Fear and Trembling in the New Year: a Writer’s Confession

It’s the beginning of a new year and I’m facing the feeling so many writers dread—the fear that I will never compose another decent sentence—the dread that I will not only have nothing to say, but also that what I do write will limp along badly—boring, boring prose that no one with even half a literary brain would lay claim to.

Part of what frustrates me is my seeming lack of focus, the realization as this blog evolves that my interests are too eclectic.  I enjoy a little of this and a lot of that and that and that.  With Sara and I traveling so much, I feel my writing is both literally and stylistically all over the map, sometimes funny, sometimes deadly serious.  Are my own eccentric inclinations exaggerated by the sheer geographical range, if nothing else?

 It might be boring, but I sometimes wish I were one of those people with a singular focus!  Practically speaking, how does one lend cohesion to a blog that’s at one time or another about Haiti, Vietnam, art, poetry, dogs, travel, disaster response, and election fraud?  Then when you expand that list even further by adding topics I’ve yet to address, but plan to (my work in India this past year, for example), it becomes a dizzying mish-mash that would give even the most open-minded reader a case of topical whiplash.

So, my questions this New Year’s Day remain:

–How singularly focused does a blog need to be?

–What makes you keep reading one blog but not another?

–What is your biggest fear as a writer?

–Would you be willing to discuss any of these issues in a post to your blog?

I’d love to know I’m not alone with these writerly fears for the coming year.  How do you manage your own creative insecurities?

31 thoughts on “Fear and Trembling in the New Year: a Writer’s Confession

  1. Other than your wonderful writing and sense of humour, what keeps me interested in this blog IS the diversity of topics you cover. Oh, and the fact of course that you write about your travels and lead a WAY more interesting life than mine!

    One of the reasons I started my Photoblog was that I need a place for more serious “photographic essays” than my regular posts at “Notes from Africa”. So maybe that is the answer for you too. If you feel you need a place for more serious stuff, than create a second blog. I’d sign up for that one too! 🙂

    What I’ve found is that although there is a reader overlap between my two blogs, there are some Photoblog readers who just aren’t interested in my day-to-day musings. Just be warned though, it is difficult writing for several blogs in terms of keeping the momentum going on each.


    • Just to add to what I said above: I’ve thought of other ways for you to separate your various topics/kinds of posts if you don’t want to go the multiple blogs route. Though perhaps I should email you about that, if you’re interested.


      • Lisa–I am VERY interested in your ideas! I don’t think I can manage more than one blog, but organizing this one more effectively interests me enormously! I even wonder about using a theme that’s designed for blogs with more than one writer. Maybe I could use that format for organizational purposes, though not to accommodate multiple contributors.

        Please share your ideas whether via comment or email–whichever is easier for you. And thanks for thinking about this!


  2. Ditto to what Lisa said about wonderful writing, sense of humour, diversity of topics, travels and interesting life.
    I started blogging as a way to explore creativity and keep myself accountable. To me, it’s a kind of experiment. I don’t consider myself to be a “writer”. I practice sometimes and other times I just blah, blah, blah…..
    I try to write words from my heart and from what is going on in my life.
    Now, more than ever, I am accepting of myself. Life is too short to continue criticising myself or others. I was always my own worst critic.
    Criticism stifles the flow of creativity.

    You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

    Hope you will join in on the Daily Post Challenge!


    • I really like your idea of blogging as a kind of experiment–that’s puts a different spin on things. But you are right that criticism stifles creativity. I continue to be my own worst critic, I think–not good, I know. I find it almost paralyzing.

      I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my questions–especially your willingness to share in some detail where you’re coming from.


  3. What draws me to your blog is the chance to get an inside view into living abroad with the bonus of a writer’s perspective. The scope of your posts is one of the things I enjoy. What keeps me coming back to a blog – besides the chance to experience or learn something, might be as simple as liking the personality that comes through in each of the posts. Although I admit that I’ve pulled back from blogs that were too singular, and their posts as a result lost lustre.

    And writer insecurities – isn’t that the nature of the profession? Writers, we are insecure creatures by nature, that could be because a good part of putting words to paper involves so much introspection. Fears – Today I face a deadline ten days away and as I posted yesterday – it seems rather intimidating. Sometimes you just have to tuck the doubts into the far corner of your mind and keep writing.


    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I didn’t know you were reading.

      But actually I look forward to checking out your post from yesterday and learning what you’re writing and the particulars of your 10 day deadline. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond with so much thought and clarity!

