Thursday, January 23, 2014

Somewhere Between Mild Discomfort and Abject Terror*

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
Somewhere between mild discomfort and abject terror. That is where I spend about an hour of my day every Thursday, driving to and from some classes my daughter takes. I have a fairly major driving phobia that causes ridiculous amounts of stress when I go out driving.

About a month ago it was pouring rain—that nice drenching kind that sluices off the cars in front of you and kicks up as mist around you, reducing visibility to bog level. It was not my most pleasant half hour. When we got safely to the school and my fingers finally unclenched from the steering wheel, I felt this strange sense of victory in what I had just done. For plenty of people, this type of commute is nothing more than a casual annoyance, but my heart was racing and I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through me (and I’m just not really a big fan of adrenaline). Yet I had not pulled off to the side of the road and burst into tears like I wanted to (partially because I would have eventually had to get back on the road anyway).

The more that I drive—and frankly, I avoid it a lot—the easier it gets. It’s desensitization therapy: repeated exposure to the thing that terrifies you. I have always known it would work, if I would just be willing to do it. But it’s just so hard (whine whine whine). Still, at least every Thursday, I take to those dreadful Maryland freeways and do what needs doing.**

Now are you ready for the metaphor? Writing, of course! When I think about my writing—particularly when I get to the hard parts—I sometimes get feeling this way, somewhere between discomfort and terror. Granted, writing doesn’t involve large machinery moving at high speeds that can theoretically squash you flat (if it does, here’s a hint: you’re doing it wrong). But for me there is the fear of being really bad at it, failing spectacularly, and so on. Which can keep me from doing it at all.

I’ve learned that for me, one of the secrets to driving is to not think about it too much. Just do it, but don’t imagine anything about it—just take it as it comes. I am a highly cautious driver, which is owing to the terror, but I have decided to look at this as a strength. I notice the cars around me; I pay more attention. I am aware, and it can sometimes make for better driving.

So when it comes to writing, I think sometimes the secret is not to overthink it. And you have to become desensitized to the terror and just write through it—which is, I think, one of the reasons for that constant advice to “write every day.” You get used to discomfort and you learn that you can work through it. It might even make you a better writer.***

*It will probably not at all interest you to know that the copyeditor in me really struggled with whether or not to capitalize the word “between.” Chicago, MLA, and APA were all fighting in my brain.
**As a side note, I think the designers of the Maryland freeway system must have been some sort of minor super-villains (ignore the contradiction inherent in that statement). They clearly knew that I would be moving here in the future (precognition) and decided to create freeways that would strike fear into my heart (evil planning). Because yes, the world does revolve around me. 
***Also note that I am terrible at taking my own advice. I do not write every day, even though I keep meaning to. Sigh.


  1. This post is delightful. I'm sorry for the terror you feel but I'm delighted it caused such a hilarious and insightful post! Drive safely. :)

  2. Jeanna, your posts always make me smile. I love your sense of humor, and your honesty is wonderful. My WIP gets “monster under the bed syndrome” and I get too scared of it to write! I think we all have lots of things like that- it’s why procrastination is so popular!



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