that I can miss writing. And then, most times, I find that I miss it so much, I’m scribbling lines of poetry on the backs of grocery receipts, on discarded business cards, on the back of my own hand.
Sometimes I also just need to feel scared. I need to sit down and be scared of my ideas, storylines, characters, words. (They never do run out.) So then, yes, the original advice is most definitely true: writing itself is one antidote to the fear of writing. But even more, the fear of writing itself – the fear that drives my need to write - can be most powerful reason that I have to sit down and get the words out. If I’m afraid, it means that I care. If I care, that means that I will write, that I need to write.
I am a writer. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I say that. But I am. Whether it’s for publication or not, I have to write. If you recognize any of these fears, too, then I hope you feel no ambivalence when you say these words: “I am a writer.” And so - you and I together - we shall fear tomorrow, but we shall still continue to write.
Enter the #howtobebrave giveaway, plus an exclusive critique giveaway just for YA Buccaneers readers!
Share how you’re brave, both on and off the page, and tweet about it using the #howtobebrave hashtag, which enters you into the giveaway (see image to the right for what you could win! the phone is not included). Read the full details about the #howtobebrave giveaway. See all of the #howtobebrave posts!
In addition, tag @yabuccaneers in your #howtobebrave tweets for the chance to win a first chapter critique (maximum 20 pages) from E. Katherine Kottaras. Use the Rafflecopter form below, and enter by November 8th.