One of my best kept secrets is that I’ve actually been writing something that I someday hope will become a book. I’ve not been brave enough to really show anyone what I’ve finished so far, or even to tell people that I’m writing it. I guess I think that if I tell someone, I’ll be obligated to finish it or even share it with them, and that’s too scary for me. It’s a story that is kind of important to me, and I’m not brave enough to risk someone telling me it’s actually terrible.
For this “book,” I read a lot of suggestions from actual authors in hopes of improving my writing. I was going through a list that an author had made of all the things you should know about your character. The list contained questions like, “What are their major flaws?” and “What would they make a scene in public about?” I started asking these questions about myself to see if I knew the answers. What am I reluctant to tell people? What am I most afraid of?
Most of the questions were actually hard to answer, but when I asked myself what I’m most afraid of, I easily listed a ton of things and struggled to choose which topped the list. That kind of worried me. I’m even scared of being scared.
Then I remembered one of my favorite columns I wrote in high school. It was about how I had always been afraid of being insignificant. It’s a fear that has always kind of haunted me, like a whisper in the back of my mind, telling me that I will never do anything of real importance in my life. I think that’s probably still my number one fear: that nothing I write will ever impact anyone.
I’ve been writing columns like this one since my sophomore year of high school, and sometimes I wonder if anyone ever actually reads them, or if I’ve ever helped or inspired someone through them. A part of being afraid of insignificance is a strong desire to say something true, something brave. I hope to one day write something I have never had the courage to write before.
One of my favorite movies is called “The Art of Getting By,” and it’s about a boy named George. He’s a misanthrope and a fatalist who doesn’t do any of his homework. Eventually, his teachers and principal tell him that he has a week to complete a whole semester’s worth of work in order to graduate. My favorite of his teachers is Mr. Harris, the art teacher. Instead of assigning George a stack of assignments, Harris says he simply wants one meaningful work.
“I want you to look in the mirror, listen to your gut, and make an image that speaks to the real you — what you care about, what you believe,” Harris says. “As long as it’s honest and fearless.”
I know it’s not the best movie ever made — not even close — but it’s just stuck with me over time. I think I learn something different from this movie every time I watch it. Most recently, it’s told me that it’s OK to be afraid, because fear tells you that you’re about to do something brave.
After reading the list of things to know about your character, I continued to browse the internet and found a post about dreamcatchers. It said that, every so often, a dreamcatcher has to be emptied of the nightmares it has caught.
Like dreamcatchers, I think there comes a point when we have to let go of the things that scare us so that they don’t take up all the space in our heads and keep us from accomplishing important things.
Mr. Harris’ assignment made me realize that it’s OK to be afraid. In fact, fear is necessary because it makes the accomplishment even more powerful. We just can’t let fear stop us from creating something honest and fearless.