✍️ Quantum of Nervous
or, How Writing Fears Entanglement Theory Explains Why We Sometimes Spiral
Okay. So there was this cat and this scientist. And the scientist said, “If I put this cat in the box and close the lid, we won’t know if he’s dead or alive. Eventually, we can assume he’s both.” A lot of scientists nodded and applauded.
(These “geniuses” obviously did not have cats, because if they did, they’d realize it the cat was alive, you’d hear a hell of a lot of meowing...)
The reason the scientist came up with the idea of inhumanely stuffing a cat in a box is because another, more famous scientist (he was some kind of Einstein, apparently), said that if you took a picture of one cat here, say, playing with a ball of yarn, another cat on the other side of the universe – a twin cat – would somehow be playing with an exact replica ball of yarn. (I’m paraphrasing.) He called it “Quantum Entanglement”.
However, if Quantum Entanglement was real, that meant there was a problem with his previous theory about how the universe worked. Something had gone wrong in the math because it would be impossible for those two cats to communicate with each other instantaneously over so much space. A lot of scientists nodded and applauded.
I won’t go into the math because (a) there has already been too much math in this blog, and (b) I don’t understand the physics involved well enough to sound remotely credible.
Besides, my question isn’t how this one thing is affecting this other thing over there. My head already has an ice cream headache from the math. My question is why.
Because I think we writers experience a similar kind of Quantum Entanglement. I call it the Writing Fears Entanglement Theory: when we start experiencing one writing fear, we inexplicably start feeling all writing fears.
This can be a problem.
Writing Fears Entanglement: What Is It? How Do We Stop It? And What Happened to the Cat?
Last question first: due to the nature of Schroëdinger’s thought experiment, we can safely assume the cat is still alive. So no worries there.
Now for the hard part. Writing Fears Entanglement is in my mind a better way to describe writer’s block (which, as we’ve already seen, is a myth and/or oversimplification). Generally, there are two main reasons why we may feel unable to write:
Cards in the table: I’ve already written extensively about fear in one of my early posts: How Fear (and Loathing) Kills Writing Creativity – and What to Do About It. I thought it was a decent post. But most readers seemed to feel it was meh. Maybe it was the image of Hunter S. Thompson peering ominously over the bridge of his windshield. Maybe it was simply the mention of the good doctor that lost them. I don’t know. In any case, it happens.
I still feel that the concept of writing fears is important, though. So I want to revisit it through a different lens and new metaphor in the hopes it lands with you.
To build on the Writer Fears Entanglement idea: I believe that fear is a slippery slope. When we give in to one fear over here, often that triggers some or all of our fears over there, too. We freeze up. We get “blocked”. And we have to fight like hell to get out of the downward spiral of fear and despair.
Writing Fears, and the Fear of All Fears
To recap: writers have many fears. Here are some, with links to posts for those I’ve covered in these pages:
Fear of success
Fear of embarrassment
Fear of putting yourself out there
Fear of not knowing what comes next in the story
Fear of feeling like an imposter (imposter syndrome)
Fear of not being good enough
I’ve bolded this last one because I think it’s the most important one. I call it “The Fear of All Fears” because I think all fears really are different facets of this one gem.
We write – at least in part – because we want people to read and enjoy what we’ve written. We want our voice out there: our thoughts, our feelings, our insights. We want readers to say, “Wow!”
That doesn’t always happen (as my post centred on Hunter S. Thompson can attest). But we can’t let that stop us from writing in the future.
So, How Does This Tie in to Writing Fears Entanglement Theory? And What Do We Do About It?
Unlike Quantum Entanglement, we can explain Writing Fears Entanglement quite nicely. (I know I said it was “inexplicable” above, but I’m about to make it splicable.) The reason all our fears are entangled is because they are all different expressions of that Fear of All Fears. They are all one fear. So when we get rejected, that triggers fears of imposter syndrome, not having enough time, fear of the blank page, and so on. This can happen in many different combinations. And they all centre on that Fear of All Fears: feeling like we’re not good enough.
What to do, what to do...
Well, each fear has its own approach, so by all means go back to the list above and click on the linked points for the specifics about that. But a nice, catch-all solution is this: write anyway.
To help us do that, I’ve constructed a new thought experiment. Say we wrote a story about a cat, then shuffle it away into a box. Until we “send the story out there”, it can be both the best thing ever written and the worst thing ever written. Here’s the important part – we never have to open that box!
And even if we do, we don’t have to open that box until we’re ready. Just write it and put it away and pull it out again in the future and see if you like it. If you do, send it out to a contest or to a friend. If you don’t, never open the box, and the cat story lives on forever as the greatest story never told.
Either way, we’ll accomplish our main goal: to keep writing despite any writing fears we may be feeling.
Key Takeaway: Fear can stop us from writing. What’s worse, the Writing Fears Entanglement Theory shows us that when we feel one fear such as fear of rejection, we start feeling other types of fears. That drags us down into a spiral of uncreativity because it’s really all one Fear of All Fears: the fear of not being good enough. Start writing by knowing that until you send it out there, it can be the best thing ever written. This will keep you focused on what’s most important: writing.
Over to You: Do Your Fears Snowball?
How about you? Do you feel other fears piling on when you start feeling one specific fear? How do you overcome those fears? Does it make you stop writing? Let us know in the comments below!
I’ll leave you with a video that breaks down quantum entanglement into very simple terms. I find it all very interesting, if mind bending...!
Until next time, keep writing with Wild Abandon!
P.S. - I am away from my computer, so answers to comments may be delayed...
email me if you get lost.
I agree that fear cascades and the fear of being not good enough is the Fear of All Fears. I deal with that by reminding myself it's the process of writing I enjoy and stop worrying about the end result. But, for me, there's another impediment that creeps in at times: ennui. And that can be harder to beat.
Thanks, Graham. This was timely for me.