When Writing Scares Me

Since day one, writing has been an experience of constant vulnerability for me.  Since I started writing Pop Chassid in a way that was “true” to my experience, as opposed to focused on making others like what I wrote, I’ve felt exposed.

When I first started writing regularly, I was in almost constant pain.  I was in pain when I would see angry, vile comments.  I was in pain even when things were popular.  Even if people liked a post.  I would put something out there and immediately wonder: “What did I just do?  I didn’t say it right.  I need to fix it.”

But I had made a commitment to myself.  I was going to put things out there even if they weren’t perfect.  I would accept failure.

Those first few months were a wave of emotion.  I would post something and immediately call my wife and tell her how much pain I was experiencing, how scary it was, and talk myself down while she listened calmly.

But the more I wrote, the less that happened.  The more I opened my heart to the world, the more it became a normal thing to do.  The more I allowed myself to be vulnerable, the more that I felt fulfilled, the more that I felt I was committing to a life that was true to me.

Soon I could write a post without worrying about vulnerability.  I would just bust it out and let it out into the world.  And every now and then the fear would come up, but for the most part, I was feeling less and less worried, less and less afraid.

There would be entire months where I could write without that fear welling up.  Without caring if people wrote negatively.  I was on a roll, and so it didn’t matter what people said, it didn’t matter if I was exposing myself.  This was the way I was meant to live.

And then I just published an article in the Guardian about my pot use.  I haven’t revealed that part of my life, except for very oblique references, in any of my writing up until now.  I had always felt like it was a personal part of me, even more personal than things I had already exposed.  Something that didn’t necessarily need to be shared.

And so when that post went live, and the comments on it started pouring in (the very negative comments), I was back in a world I hadn’t experienced for a while.

That feeling of fear, that feeling of absolute panic.  It was back.  I felt an urgent desire to email my editor and say, “No it was all a mistake!  Please take it down.  Please, please.”

I hadn’t said things exactly the way I had wanted to.  I hadn’t been writing for a week or two, which wasn’t normal for me, and so I wasn’t “flowing”.

In my head, I imagined a million different ways I could have written it.  I thought about every flaw.  I thought about how the introduction had nothing to do with the conclusion.

And I thought I was a failure.  I thought to myself, “Okay, this is it, this is the end of your quality writing.  You’ll never be good again.”

It took me a while to calm down.  It took me longer than you’d think.  I had to sit there and talk to myself.  Remind myself that failure was inevitable, that maybe it wasn’t perfect, but that didn’t matter.  What mattered is that this was all a process, and that no piece could be perfect, just a part of the larger journey.

And suddenly, suddenly, I realized what was going on:  I was back to step one.  I was experiencing that exact same fear I had felt almost every day when I first started this blog.

I had exposed myself in a way I had never done when I wrote that piece.  I had revealed a part of myself I had been afraid to discuss for a long time.  And so those old fears were back.  The fear of failure, the fear that I had done something “wrong”, the fear that this was the sign that I would never write a “good” piece again.

But as I calmed myself, I realized something: when I look back on the early days of blogging, on the amount of pain and fear that went into it, I am gratified.  I am impressed.

I am gratified that I worked so hard to grow.  That it took me to where I am now.  And I’m impressed that I could deal with so much pain and fear for so long.  I’m amazed that I was so strong.

And I realized at this point, I realized, “Oh my G-d, that was a good time.  I was scared, but I was scared because I was pushing my limits, because I was working hard to make myself the best writer I could be, digging deep into my soul to bring out something great.”

And it was happening again.  The pain had returned.  The fear was back.

It was good.  This was good.  I was back.  I was exposed again.  I was pushing myself.

And suddenly, I was happy again.  Even while that pain was still aching in my heart,  felt this warm glow filling the rest of my body, realizing that I had been brave again, that I had done something worth meaning to me, even if it wasn’t perfect, even if it didn’t come out exactly the way I wanted it to.

Because perfection was never the point.  Writing “well” was never the point.  Writing so people will like me was never the point.

The point was to dig deep.  To expose the deepest parts of myself so others could gain something.

Which meant that imperfection was a part of the experience.  Which meant that failure was necessary.

I hope I experience that pain again.  I hope I stop being afraid of my fear.  I hope that I keep remembering to be that pioneer that I was when I started.  I hope that I can continue to remember who I am and what I’m here for.

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