      It’s great to know you’re out there!


  4. I love the eclectic nature of your blog…I bore easily so I find the array of topics and styles most appealing….as for fears…I must quote Alfred E. Newman…”Who Me Worried.” 🙂


    • Interesting observation. I know I prefer to read blogs with a slightly more eclectic range, but many of the tips I read about blogging suggest that focus is important. The suggestion that others too appreciate a less narrow focus is encouraging to hear.


  5. I’m of the “variety is the spice of life” school of thinking myself, Kathy…my own blog is all over the map as far as topics, but several readers have commented that they like that! They never know what I’m going to do next…I don’t want to be predictable!

    I enjoy your blog because it’s well-written, and it’s evident that you and Sara are deeply committed to the path you have chosen (helping people in the Third World). The fact that you are funny is definitely a plus for me!

    Glad I found you in 2010, and looking forward to reading more in 2011!



    • It’s good to know what works and really interesting to know that your readers appreciate a lack of predictability. I like not knowing what might come next. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy your blog, but it’s curious to learn how widely shared that preference is. This feedback is helpful. Thanks, Wendy!


  6. I love your writing because it is all encompassing. The common thread that ties it all together is your travel. Trust me, as a stay-at-home mom who rarely leaves the confines of rural Tennessee, to hear about your lifestyle of travel (be it election fraud or pictures of smiling foreign children) makes me feel a like I am vicariously living a life of globe-trotting adventure! Plus, if you were to morph your blog into a site on a lone topic, it wouldn’t be true to your “eclectic” personality. It would be watering down what your voice as a writer, and that would be a shame!


    • Glad you enjoy the eclectic range of topics I address. And I must admit to knowing what you mean, not so much about rural Tennessee, but about middle America in general. Kentucky bores me to death.

      But it’s interesting to think that a more narrow focus would be untrue to my own voice. That possibility had never occurred to me. Thanks for making me think about that, Tori.

      Happy New Year!


  7. I always come back to a blog that’s well written, entertaining, an I don’t mind if it meanders along a general theme. In the end, the author is usually tied to a topic of interest which got them to writing in the first place- food, travel, kids, etc. What will stop me from reading is introspective overload from the author. Some bloggers use the format as a diary, although cathartic for them, boring for me as a reader. Perhaps that is peculiar to me- some may view it as comforting to see their shared feelings in print. In the end, a good writer will always edit, self critique and try to make the work good (your blog post as a case in point) which can’t help but lead to constant improvement an evolution for the good of the readers and the author. Keep up the good work…


    • I like your use of the word “meandering.” That’s a good descriptive–as is “introspective overload.” Diaries have historically been private for a reason–no one but you is generally interested. Great response! Thanks so much!


  8. I don’t think I can add much more to what has already been said. I enjoy your writing style/personality as well as the variety of your posts, and agree with pretty much everything everyone else has written in their comments.

    I sometimes find singularly focused blogs to be dull, even when it is a subject that interests me.

    Because it is a question I never considered before, I had a look at my blogroll to help me get a feel for why I continue to visit some blogs and not others. It appears I have a wide assortment of reasons for continuing to visit blogs, including the writer’s style and/or personality, community/conversation (the blog red Ravine is a good example of that), commonalities, and in a few cases, just pure enjoyment. Some blogs I visit because I feel as if I learn something (about the world, about writing, about people, about photography, etc.) almost every time I’m there. As for why I stop visiting, usually there wasn’t anything there to interest me in the first place or I find the blog offensive in some way.

    I don’t consider myself a writer, although I do enjoy words and writing. I started blogging as a means to help me through a physically painful time in my life (Bountiful Healing — using photos and quotes to give me a morning “attitude adjustment”) and added a second blog (Life in the Bogs) to chronicle a temporary move when my husband was on sabbatical (originally intended to help keep family and friends apprised of our adventures but it turns out more strangers read my blog than family and friends). Oddly, I have more fears (or a shyness) about commenting on the blogs of others than I do about writing on my own blog.

    This is an interesting topic. Thank you for asking such great questions. It’s given me a lot of food for thought in regards to blogging.


    • Robin, thanks so much for this thoughtful response. I can’t tell you how much this feedback helps to clarify. I didn’t realize that so many people enjoy blogs without a singular focus. And it’s interesting that you would be hesitant to comment, because this comment, for example, is so well articulated–clear, insightful, helpful!

      I’m so glad you mentioned the names of your blogs, as I thought I was reading yours, but I haven’t yet. I was confused, somehow. Again, Robin, thank you so much for responding with such care! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this!


