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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Chicago Review Press

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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A few words about fear

Now that I’m committing to writing more on my blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Fear! BOO!

Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Come back!

I really believed, before this, that I wasn’t able to post as much as I wanted because I didn’t have the time. But that wasn’t it at all. Because really? I didn’t have the guts.

It’s hard to put yourself out there. Some days it’s harder than others, of course, but there’s always a risk that you’re going to get a negative reaction to what you’ve written. You can’t anticipate what will set some stranger off on a tear about how much you suck. It doesn’t get easier, either; once you get some experience under your belt, you start to anticipate the reactions to whatever it is you’re writing. You imagine the people who aren’t that into you reading it and smirking. They’re like your Inner Critic come to life—a whole Greek chorus of voices telling the world how overrated you are. And then you stop yourself from writing, or you tell yourself you need more time, more inspiration, more something. That’s letting fear win, and by winning, it gets stronger, and the feeling snowballs. Pretty soon you’re also imagining all the people who think you suck because you don’t post enough. And then you’ve locked yourself in a closet and you’re wearing tissue boxes for shoes. It’s not healthy, kids.

I’m not bringing all this up just to talk about me, although THE INNER WORKINGS OF MY MIND ARE FASCINATING. This fear comes up all the time, for anyone being creative. I’ve seen people get paralyzed with fear after they’ve encountered public criticism of their work. I’m sure you’ve seen it as well. I’ve received emails from people who want to die of shame because someone wrote to them to tell them they suck, or posted a comment to the same effect.

Sometimes the comments people get are laughable. I’ve seen commenters who criticize a writer’s typo, or a picture of them, or arrive on a site with no prior knowledge of the blog at all so they can leap to all kinds of inaccurate conclusions. Some people are nuts, and unfortunately, some people who are nuts can also work a computer.

And yet writers can be devastated by this stuff, even when they themselves realize how silly the actual comment was. It can make them feel small and stupid. Because on some level they believe they’re not good enough, and now they feel like they’ve just been outed. Like they’re not worthy of love, and worse, they were stupid to want it.

Let me just say it: we all want to be loved. It’s okay to write because you want to be loved. That is completely okay. That is, in fact, an excellent reason to write. And if you feel terrible because of a mean thing someone wrote, that’s also okay.

Here’s a statement that deserves a separate paragraph: if no one dislikes you, you’re not doing it right. If you get mean comments, or read something critical of your work, it means people have an opinion about you. And that’s essential. Good job.

You can’t write something meaningful, you can’t create art—and let’s just call this art, okay? I think we can—unless you are willing to be yourself. Yourself, with all your quirks. And you can't be yourself without some people disliking you. It’s not possible. Pick a celebrity you think is absolutely above reproach, and then Google him, and read all about the people who think he’s the worst. Stephen Colbert, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris. There are people who hate them! How crazy is that? (Maybe not crazy to you, but to me, certainly.)

But those people don’t matter. They’ll move on. When you are intensely yourself, with all your quirks--and look, we all have them, no matter how normal you think you are—and you can create something, whatever it is, that expresses that, you're speaking to someone else's quirks. And the thing is, everyone thinks they're weird and unlovable, at some level. So when you speak to that part of someone, they open up. They feel better. They bloom a little. You've just changed someone else. Think about that. Five other people might not get it, but so what? A hundred people might think you suck, but you’ve just helped one person have a better day, and how incredible is that?

The only thing we can do in the end is be brave. No one can escape being disliked, and no one can escape being loved. Go for it.

Reader Comments (163)

I don't think I can say it any better than all of the other people but I love you. And one of these days I hope to beat my Internal Critic to a bloody pulp.
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDM
Great post, Alice.

My blog is milquetoast and I say that without false modesty or apology. When I do put myself out there, I always feel bad for hurting someone's feelings. Alternatively, when I make someone angry, the rude comments do cut me to the quick. I still have not found that medium ground - the one where I feel okay saying what I really want to say.

Thank you for writing something on which I can chew and ultimately, ponder.
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercagey
I'm glad you started posting more often because I drifted away when you didn't post as often, and I missed your acerbic wit, pragmatism, and ability to turn a phrase. Now you're back with a vengeance, it seems, which rawks.
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
Thank you, everyone, and I love you all as well! 

Couple of things: I'm not just talking about "trolls." Sometimes you just hear from people who don't think much of you. The dismissive comments can be the worst. I mean, you can call those guys trolls if you like, but when they seem like real, reasonable people? That's when you want to DIE.

Also: A few of you have commented that because you're NOT getting negative comments, you're not doing it right. You are silly. Probably you just haven't gotten enough attention to attract the people who want to put you in your place. And hey, maybe there are some people who hate you but just aren't saying anything! There, now don't you feel better? 

And: yes, my words were meant for ANYTHING creative, and I use creative loosely. Wherever you make your voice heard, you put yourself at some emotional risk. And I salute you for it.
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
I wish this worked for my work writing, which is not art but academia. Alas, if people there say you suck it is so hard not to believe you suck. But you do tell yourself stuff like 'they just didn't understand me.'

Even if it is different context, what you say here is supremely helpful when trying to produce anything--this is the fear nestled in almost all writing experiences. There has to be--HAS TO BE, ALWAYS--someone who will disapprove, be disdainful, etc. of your writing. Always, always, always.

