The Very Wide Spectrum of Fandom: Fear and Misery in the Writer’s World

I caught this video on Kait Nolan’s blog the other day and it really got me thinking.  Kait commented she thought there was a lot of truth to the video in how any artistic person combats stress with pleasing others.  Check it out:

I know I totally identified with how Charlie feels.  There are so many writers out there, and we have one of THE BEST communities by far, but I do think there’s a competitiveness or a drive to be well liked.  Whether in personality or writing style, we all want to be liked.  And like Charlie shared, when someone doesn’t like our writing, by extension we perceive that they don’t like us.

Now, don’t ask me why, but my brain just has an uncanny ability to jump around from movie to movie making references and quotes wherever I go.  And when I watch a video about being scared by your fans, I don’t know about you, but my mind immediately went here…

Remember this film?  Stephen King’s Misery was released in its film version in 1990 and won Kathy Bates an Oscar for Actress in a Lead Role.  It was the first Stephen King book I ever read and I love the film version too!  The premise for this book/film is writer Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan, is best known for his Misery book series.  And Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates, is his biggest fan.  In a chance accident, Paul and Annie’s worlds collide.

Annie takes Paul into her home and cares for him while he’s recovering from a car accident.  And during that time, she reads Paul’s latest Misery book, in which he kills off his main character – meaning the series is over.

Suddenly everything changes for Paul.  Annie’s kind nursing ways turn into vindictive and vengeful abuse as she forces Paul to write another Misery book that will bring the main character back to life.

Of course, these are two very different extremes of fandom.  On one side, we have the author’s perceived fear of the reader – “Will they like me?  Will they think I’m cool?  Will they want to read more of my work?”  And on the flip side, we have actual FEAR of the reader  – My life is in danger if I don’t write this the way the reader wants it!  

I just kept thinking about these two extremes.  We are fortunate to know that the instance in Misery is really rare.  I hope so anyway!  But what about the other side?  To me, that internal fear is scarier, because I repeatedly deal with it.  I’m an “eternal editor.”  I re-started my last book project six times!  Sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes not.  I feared I would never finish my book, but I didn’t realize it was my fear keeping me from doing so!

With the next project, I’ve gotten much farther because I took Candace Havens‘ advice and now I don’t edit my first draft.  And I don’t write linearly anymore either.  I jump around.  Tactically, these writing styles help me.  But the fear?  That’s mind over matter.  At least my internal editor isn’t a sledgehammer wielding Annie Wilkes!

What are your thoughts?  Do you think we as writers/artists/performers stifle ourselves when we’re afraid what the audience will think?  What’s the best advice you have heard to combat fear?

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13 responses

  1. I think we do stifle ourselves our of fear of what other people will think. I’m not entirely sure how to get over it except to keep writing.

    In a way, though, I wonder if blogging doesn’t contribute to this fear. Don’t get me wrong – I love blogging and I think it’s hugely valuable. But sometimes as writers, it puts us and our work out in public before we’re really ready. It makes us more aware that people are watching and reading. Previously, we wrote in complete privacy, and we had to write for ourselves because we had no guarantee anyone would ever see what we wrote. The world is different now, and with all the benefits it brings, I also think that this increased fear is one of the downsides.

    1. You know that’s really interesting. I never thought about how blogging could contribute to that fear. I bet it increases if the writer blogs out of genre because their voice could be different than what readers are used to.

      Thanks for weighing in, Marcy!

  2. Misery is a great movie! I always thought that hobbling scene was terrifying, but thinking of it as my internal editor makes me want to be a little kinder to myself. 🙂 Thanks Jess!

    1. Totally! My inner editor is Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock’s Rebecca. *shudder*

  3. […] today, I ran across this video on Jess Witkin’s blog (she first saw it on Kait Nolan’s blog, so it’s kinda making its way around) and I […]

  4. Wonderful Post!
    After reading this, I had to do some thinking. Then I watched a TED talk by Brene’ Brown about vulnerability.
    You’re so spot on about fear and the writer and how when you do publish your novel and it’s suddenly out there—you’re so vulnerable. Now, you can choose to walk around and be fearful or you can do what I’ve learned to do and let it unfold.
    Sure, I still get nervous before I walk out into a group of readers, but once I get talking and realize there really is nothing to fear, well, then I end up having some fun. But I think I always get nervous, always feel vulnerable. Yet if we don’t take chances and risk being, well, dished (technical writer’s term) how in the world do we ever grow?

    1. Sooo, thankfully, none of your fans have ever had gone Kathy Bates on you at a book reading! 😉

      You’re just forced to skype with them and deal when they don’t know how to use computers! LOL.

      Thanks for commenting, Jay, and much success to you as your new project releases soon!

  5. I know that, on my old blog, I stifled myself in my writing trying to please others – and that felt terribly wrong. It’s the whole reason why I pulled up stakes and started fresh over here a couple of years ago. Now I generally don’t stifle myself at all (though I do tend to avoid posts that are R-rated or higher, damn it all, because I can’t have my mom reading about THAT sort of stuff. As fun as THAT sort of stuff is! And I’m not referring to geoduck, if you catch my drift. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)

    BTW, the movie version of “Misery” was really good, but the book is so much better. And a hell of a lot darker.

    1. Totally agree! The book is much darker, and still amazing, but you’ve got to picture Kathy Bates in the role for sure. Hard for me to think that she was Annie Wilkes and then also Evelyn Couch in Fried Green Tomatoes…

      “Ed, what would you have done if I’d have answered the door wearing nothing but cellophane?”

      “Well, Honey, I’d have you committed to the looney bin!”

  6. […] The Very Wide Spectrum of Fandom: Fear and Misery in the Writer’s World by Jess Witkins. […]

  7. “Misery” is such a classic and takes on more personal meaning once we join writer-ville.

    I think many of us are as afraid of people hating us and our work as we are that they’ll read and enjoy it – if even on a subconscious level.

    With my first release upcoming, I’ve been experiencing and observing my first bout of nervousness. Qualms are natural and nervousness, a positive sign, though it’s important to keep both in check. Talking about them helps, as do posts like this one. Love it! Thanks for the timely, insightful read. 🙂

    1. But August I’m your number one fan! 😉

  8. […] today, I ran across this video on Jess Witkin’s blog (she first saw it on Kait Nolan’s blog, so it’s kinda making its way around) and I […]

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