Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fear is the Mind Killer

Do you have a favorite line?

Right now mine is the litany against fear from Dune. There is a current real world reason why this code is significant to me.

The Litany Against Fear:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

-Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

Why is the code significant to me right now?

Last Summer I sat at a dinner table with three of the fantasy/sci fi finalists at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. Each of the finalists did a nice job trying to keep there composure as the top three were announced. Third place was a woman at our table. Extra loud claps and cheers erupted from out table. It was cool. Second was someone else, who was not at our table. Claps and cheers. One more place to go. Two more finalists at the table and six more in the room of hundreds. First place in the finalist category goes to ... The husband of the winner jumped up and cheered as load as you could imagine. I smiled for the couple. And honestly the winner, who was a mom about my same age, looked shocked. I was so happy for them. It was a beautiful moment for the both of them. And, I though, that's what I want for my wife and I.

I drove home from the conference thinking, "That's what I am going to try for." And, I did. You know the steps: feedback, revision, feedback, revision, .... So, you can imagine that when I opened the link to the finalists and saw that my name was not there I felt an electric jolt (a pang, if you will) erupt from my heart.

It was painful, but a funny thing happened. I felt glad for one of the guys that was listed as a finalist. His name is Brad Gallaway and I had the pleasure of exchanging feedback with him this year. If you are interested in dark fantasy or video games you should check out his blog.

A thought came to me: "I am glad that I was a part of something." That something was of course the feedback exchange and Brad's success. Somehow that thought, the idea that just being in the game and being involved (even in a peripheral way) with some one's writing success helped the pain to pass through me.

This afternoon I was thinking about the whole writing life thing. I was thinking about the sacrifices and how I have stopped marathon training. I was also thinking about the next novel. There was a tension between continuing with the dream and letting the pain of rejection deter me. That's when the litany against fear came to mind.

What matters more than winning or losing is character, and the ability to continue fighting on.

So, I refuse to give in to the mind killer. I refuse to entertain the fear that I am not good enough or that I will never make it. I also refuse to disassociate from the pain. I embrace the pain and I am conscious of the reasons why it exists. Here's my theory, in brief. We will feel pain in proportion to the degree that we feel hope and desire. I felt a tremendous amount of hope and desire, therefore, it makes sense to feel a tremendous amount of disappoint and fear.

I don't think that it is good to stop hoping. That would make us lifeless and passionless. Feel the pain of rejection. Let it pass through you. And turn to look with the inner eye at the experience. Grow stronger from it. And know that if you do not give into fear (the little mind killer) you will continue on through the desert until you arrive at your destination. Once you arrive, who you are and how you have grown will matter more than the fact that you arrived. That is my code. If you are a friend of mine, feel free to hold me and others to it.

What helps you to let the pain pass through you?

1. Acknowledging it's validity helps me

2. Knowing that I have other writing and nonwriting successes and other sources of meaning helps me

3. Acknowledging the strength of the competition helps me

In his blog, Brad wrote, "The person who informed me that I was in the running said that this year's SF/F category had some fierce competition."

4. Looking forward with a positive attitude helps me

I once had an agent end an email in a wonderful way. He wrote, LOOK FORWARD : )

To me, that means focus on the path with a positive attitude, and continue on.


-What's a meaningful line from literature to you?

-Do you have a mantra or mind-trick for letting pain pass through you?


  1. I rely on Yoda. "Do or do not, there is no try."

    I get this blog all the way. No matter how many disappointments, I keep fighting. No one else will fight for me, but me.

  2. No mantra, no quote, but I was inspired by this post. I let fear stop me writing a lot of things. I need to get over it, or I'm not going to get anywhere.

  3. Stay focus on your goal, it will in a way reduce your pain. Knowing and admit the fact that the individual has to pay a higher price in order to obtain a much higher reward.

    As such, it is make sense that the higher goal you set, you ought to pay a higher price.

    By focus on your goal, which is much overwhelming than the price you need to pay, you will not feel the pain of it, but rather take it as a challenge for your to overcome.

    Hope the above explanation is clear and helpful to you.

  4. Hey Dave,
    I appreciate your insight. Your comments on my blog are always so thoughtful and provoking. So thanks for being an "iron sharpening iron."

    I agree that the more we have at stake and the more we put ourselves "out there," then we risk greater rejection and disappointment too.

    Since we're in training, we're bound to stumble from time to time, or even fall flat on our faces. But hopefully the love of writing will spur us to pick ourselves off the ground and keep on running and training and improving.

  5. Dave, this is great. I didn't have a mantra but you gave me one. I will face my fear and let it pass over me and through me.
    One of the worst aspects of fear is that it causes inertia. I love what you said about feeling pain and disappointment in proportion to the desire and hope we begin with. It makes sense and it makes sense to recognize that and turn it into more forward movement.
    I do have a line from Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea that is meaningful to me:
    Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky.

  6. Great post Dave

    I am also of the Yoda mindset. Do or do not. There is no try.

    There is another one that I like. Dance like no one is looking.

    For writers I guess that would be Write like no one cares. I do.

  7. Yeah, Dave, Great stuff. My mantra is the last line of Great Gatsby: "And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to the past." Not a very defiant mantra, but it gets the job done, I think, because I need some kind of shared suffering.

    My other trick is remembering how Ray Bradbury got 800 rejection letters before getting published. I'm not near 800...I think. =).

    Anywho, great stuff!