The only way to avoid being slammed by the unsympathetic reader is to never write. And that sucks worse than being slammed, although the pain only comes years later when you realize what you didn't do.

You've inspired me to figure out something along these lines for my own fear.What DO I tell myself. Also, you are reminding me why I didn't write this month. Yes, I do always tell myself it is that I had this other thing to do but it was fear. I always's just fear.
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterozma
This is really wonderful! I am going to come back to it every time I feel that fear rising up. I have just recently decided to stop wearing the mask of perfectionism and just be as authentic as I can especially when writing on my blog. So many times I have used imaginary reactions by people I don't even know as an excuse not to write. Now I have to feel the fear but go forward anyway. Thanks so much for this post!
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Joyce Bryant
I just want peope to love me!!!! :)

I haven't had any really mean comments, but I've seen others get them and I don't get it. Why put the enegy into typing up a nasty comment to someone you don't even know?? Too much effort for what you would get out of it...
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkaylen
Alice, you can write about a rock and I will read with immediate affection for that rock because with your talent for writing, that rock will become a crystal. Just keep writing!
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Nemitz
I love you and your writing, Alice. I love reading your posts. Keep it up.

January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarci
Alice, I don't know you but we both have small sons named Henry. And I love your writing. And you are in the group of bloggers I refer to as my pretend friends. I'll invite you all over for cupcakes someday.
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDCGirl
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. All that I can say is THANK YOU.

Best,The Lawyer Mommy
January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLM
This is a fantastic post.

Although I read it while drinking my first cup of coffee after the first night with my infant's first cold and I'm a little bleary and I read this sentence -- "That’s letting fear win, and by winning, it gets stronger, and the feeling snowballs." -- and stopped because I kind of missed it and was all, Huh? Feeling snowballs? What does she mean, feeling snowballs? How can I feel snowballs? I WANT TO FEEL SNOWBALLS, TOO!.

And then coffee and sorry. I AM capable of understanding your eloquence. Though the next time someone asks how I'm feeling, I'm going to say I'm feeling a little snowballs and then I will walk away leaving them to dwell.
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkristy
Alice, when you post, you make our day. We rely on your wit and braveness to lighten our week. Thank you so much. AND to all those people who are typo picky: RELAX!
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterQuail
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I thought I couldn't possibly love you more, and yet, this post proves me wrong. I'll take your advice to heart.
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCristina
"... And the thing is, everyone thinks they're weird and unlovable, at some level. So when you speak to that part of someone, they open up. They feel better. They bloom a little. You've just changed someone else."

So very true, you wonderful, funny, insightful writer.

I feel the same way about Sedaris. How can anyone not like David Sedaris? And also this Alice Bradley person. HOW CAN ANYONE NOT LOVE HER?

People are insane.

You are wonderful.

So glad you're here more often.

January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBlabberMouse
Thanks for this, Alice. My husband and I (sound like the Queen don't I) recently began our blog with the stated aim of blogging EVERY DAY for a year. granted, we have a structure to help us and there are no rules on how much we have to say, but it can be daunting from time to time. I'm going to take your advice and stop censoring any comments I'm afraid may offend - because it's ME isn't it - not the shiny-me I want someone to love.
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMine
Alice! This is a really great post. Please take a moment to watch this 19-minute TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love). It's about exactly these ideas of creativity, writing under the weight of expectations, and how other cultures have handled artistic "genius." I find it brilliant and hopeful and I have a feeling (at least a hope) it will resonate with you:
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClarisse
p.s. If you watch the talk, then this will make sense. I say to you, unquestionably, OLE!
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClarisse
I am so glad you wrote this. I just had the very worst jerk try to write an angry, angry comment about my blog post about how I didn't think that the first iteration of the iPad was going to be perfect for use in a classroom. You would think I had posted that I planned on kidnapping his first born child. What is so surprising (but shouldn't be) is how angry people can be. I am growing a thicker skin, but of course want all to revel in my writing and am crushed when they don't.

So from this bleader...I think you rock!
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen
There you go inspiring me again. Just when those tissue box slippers were starting to feel comfortable.

January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristin Steiner
Alice, thank you. I know I'm late to comment, but I thought I would anyway. I am not a blogger or a writer, and I don't consider myself an artist. But I am a very sensitive person with self confidence issues. And I try to do what I do earnestly and with passion. When I receive thoughtless negative feedback (as opposed to constructive criticism, which I now handle pretty well) it hurts so, so bad. But this morning I was told by a teacher 'You are so great with kids and a fantastic storyteller, you should be a teacher!' A teacher is what I want to be. That felt great. And now this post, that I identify so so much with... what a day for busting through the cloud of self-doubt. Woohoo!
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCamille
I know what you mean.

My blog is miniscule in comparison to yours. I started writing what I couldn't tell my family to their faces. At first it was easy to write. I didn't think anyone was out there, reading what I wrote.

But then I finally got a comment from somebody. And it just tore me down. I shared myself so completely and this guy decided it wasn't good enough for his internet entertainment.

ANd to that man, I'm sorry. But ever since then I think twice about what I write. I have never received a positive comment. It hurts, but I still write.

I'm glad you posted this, Alice. I love reading you.

January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndi
Exactly. Well done. Be brave. Thanks for this great post.
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoAnn Egan Neil
I love you. You're fab. Thanks for your blog, and for beating the fear, and putting so much of yourself out here, for us.
February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie
Thank you. This is exactly what I needed today.
February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

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