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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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Friday
Jan292010

A few words about fear

Now that I’m committing to writing more on my blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Fear! BOO!

Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Come back!

I really believed, before this, that I wasn’t able to post as much as I wanted because I didn’t have the time. But that wasn’t it at all. Because really? I didn’t have the guts.

It’s hard to put yourself out there. Some days it’s harder than others, of course, but there’s always a risk that you’re going to get a negative reaction to what you’ve written. You can’t anticipate what will set some stranger off on a tear about how much you suck. It doesn’t get easier, either; once you get some experience under your belt, you start to anticipate the reactions to whatever it is you’re writing. You imagine the people who aren’t that into you reading it and smirking. They’re like your Inner Critic come to life—a whole Greek chorus of voices telling the world how overrated you are. And then you stop yourself from writing, or you tell yourself you need more time, more inspiration, more something. That’s letting fear win, and by winning, it gets stronger, and the feeling snowballs. Pretty soon you’re also imagining all the people who think you suck because you don’t post enough. And then you’ve locked yourself in a closet and you’re wearing tissue boxes for shoes. It’s not healthy, kids.

I’m not bringing all this up just to talk about me, although THE INNER WORKINGS OF MY MIND ARE FASCINATING. This fear comes up all the time, for anyone being creative. I’ve seen people get paralyzed with fear after they’ve encountered public criticism of their work. I’m sure you’ve seen it as well. I’ve received emails from people who want to die of shame because someone wrote to them to tell them they suck, or posted a comment to the same effect.

Sometimes the comments people get are laughable. I’ve seen commenters who criticize a writer’s typo, or a picture of them, or arrive on a site with no prior knowledge of the blog at all so they can leap to all kinds of inaccurate conclusions. Some people are nuts, and unfortunately, some people who are nuts can also work a computer.

And yet writers can be devastated by this stuff, even when they themselves realize how silly the actual comment was. It can make them feel small and stupid. Because on some level they believe they’re not good enough, and now they feel like they’ve just been outed. Like they’re not worthy of love, and worse, they were stupid to want it.

Let me just say it: we all want to be loved. It’s okay to write because you want to be loved. That is completely okay. That is, in fact, an excellent reason to write. And if you feel terrible because of a mean thing someone wrote, that’s also okay.

Here’s a statement that deserves a separate paragraph: if no one dislikes you, you’re not doing it right. If you get mean comments, or read something critical of your work, it means people have an opinion about you. And that’s essential. Good job.

You can’t write something meaningful, you can’t create art—and let’s just call this art, okay? I think we can—unless you are willing to be yourself. Yourself, with all your quirks. And you can't be yourself without some people disliking you. It’s not possible. Pick a celebrity you think is absolutely above reproach, and then Google him, and read all about the people who think he’s the worst. Stephen Colbert, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris. There are people who hate them! How crazy is that? (Maybe not crazy to you, but to me, certainly.)

But those people don’t matter. They’ll move on. When you are intensely yourself, with all your quirks--and look, we all have them, no matter how normal you think you are—and you can create something, whatever it is, that expresses that, you're speaking to someone else's quirks. And the thing is, everyone thinks they're weird and unlovable, at some level. So when you speak to that part of someone, they open up. They feel better. They bloom a little. You've just changed someone else. Think about that. Five other people might not get it, but so what? A hundred people might think you suck, but you’ve just helped one person have a better day, and how incredible is that?

The only thing we can do in the end is be brave. No one can escape being disliked, and no one can escape being loved. Go for it.

Reader Comments (163)

You are right on the money. No matter how much I know it, though, I still get that twinge of pain from the less-than-thoughtful comments. Particularly if it's a parenting topic. Ouch. Thanks for the reminder that it's better to get people thinking, even if they think I'm crazy. :)
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHip Mom's Guide
Well put!! Thank-you so much!And Alice, I love you!!
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFableq
Thanks for this. As someone who is new to blogging, it's nice to hear. I am not a writer. I started a blog for me: to have a place to talk about things I love and parenting while working full time...etc. It hurts when someone says something negative because I'm all "dude, why bother with my little blog here?" My bigger problem is feeling this way OFF the internet. I am always upset if I upset anyone. As I get older though, this gets better. (I personally can't imagine anyone saying they dislike David Sedaris!) AN I agree with the previous poster, when it's about parenting...it just sucks.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTina
Alice--I am a professor and have to write research articles that (in theory) reflect my deepest and smartest thoughts and my best research efforts. And then they send this work to three anonymous people whose sole job it is to tell me how wrong and stupid I was in everything I did.

Lots of fun!!

Only a few people dislike me on my blog, so I'm not doing that right. But lots of people think my research has problems, so I must be doing that right!

Actually, you're on to something. The only thing worse than having someone tell me where the problems are in my research is the have someone review my research with a "Sure, whatever, this is fine. Publish it." That is actually worse than some of my harshest reviews.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnita
Brilliant--thank you for writing this! You rock Alice!
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJill
Fantastic and so very true. Thanks for this.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJagosaurus
YES. I heart you, Alice.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhi kooky
That just knocked the snark right out of my mouth. Well said.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian
HOO-RAH!Now we're talkin!

