There’s a lot of joy in the writing process, but some days there seems to be a whole lot more fear than anything else. The masters haunt us. Our self-doubts berate us. The blank page (or screen) sears our retinas. (We re-read over-written sentences like that one and wince.) Our internal editor goes on a manuscript-shredding rampage…
Even our good friend What If turns on us. What if I never write another word? What if this is no good? What if no one likes it? What if I don’t meet that deadline? What if I don’t get a date for the prom?
Yes, yes, writing can be fun but also a scary pursuit. Below, nine masters of dark fiction, all of whom contributed to Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas, reveal what scares them about the writing process.
Brief bios can be found after the responses.
What, if anything, scares you about the writing process?
John Mantooth: Pretty much all of it, except taking days off. I’ve got that mastered. That is part of the process, right?
Carrie Laben: Writing doesn’t scare me. It’s indoor work and very rarely do I get stepped on by a cow.
Caitlin R. Kiernan: More than anything, the fear that one day I won’t be able to do it anymore. Write. I don’t mean that someone or something will stop me, but that the ability will simply escape me. That terrifies me. It seems a truly silly fear, an entirely irrational fear, as I’ve been doing this for more than eighteen years now. But it scares me, nonetheless.
Kit Reed: Doing it.
Kaaron Warren: You have to give so much of yourself to it, don’t you? You can’t hold back. You have to show what needs to be shown and not be fearful about your audience and what they’ll make of you. That can be terrifying.
Rick Bowes: Not much scares me about the writing process. The publishing process is something else again.
Carolyn Turgeon: I find the writing process scary in all kinds of ways. That kind of plunging into an imagined world, that state you get in where you can see and smell and taste this world you’re conjuring on the page, that irrational but intense fear that you’ll slip into that imagined world so completely you won’t be able to come out again. At least I have that fear all the time when I’m writing, and a big challenge for me is to stay there, in that world, rather than get up and, you know, sweep a floor or call a friend or something, just to get grounded again.
And that’s not even touching on the horrors surrounding book publishing and marketing and hoping that this book will sell and the next book will sell, too, not to mention the horrors of revealing yourself and your weirdnesses and obsessions and wounds to the world at large, in ways you might not even realize, through your writing. Not that I’m complaining but: it’s scary!
Erzebet YellowBoy: Talking or writing about the process of writing is terrifying. For me it’s an entirely intuitive process and I have a devil of a time trying to present how it all works in any kind of meaningful way. The best I can do is “get pen, get paper, write”.
Ramsey Campbell: Well, I once wrote a tale called “The Change”, which suggested that the act of writing (or, more precisely, the self-absorption it requires) could be dangerous, even lethal. I’m glad to report it hasn’t proved that way since, and Jenny and I are about to celebrate our fortieth anniversary, so that story must have been an exaggeration…
Rick Bowes is the author of From the Files of the Time Rangers and Streetcar Dreams and Other Midnight Fancies. He wrote “Knickerbocker Holiday” for Haunted Legends.
Ramsey Campbell is the author of The Seven Days of Cain and Just Behind You. He wrote “Chucky Comes to Liverpool” for Haunted Legends.
Carrie Laben is working on a novel and an MFA. Her fiction has appeared in Apex Digest, ChiZine, and Clarkesworld, among other places. She wrote “Face Like a Monkey” for Haunted Legends.
Caitlin R. Kiernan is the author of Daughter of Hounds and The Red Tree. She wrote “As Red as Red” for Haunted Legends.
John Mantooth is a seventh-grade English teacher, grad student, and writer of short fiction. He wrote “Shoebox Train Wreck” for Haunted Legends.
Kit Reed is the author of Enclave and Weird Women, Wired Women. She wrote “Akbar” for Haunted Legends.
Carolyn Turgeon is the author of Rain Village and Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story. She wrote “La Llorona” for Haunted Legends.
Kaaron Warren is the author of Dead Sea Fruit and Walking the Tree. She wrote “That Girl” for Haunted Legends.
Erzebet YellowBoy is the editor of Cabinet des Fees and the founder of Papaveria Press. She wrote “Following Double-Face Woman” for Haunted Legends.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.