  8. Aimee and Doug: I love the Yoda quote!

    Merrillee: I think there are different kinds of fear. Some are smart and some are disabling. Between fear and brashness is courage. Courage is the ability to chose in the face of fear. Good luck with your choices.

    James: Good to hear from you again!


    For the love of writing ...

    Yes, I like that, and that is what it comes down to. Although, I might adapt it to, for the love of storytelling. It's all about words that connect with people, for me.

    Thanks for the iron sharpening iron thing, by the way. I feel more like playdough at the moment, but I love that way of thinking and communicating.


    Thanks for the comments. I have thought quite a bit about that Ursula Le Guin quote. There's quite a bit to it, both in meaning and message. Each phrase has it's own meaning. Together, I hear a message about contrast. She is a master of contrast, and that is where meaning is found.

    Success (personal or professional) means so much more when contrasted with disappointment.

  9. Patrick:

    I love the boats beating on against the current metaphor. You should see how people look after they have sailed up to Seattle after battling the current that flows south toward California. I've been in that current, and it's rough. It's no small thing to sail against it.

    Wouldn't it be nice to ride the current. I'd like to ride high on those waves and let them propel me forward in the direction I'd like to go. Some currents, like the one's in the Strait of Juan De Fuca, do change direction.

  10. Can't think of one at the time. But I like yours!

  11. I've always liked "Manuscripts don't burn," from the Russian novel The Master and Margarita. The master of the novel is a writer who destroys his book because he knows the Soviet government will never allow it to be published. Then he has a meeting with the Devil, who returns his manuscript to him with the above line.
    It's especially moving because Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita knowing that he couldn't publish it, but the manuscript was preserved by his widow and published years later, after repression had eased.
    Whew, now I'm comparing myself to a famous dissident...reality check. No government is censoring me, or any of us. But seriously, I do love this line and I've always taken it to heart as a sign that really great writing can't be destroyed.

  12. Dave, thanks for sharing part of your writing journey with us. I'm a strong believer in hope as well--the REASON we keep trying. I like that the agent wrote "Look Forward". In writing I think it's all about learning from the past and living for the future. Everything we try, everything we experience, is a new journey. It helps to keep optimistic and it helps to keep focused.

  13. Hi Dave, it was amazing hearing you quote from one of my favorite movies and not only that you chose the same quote I love. There is another that gets me through the rejection process. It also comes from Dune. When Usel tells the reverand mother to look to the place which she fears most and she will find him staring back at her.

    I think this whenever the rejection comes in. One day I will succeed and those that declined to work on that project willremember those words. Yes there's a liitle different spin on them but I think you get the point

  14. "There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyze the causes of happenings."

    --Dorothy Thompson

  15. My most memorable quote comes form Harry Potter. It's in The Prisoner of Azkaban when Remus Lupin and Harry are discussing the boggart: "I see," said Lupin thoughtfully. "Well, well... I'm impressed." He smiled slightly at the look of surprise on Harry's face. "That suggests that what you fear most of all is -- fear. Very wise, Harry."

    I don't really have a mantra to go with it, but this sort of sums up the way I feel about rejection. Rejection in this case would be Lord Voldemort as Harry first thought that the boggart would become a full version of the dark wizard, but instead he was afraid of the dementor (the physical manifestation of fear). In my case I do not fear rejection, just that it is a stepping stone to be over come, just like Harry's search for the horcruxes. Each one he found brought him closer to success, and each rejection I receive is just an obstacle on the path to success.

    (I did look up the quote to make sure I got it right.)

  16. Eileen: Glad you like it.

    Laura: That's a cool saying and a cool story. Like it!

    Cindy: Thanks for the comment. Somehow it helps to hear you bounce it back at me. Hope is a big reason why people keep trying. There is fear that protects people from stupid injuries (hand on burner) and then there is fear that destroys hope. Without hope, we are lost. I guess that what I am contemplating more deeply now is where I put my hope, but that's a long story.

    Stephanie: I love your tenacity. That's the spirit! Also, it is really cool that you are so into Dune. I love hearing how people make lines from fiction a part of their mentality, and the way they live their life. Thanks for the insight into how you forsee the future. The irony is that what you anticipate does happen. Good luck finding an industry person that gets your stuff.

    Anthony: Insightful quote. The next step (after discovering reasons or causes) is doing something about it. As my sister has said, "When a horse throws you off you have to just get right back on again." My anaology comes from soccer, which used to be my life. I'd be pissed after missing a shot, especially if it hit the crossbar. After venting a bit of rage, I would picture what I need to do, given a similiar situation, in order to get the ball into the net. And I would tell myself that I just need to keep getting the shots off. That mentality helped keep my head in the game and it helped me to score more goals. So, as a writer, I will make use of the same mentality. Thanks for the prompt to think about causes. Somehow, that helps my focus.

    Ryan: Thanks for the detailed comment from Harry Potter. It makes me want to go back and reread that section. Actually, it inspires me to catalogue situations in fiction where characters face their fears in similar ways.

    Anyway, I love that part of the story and I think that it applies quite well to the situation. We, as writers, have to figure out what the thing we fear really is. How truthful is it? And, of course, how can we overcome it?

  17. powerful post. Your sister's proverb is mine: get back on the horse. it's served me well over the years, for sure, tho it doesn't fit every situation.

    My current approach: 1. analyze motivation for writing 2. evaluate worth of writing life 3. create writing priorities and goals 4. formulate battle plan 5. implement 6. re-evaluate 7. tweak 8. implement 9. repeat cycle

    i'm not sure my approach is valid or worth anything to you, but there it is :)


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