:)
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Blog and Kiss
Thank you for writing this. I needed it more than you know. I love you to pieces.
You are a brilliant writer, Alice. You so eloquently explained the fear that lurks in the heart of every writer. I write professionally. I have always wanted to try my hand at writing personal stories and have considered starting a blog of my own. But the very fear you mentioned has kept me from it. Can I do it? If I did would anyone care? What if no one liked it, or worse, what if no one read it? After reading your piece, I feel a little more brave. Thank you for this. I've always wondered about those people who write such hurtful comments -- if they don't like what they're reading, just MOVE ON. It's the Internet, for God's sake, no one is forcing them to read your work. My mother always told me, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary Helen
I think you rock! I enjoy your writing and my husband gives me weird looks when I am at the computer trying to catch my breath between bouts of hysterical laughter. I'm usually reading something you wrote during these times and I thank you for being able to put yourself out there. I have only started blogging this year and I am finding out first hand how intimidating it can be. I say BOO to the naysayers! Keep writing, my comic relief depends on it!! Cheers to Alice!
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMuseOddity
Well put! Yes, it's very scary sometimes, but we have to keep trying. I have social anxiety disorder and I try to remind myself all the time: Don't let your fear be a cage, keep going, keep trying.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
Said perfectly, as usual! I don't post on my blog as much as I'd really like to and now realize why. I'm going to keep your article to remind me why I should just go ahead and write. And get it out there.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKris
I love your quirks, Alice. And you're right, this is an art and I admire you for it.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
I put the first few paragraphs of the novel I'm working on up on the Internet and then -- for the first time in years -- totally sank into a pit of despair. I thought after all this time I was finally immune to it. My writing has been criticized so much that I thought nothing could bother me any more, but all the sudden I found myself writing people, saying "does my voice suck?" I think it's such an important point you make that the stage fright and insecurity may diminish over time, but it never really goes away.

Thanks for taking this on, Alice.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens
"you’ve just helped one person have a better day, and how incredible is that?"

Because you did. You said exactly what I needed to hear today.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermoosilaneous
I think this is true for everyone. I can do this self defeating talk about almost anything and then I push through and realize I'm very good at what I do, my ideas have merit and those that say I can't or I'm wrong are the truly fearful ones.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternelking
Thank you for posting this! I really appreciate it, and I think you are awesome. This is great life advice, not even just for writers or artists.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren
There are no words yet invented for how thrilled I am when I check your blog, and it's a new posting! Alice has turned over a new leaf.

I am so thrilled that the rest of us that love you won't be having to pay the price of you not blogging, just to avoid the ugliness people send your way. There are so many nasties out there, verbal nasties.

There are a lot of them. In fact, the woods is full of 'em.

There are so many gazillion more people out there that love you, and count on you, and whose hearts leap when they see a new posting. I just about jump up and shout "score!!"

Usually, the most aggressive/abusive ones are also the most verbal ones...and those are the ones that'll comment in a minute b/c they just love to keep checking on comments and getting others riled up and following all the riled upness they cause. Seriously, they have nothing else going on other than to stir things up and then sit back and fill their hours checking on everything that they just stirred up.

Me, I read you, love you, and send you my love. End of story.

Don't let the haters get you down, Alice, or influence your writing: b/c, to me, you are adorable, intelligent, hilarious, lovable, devoted, clever, neurotic, self doubting, unassuming, and all the other great stuff I love about you.

Finslippy: you were my first blog love, after I caught you on Oprah, and thought, "that lady is just my style..." And that is the story of how I learned about blogs.

Alice Bradley, you rock my world!

Keep it' comin'.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
Right on, sister! The first time I wrote about a somewhat controversial topic, I got a ton of comments. And, Anne Lamott is one of my writing heroes, too!
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmma
Wowee. One month of frequent posting led you to this profound a realization? I need to get me a blog.

Rock on!
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
You're dead on! I needed to hear this. Thanks, Alice!
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDory
Oh Alice, just stop! Stop being so wonderful, okay? Something you wrote here has really helped me already - the part about it being all right to create out of a desire to be loved. For me, the fear part comes in opening up reader mail -- I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't even opened up my account dedicated to it in months, because I'm too afraid of all the toxic trolls who no doubt lurk there waiting to remind me I'm a dope and a fraud. But among the TTs are not doubt a lot of kind emails from readers who like what I do, and because of my ridiculous fragile ego, I'm missing out on reading and answering those. Maybe thanks to you I'll open that inbox today...
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDana
Holy cow, it's like you woke up and wrote something just for me! I'm writing my dissertation and routinely paralyzed by my own Greek chorus. I also want to start my own blog. But the fear!

Yes, you are right. Get over it already. It's just standing in my way. Thanks for a great post.
January 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

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