My Phobia

Please bear with me when you read this. Writing it is the most difficult thing I've ever had to do.

To understand why, let me tell you a bit about myself. I am by trade a technical writer. I have a degree in engineering, but I decided early in my career that my one true love is writing. Rather than waste five years and umpteen thousand dollars in college on an engineering degree I'd no longer use, I decided to marry my education to my love, hence my current career. And while this satisfies me, my dream is to become a best selling detective fiction author like other writers I admire: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Block, Earl Der Biggers, and John D. MacDonald.

Except there is one small problem: graphophobia. I have an immense fear of writing.

Perhaps it stems from my agoraphobia, my fear of being trapped in a situation I cannot escape from. Suppose I'm writing a detective novel, and my lead character Skip Tracer gets trapped in an alley by thugs. How do I get him out of it? Writers will expect a plausible escape, not a deus ex machina plot miracle like a hidden door, or the United States cavalry just happens to walk by. I never need deal with this situation when writing technical literature, because everything I write about is already designed for me, and I always know how a product ends.

Maybe the root of the problem is my fear of the dark. Crime novels, particularly the more noir stories I like, often contain significant passages that take place at night in poorly lit streets and rooms. If my main character Skip Tracer gets stuck in a poorly lit alley, I'm not sure I can even finish the scene. I get panic attacks thinking about how dark it is.

Perhaps I owe it to my athazagoraphobia, a fear of being forgotten. Suppose I finish my detective novel, and I send it out to a publisher or agent. Will they forget I sent them a manuscript? Will they forget to open the envelope? Will they forget to publish it? My technical writing is always published. Maybe my novel will be published, and readers will buy it. What happens if they read the story, and then forget about it the next day? I'm starting to feel the same sickness symptoms I get when I'm totally in the dark.

Maybe I really suffer from a fear of intimacy. Maybe I'm afraid to get to know my characters so well they become real to me. Maybe I'm scared killing off important characters in a crime novel, like Skip Tracer's friends or coworkers, will feel as if I'm committing real murder. Maybe when the novel is finished I'll be afraid the characters will cease to exist in my mind, as if everyone I've spent the last six months of my life with have all croaked on the same day. At least when I'm writing technical documents, I haven't destroyed anything; I can still see the product sitting on the shelf after my writing is complete.

Maybe I suffer from a fear of rejection. No one forgot I sent a manuscript, no one neglected to open the envelope. No one refused to read my story. It was so bad the publisher didn't acknowledge its existence with a rejection letter. If I can't stand to be rejected, how will I be able to bear being an author who was rejected from being sent a rejection letter?

I know how to write. I know how to avoid the pitfalls of bad writing. I know how to structure plot and make characters believable. I know what to do, and what not to do when querying and submitting to a publisher. Maybe I'm just afraid of success.

(This piece was written from a writing prompt given at the Algonquin Area Writers' Group Creativity Cafe.)