May That Fear Be The Northern Star Of Your Writing

The cool thing about traveling often is that I can easily enter a plane in winter and get off in summer. What a beautiful concept — Chasing summer around the world. This time, I have landed in the bright sun of Miami Beach. Laying down there on the warm sand, with the music of the waves pleasing my thoughts, I realize how crucial traveling is for my writing. It takes me away from life routine and launches into a new world, populated by alien people who walk on unfamiliar streets. A world where the is no such a thing as the fear of writing.

Take for instance The Cafe at Books&Books, the old-style bookshop on Lincoln Road in South Beach. It is the kind of bookshop, where the bookseller writes mini-reviews for you to choose the book that suits you better. On weekends, the silence of a typical bookshop is broken by the chatter of the customers who sit and drink at the tables on Lincoln Road.

What an ideal setting to open a notebook and write!

Oh man, I love writing while traveling around. It shakes my stories up in unpredictable ways.

Do not fear the Writing

I have recently submitted my second manuscript to my agent and to distract me from the anxiety of waiting for the outcome, what better way than starting a new novel?

The idea for this new story came to me a few years ago. Although I have been thinking about the details — The main character, the setting, the plot — for quite a long time, when I first faced the blank page, inside a sort of gaseous excitement, I felt a disturbing discomfort.

This is not new to me. It happens. Blank page — Excitement and discomfort. Fear of writing.

Where does it come from?

During the years, I have come to believe that the unwritten novel stored in my mind will certainly lose its illusory perfection the instant I put the pen on that blank page.

Just before writing, in that magic instant, lies the perfection of potentiality.

Unfortunately, there is no escape: When the novel unfolds word by word on the blank page, its potential perfection dissolves like the smooth scent of a bouquet of roses.

The discomfort one feels when facing a blank page is often rooted in the fear of failure, inadequacy, and the unknown.

And that is why I have learned to take advantage of that fear and use it as the northern star of my writing.

Comfort is a Killer

We, humans, are creatures of habits.

We want to have a car — A cool car — to go to work. And to get there, we take the same route every day. On Wednesday we go to the cinema and shopping on Saturday. Every purchase is driven by the need of getting more comfortable. In the meantime, we constantly look for the right person to form a stable relationship, which will supposedly give us an everlasting happiness — The forever love of our lives.

We want comfort because comfort means happiness. This is the illusion that poisons our very existence.

Comfort is not a path to happiness. In fact, it transforms our inner sun into a 40-Watt light bulb.

Comfort creates concentric walls around us that — True — will protect us, but will also prevent us from enjoying a full and deep life. From experiencing the scary totality of the Unknown.

The thing is — It is outside those concentric walls, in that scary unknown, that the potential for your best writing hides.

Write Straight Into the fear of Writing

After my novel Zagreb was published, I was about to write another book about war.

I started with the usual Charlie Parker method: Write, research, research, research, and write. A few weeks into writing, I had realized that all my efforts were driven by comfort and safety. I had chosen that topic because I was familiar with the setting; because it felt comfortable. I was moving away from the fear of the unknown.

So, what did I do?

I chose another project — A project that scared me to death.

A novel that intertwines the tumultuous experiences of a fictional character, her success, love, and failure, set against the backdrop of the birth of Quantum Mechanics and the cultural landscape of Weimar Berlin. This novel explores themes of free will, art, and science through the lens of the character’s personal journey.

One of the most difficult thing that I have ever written.

And guess what — It is beautiful.

Writing is a kind of magic

If there is no struggle in your writing, you are not pushing hard enough.

You are not aiming high enough. You are not exploring, not penetrating your inner self. You are not breaking those concentric walls that protect you from the scary totality of the Unknown.

If you do break them, rest assured that you will feel discomfort, perhaps pain, certainly some kind of fear.

Follow those feelings. Dive into those dangerous waters and immerse yourself in that painful fluid. Write straight into it. Learn to swim while drowning. Write towards what seems scarily impossible. Write the words that make your hands tremble, your heart shake, and your soul quiver.

Despite all of it — Keep writing.

Do not fear the writing.

Be brave, because it is in the pain and struggle, in that scary unknown that the magic of writing is to be found.


All photos were taken during my trip to Miami.
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