  9. Oh, Kathy – just keep doing what you are doing! Never boring and singular focus is sooooo boring (personal opinion). I read eclectic blogs because there is always something to learn and are so interesting. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Just write about whatever. xo iz


    • Yes, your perspective that singularly-focused blogs are boring may not be one shared by everyone, but I can’t tell you how many people have expressed that same perspective in this set of comments. I’m surprized. I like blogs that are more eclectic, but I really didn’t think that view would be shared by so many. Thanks so much, Izzzie, for taking the time to share your insights. I’m learning so much from these comments!


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  11. I’m glad someone’s speaking up about fear and writing. I started to toy a smidgen with this topic in a post a few days ago, but I didn’t make it quite as well-rounded as you have here (which is why I’m not going to link to it, lol). I’m actually going to take up your last question and write a post in response. I came upon your blog via Tori Nelson’s, and I truly love the voice that you’ve developed as well as the wide array of topics you discuss. I’m a new subscriber now! 🙂

    Thanks for braving this topic and for opening it up!


    • Thanks so much for stopping by! It helps me as a writer to know I’m not alone with my feelings of frustration and fear of failure. I think this may be a more common expereince than we might like to admit. Thank God I’m not alone and thanks so much for subscribing! I really look forward to reading your post on this issue!!!!


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  13. It is comforting to know when I sit down to write, I am not the only one who faces these fears. Chris Baty, in his book “No Plot? No Problem!” calls these voices that plague us the Inner Editor.
    “The Inner Editor is a busybody and perfectionist, happiest when it’s tsk-tsking our shortcomings and weaving our past blunders into a rich tapestry of personal failure.”
    Every day you have a blank canvas to adorn however you see fit; sometimes this will bring touches of sadness, anger, joy, resentment, jealousy or silliness to your creation, but that is our human condition. Ignoring these emotions, or resigning yourself to a single topic, would also limit the colors on your canvas.
    To each her own, but I personally prefer colorful art.


    • Thanks for this comment, Deanna. I also like Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” I’ve not read the Baty book, but will have to check it out!

      How do you handle that inner editor when you sit down to write? How do you shut her up? Sometimes it helps to come up with new strategies–Goldberg actually suggests sometimes giving that editor her voice, letting her write and get it out of her systerm.

      I look forward to checking out your blog, as well! Thanks for moving this conversation forward!


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  15. Kathy–
    I have no focus on my blog–someone once said of my writing that I am a cross between Erma Bombeck and Sylvia Plath–but without the gas and death at the end.
    that being said…I like to not have a singular focus…I find that limits where my soul would fly…

    what keeps me interested in others’ blogs is this: transparency, humanity, humor and questioning.

    I run from fatuous windbag blogs…
    I am in this, in to reading and sharing…with real people…
    blessings, and glad you found me so I could find you.


  16. Thanks for this post. I suppose all writers have similar insecurities, and yet it’s interesting that these fears you mention are specific to writing a blog – singular topic vs variation, etc. I agree with Lisa that one of the great aspects of your blog is your diversity of subject matters. I began reading because of your description of life in Haiti, but I’ve found your posts on art and family/love life, as well as being entertaining, to allow us a glimpse into your own character, something some of my own readers have suggested I do more of when I focus too much on my research.

    And, I also agree with Tori who said that you do, in fact, have a common thread tying everything together — your travels.

    My main fear, and I think I did mention it in my very first blog post, is that writing this type of medium seems almost self-indulgent. I don’t know if others feel the same about it. As an academic writer, I always have in the back of my mind a little voice insisting nothing in my professional writing is written in first person and that even novel ideas are reducible to premises derived from the work of well-established minds in the field. A blog is a great way to explore and communicate personal thoughts, feelings, valuations, and creativity.

    PS. I’m very much looking forward to reading about your work in India.


    • Great comment! Actually helpful insight, Kirsten.

      About your blog and fear of self-indulgence–let me assure you that what I’ve read so far has been far from overly focused on you. And as a former academic, I can understand your concerns about blogging and your struggle to find your voice in the blogosphere. I wonder if you could, instead of worrrying about either being overly self-indulgent or too academic, use your blog to show readers where your personal and professional selves overlap–use it to show how the private you impacts your work and how your work affects your private life.

      That may be easier said than done, but the intersection of public and private has always interested me. I think mapping that intersection would be fascinating. I’d love to know the lay of the land in that space.


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