The scariest book I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s The Shining. It took me about three months to read it the first time because I kept having to stop whenever the story got too scary for me to sit still. I’ve reread The Shining maybe five times since, and each time, it never failed to terrify me. Oh, delicious fear.
Being a Stephen King fan, I thought I was well-versed in the horror department. Until I became a writer.
It is a different kind of terror that runs down your spine when you face a blank screen, a blinking cursor, a looming deadline, and realize that you have no idea what to write. Or you discover that what sounded brilliant inside your head turns out to be the stupidest sentence on earth once you type it.
When that happens–and it happens more often than not, I assure you–everything gets scarier than any Stephen King novel.
This is why it mystifies me over and over again every time I accept a writing assignment. Could I be a closet masochist? I know that fear of The Blank Screen lurks in the deepest part of my brain. But I nevertheless consistently insist on harping, “Bring it on!” whenever someone calls me with a writing project. Why do I do that?
And this time, to magnify the experience a hundred percent, I did not accept just any writing assigment. I agreed to write, with a team of two other writers, a textbook for high school students. In other words, I made a commitment that henceforth (until my deadline), all the words that will fly from my fingers will be intelligent.
I’m currently deep into the writing process. The outline’s done, the research is ongoing. I am now in the how-can-I-call-myself-a-writer-it-is-a-lie part of my writing. It involves staring at the computer and blubbering at the awful writing I’ve so far done. (This is also the time when I hypocritically refuse to Walk the Talk–I secretly eat chips while writing, and then hide the foil packaging deep in my desk drawer so The One With The Toilet Humor and The Manipulator won’t discover my indiscretion.)
This is a temporary phase of dementia that always passes. Once I start editing, I somehow drop all the fear and assume the personality of a hoity toity high school English teacher who loves her commas.
And then I start it all over again on another project.
A few months ago, I visited Puerto Princesa, Palawan with the Green Initiative and got to climb the famous Ugong Rock. To get down, we had to ride a zipline the length of a football field, about 75 feet from the ground. It terrified me, but the urge to do it was impossible to ignore. So I got harnessed up and faced my fear.
Maybe writing does the same thing; that’s why I keep doing it. It hits me with this persistent fear. But after quaking in my shoes for a bit, I step forward and write the first word, and the word after that. It is my way of living despite fear until I am no longer afraid.