Hopes and Fears of the Writing Life


Fear that in the end, no matter how hard I work, no matter how many doors I bang on and with what frequency and obstinacy, no matter all the palliative nostalgia of laureled writers reflecting on the mounting failures that led to their breakthroughs, I just don’t have enough talent.

Fear of not reading enough.

Fear of reading the wrong things.

Fear of reading the right things at the wrong time.

Fear of growing bored with my own voice and being unable to transcend it.

Fear of writing always around the same question.

Fear of not knowing where I belong in the literary universe, attempting too much, and forfeiting potential excellence in one narrow area for mediocrity across multiple styles and genres.

Fear of fleeing from difficult breakthroughs, failures, or lessons in one genre to another genre, where I can start over, feel like a prodigy again, and pretend in comforting ignorance that this is where I belonged all along. Fear of repeating this pattern.

Fear of such a narrow and dogmatic view of success and literature that I hem myself into one genre and style, master its conventions, cease taking risks, and accept a certain degree of formula and boredom as the price to pay for any career choice.

Fear that no one wants to publish anything risky now, or ever, or by a first-time author they’ve never heard of, and I will never not write anything commercially risky, and will therefore never be published.

Fear that I can’t read my own work well: that I am defending my work because of the time I’ve spent on it and its core concepts, which I am deeply wedded to and passionate about, and that I will be too cocky or arrogant to accept that it is not good enough.

Fear that I am the quintessential woman writer who accepts that her work is not good enough while it seems every male writer with lukewarm talent is barrel-chesting his way into New York offices publishing book after book after book. Fear of saying, fuck it, I deserve this.

Fear of not having read enough of the classics.

Fear of not accepting enough of uncertainty and indefiniteness to write good fiction, and of being too attached to analysis and ideas to let go and flow with a story; simultaneously, fear of being bored with the narrow conventions of journalism, stifled by the structure of facts. Fear of my work in both genres winding up tepid and unfocused.

Fear of playing too much to my strengths and not working on my weaknesses.

Fear of not recognizing my strengths and not being able to give up on what I’m simply not good at.

Fear of my own arrogance insisting I must always be brilliant and present in the work; fear of ego preventing me from stepping back and writing something truly meaningful.

Fear that I will never again get that surging firework thrill after finishing up a long passage that yes this is it! This is why I write.

Fear that I’m the only one who cares about the subjects I write about. Fear that this is problematic, but fear of trying to write about subjects I’m not passionate about.

Fear that I am not out in the world enough, having enough experiences, and my writing will be small, navel-gazing, pretty but empty.

Fear that I am too obsessed with the notion of experience and do not trust my own seeing enough, do not trust that it is not the size and exoticism of a narrative that matters but the depth and nature of its questioning.

Fear of writing without any spark or inspiration when maybe I should just wait, read, think, bake a cake.

Fear of being too precious about inspiration and never breaking through to the next level.

Fear of never making any money, giving up, and working a shitsville day job at 40.

Fear of being an obsessive workaholic to compensate for not having set hours or an obvious “job,” and of not even being able to enjoy the freedom that comes with making very little money and having no obvious “job,” ironically confining myself to the dull conventions of the 9-5 and stifling my inspiration when the whole damn point of not having an obvious “job” and making very little money is to live a different kind of life, more open, less rigid, like Henry Miller writing in the mornings and biking around Paris to gardens and museums all afternoon.

Fear of being too fluffy and romantic about “the creative life” when really, writing is a job and requires a daily grind, a daily persistence, and a crap-ton of work.

Fear that if I really think of writing only as a daily grind, what’s the point? What’s the point, then, of living this unconventional life so full of uncertainty, so frequently crushing, if it’s simply going to follow the same dull conventional patterns, and if the work in the end is not even fun?

Fear of being unable to accept that I’ve been vanquished, and should become a park ranger.

Fear of starting over.



Hope of that glorious call from my agent announcing that the book has sold.

Hope of an unexpected email in my inbox from an editor at a dream publication asking me what I want to write about.

Hope of prizes, hope of glowing reviews, hope of laurels.

Hope of not giving a shit about outside affirmation and plowing ahead with the work I believe in. Hope of not giving a shit even when I’ve gone through months without any affirmation at all, and in fact the only peep I’ve heard from the wider literary world is that no one will buy a novel about dog fighting.

Hope of a reader crying – with joy or insight or empathy – over my work.

Hope of eventually finding or making a path after hours, days, or weeks of winding aimlessly in circles trying to figure out what I want to say.

Hope of impressing my peers.

Hope of knowing when to stop and wait, and when to keep pushing.

Hope of forgiving myself.

Hope of a subject unfolding and unfolding in much more complexity than initially imagined, and of burrowing much deeper into it than initially expected. Hope of getting gloriously lost on what was intended as a short outing.

Hope of discovering obscure newspaper articles/letters/academic papers/cookbooks from the 1950s/marginalia that add the perfect hilarious touch or insight to a piece.

Hope of a reader saying, “I never realized…” after finishing my work.

Hope that someone is discussing a fact or anecdote or sentence in my work with a friend somewhere over beer or coffee.

Hope that the people who appear in my nonfiction feel that I have done justice to their stories, and breathed honest and empathetic life into them on the page.

Hope that writing makes me a more empathetic, reflective, gracious human being.

Hope that ultimately, after years of work, years of belief, years of careful navigation between practicality and a writer’s necessary eccentrism, dedication and passion will eventually merge with commercial recognition and lead to success, even if meager and contingent.

Hope that when I sit down with a cup of coffee in the morning, that icy peach light still clinging to the winter horizon, the words just flow and flow with me  sitting back and marveling, a conduit.

Hope of being able to appreciate, without too much worry about success or money, that this life and this work, this everyday seeing, this everyday wrestling to capture experience and ephemeral emotion on the page, is worth it in and of itself.





  • aditisen2014 says:

    One of your hopes has come true …I did discuss this piece with a friend though it was not over coffee or beer but through a facetime call that was being constantly interrupted by pesky toddlers:) Especially, the last hope ” Hope of being able to appreciate, without too much worry about success or money, that this life and this work, this everyday seeing, this everyday wrestling to capture experience and ephemeral emotion on the page, is worth it in and of itself.”

  • thank you :D it is really inspiring :D

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