Do not fear the fear – Ollie Quain

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By Ollie Quain

“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.” – WILL SELF ♥

I read this quote when writing my first novel. It was and continues to be the single most important piece of advice I have come across. I only have to sit down at my desk and I get The Fear. I get it when writing anything. Not just books, but magazine features too, also important emails. I am edgy writing this right now. I have even been known to write “dummy” birthday cards so I can be sure the sentiment (and size) of my words are the perfect fit. I have always been like this. At school, I remember that as I lifted my sensible Parker fountain pen to start an essay… I would feel that acidic whoosh. Aghhhhh! Anything could happen.

That’s what The Fear is… it’s dreading the unknown. It is not knowing whether what you are going to write will be good. And even if it is, how good is good enough? And is what you consider good; good enough for your publisher, agent, PR team, accountant, basis of a potential movie script, Mum, cat, BFF, first English teacher, that ex-you-never-quite-got-over-even-though-you-dumped-him… and most importantly, your readers?

But after considering Self’s approach I began to see The Fear in a different way. After all, if there was anyone who you would have expected to be confident to the point of extreme bumptiousness when writing, it would be him.

I started to realise that writers need to be confronted with the unknown. Without this baseline of constant questioning of yourself and what others want from you, you will not dig deep – although sometimes this feels like skewering your soul – into your capabilities to create a story that is unique. After all, that is the whole point you are sat at the desk. That blank page is waiting for a story which is different to anything you or anyone else has read before. How cool is that?

So these days, I like to think of the acidic whoosh as a flurry of excitable butterflies being released from their pupa ready to start a life packed with crazy insect anecdotes. Of course, there are always going to be days when I picture them more as bewildered moths batting tired wings, desperately attempting to escape the confines of a lampshade. But when they do, I remember this… there are many professions where a default setting of anxiety and hyper self criticism would be a barrier to achievement. Writing is not one of them.


Ollie Quain is a London-based journalist who has worked for Ministry of Sound, the O2 and a number of fashion magazines. She Just Can’t Help Herself is her second novel.

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