Fear is a language everybody speaks. It lingers like a silent whisper in the middle of the night that keeps you awake until daybreak. It awaits in ambush for your vulnerable moments, and hunts you down whenever the chance for first strike arrives. My whole life—I’ve been afraid of so many frivolous things that it starts inhibiting my movement. Like a horse ready to gallop, but weighed down by the emotional wagon it has to pull around.
I’ve always had this fear of failure. Even in grade school, when almost every kid needs only to worry about whether they’ll be having broccoli for dinner, I was always burdened by my own anxiety: “What if I scored badly on that next exam?”, “What if I didn’t make any friends before the end of school?”, “What if I didn’t perform academically as my mother would expect me to?”
This innate fear nurtured my self-doubt, and it even spread to the only aspect of my life that I was supposed to feel most comfortable in: writing. Perhaps this is why I’ve held up submitting my manuscript for so long, since I’d always found reading my own writing to be repulsive, no matter how much I enjoyed myself writing the piece.
So you might be wondering, what does a writer with super low self-esteem do in order to overcome said fear? I mean, having three books published under my name doesn’t really convey an image of a miserable writer, trying to come into terms with the limits of her abilities, does it? Clearly I must have done something substantial.
Unfortunately, the reality isn’t as pretty as you might think. Sure, something substantial did happen. But it wasn’t because I made it happen—it just drove over me like a car crash and jeopardized my whole life, for good.
You see, there was a time when I was an extremely experimental writer. I grew up with the Harry Potter franchise, so naturally, fantasy was a genre I first got my hands into. This quickly ushered me into trying out other genres: mystery, comedy, poetry, science-fiction, horror, and even historical. I’ve made a point to try as many writing techniques and advice as I could hope to find at the moment, and these experiments gradually turned into a shameless, egocentric exhibition where I showcased as many writing feats as one could possibly work on during their youth.
Fast forward several years; the year was 2012, and I was struggling to finish writing this epic high-fantasy novel I had been working on for months. My closest friends would know what I’m talking about. Not that they would share my sentiments, though, seeing as they mostly commented about the story’s lackluster premise and how it prevented me from working on a new project that could matter more.
Amidst this discouraging parade, it was Rina—a fellow writer friend of mine—who had enough tact to give me a very sound advice, all the while encouraging me to finish what I’ve started. “You have to do it,” she said. “Otherwise you’ll just build a habit to never finish what you’ve started, and work on a new project once your WIP poses you some troubles. Good or bad—none of these would matter if you can’t even write the story responsibly.”
This is one writing advice that ended up staying with me for a very, very long time.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Being a writer herself, Rina told me that she wanted to one day write her own fantasy story. I celebrated the idea, of course, and even told her that we could both swap our preferred genres as some sort of a challenge; she would be writing in my preferred genre—fantasy—and I’d be writing in her preferred genre—romance.
In November 2013, I started drafting this “romance novel” project. Approximately 14 days later, I finished the first draft.
Yes, I’m talking about my debut novel, 3 (Tiga). I finished writing the draft in November 2013, and published the book in July of 2015. Now I know what you’re thinking, but no—the revision process didn’t take that long. Revision was finished around February of 2014, but I never got the chance to let Rina be my first reader, let alone thinking about sending the manuscript to a publisher.
My friend, Rina, passed away not long after I completed the draft.
For the better or worse, the reason I finally decided to publish the manuscript wasn’t because I suddenly gained a lot of self-confidence. I’ve experimented with so many writing techniques, but it’d be an utter lie if I told you having experience would give me enough reason to publish my writing.
Sure, at that point, I had written a lot. But so had all those talented writers in the world. I wouldn’t jest myself and think that my writing would make a difference. Even now, I still shudder to think that my writings are now open for public’s consumption. The adrenaline of having your book published will help you during the first few months, but what awaits you after the magic wears off? A very strong, crippling fear.
The only reason why I braced myself and submitted my manuscript was because I promised Rina that I would let her read it. And since there was no way of doing that, since she had passed away so soon, I decided that letting everyone read it would be the best way to honor the promise. Knowing that I published the book for a good cause—at least in my opinion—helped me quell the fear. I don’t have the confidence to bare my soul to the readers, even now, but I’m confident that Rina would encourage me to publish my writings all the same, were she still alive.
It doesn’t matter if my writings don’t make a difference in this world. What matters is the fact that I chose to publish them anyway. Not because I think I’m better than anyone, but because I believe there are people like Rina out there who would love to read my stuff. Not because it is the best of its kind, but simply because my story matters to them.
Perhaps the fear would still be gnawing at me, had I focused only on becoming a better writer technique-wise. You know, the “what if I’m not good enough”s, and so on. But I had long since abandoned the thought, and focused on how to be more relatable to the readers instead.
In which case, the only thing I have to make sure is to be as honest as I can possibly be in my writings. Just like how I (hopefully) did in my books, and how I came clean in this blog post. As long as I’m doing that, I’d know that I’m on the right track.
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