Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Most Frightening Thing in the World and How to Conquer It

by Janis Patterson

Everyone is afraid of something. Some people are terrified of everything, some just a few, but there is something - whatever it is - that scares everyone. I have a friend who starts shaking when someone just mentions cockroaches - I mean, I’m not fond of them and will go a fair distance to avoid them, but that’s not the same as shivering, squealing, bone-chilling fear. Another one almost passes out when you mention the word ‘snake.’ She has been known to faint when she actually sees one. I don’t understand it - after all, when I was a child my cousin and I made spending money by milking rattlesnakes and selling the venom to a lab. Made pretty good money for those days, too - at least we did until our mothers found out! 

Yet another friend feels that way about dogs - even the picture of a dog makes her go pale. My own mother was terrified of heights. Everyone has something that makes their mouth go dry and their hands and knees tremble. 

So what frightens me? I’m really not too overtly frightened of anything unless there is immediate and physical danger but there is one thing that never fails to send shivers down my spine.

The blank page. (You know I mean computer screen, but you also know that I’m a dinosaur who started out on a manual typewriter and paper, so you’ll just have to deal with my anachronistic language...)

It doesn’t matter if I’m starting a new book, or in the middle of one, or writing a letter/email I don’t really want to, or trying to come up with an even semi-original idea for a blog. It is always the same. I sit down at the computer. I stare at that vast white emptiness and that white blank emptiness stares back at me. Sometimes it is a challenge, sometimes it is frightening. 

I am a professional writer. I have deadlines. I try to write every day. Usually I have several projects queued up. Sometimes life interferes, sometimes I’m just tired, sometimes it just seems the old brain has taken a vacation without me. Of course, there are more times that the ideas and words flow faster than my fingers can record them and the ideas swirl around my brain with semi-tornadic force... but if that were true all the time there would be no use for this blog.

So what does one do? Switch from project to project? Sometimes that works. Give up for the rest of the day, have some coffee and perhaps a good lounge in the hot tub followed by some mindless tv? Sometimes that works too. Go grimly on, putting down word after painful word even as you realize this is all pretty much garbage and will have to be rewritten? We’ve all done that, and it doesn’t get any more pleasant.

The only bad thing is, all the above ‘solutions’ depend on the fact of your having time to implement them. What if, like today, you realize at the last moment that you have a blog due tomorrow and because of some very good reasons (wedding anniversary, eclipse, book deadline, etc.) you not only have not written a word, you have no idea of what to write.

And the big white blank emptiness stares at you.

Well, I am fortunate. I grew up in an advertising agency, where deadlines are not only continual but sacrosanct. My father, the president and guiding genius of the agency, taught me that there is only ONE acceptable excuse for missing a deadline, and that is death. Yours.

So you sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard and (here is where I usually say a small but desperate prayer) start typing. Sometimes you end up with something that’s pretty good. Sometimes you end up with the most appalling piffle. Most of the time it’s somewhere between. 

But you’ve made your deadline.

And that is good.

Most of the time.