Me, Usain Bolt, French tarts and the Olympics of Fear

I have always thought of myself as intrepid. Equal to anything. Resilient. A brilliant bouncer-back. A great survivor.

Finding myself unhappily between careers, I picked myself up, dusted myself down and thought I’d try my hand as a patissière. Yes. Moi. The Poisoner, as some of my best friends call me.

I think about it now and wonder why I didn’t just sign on for the 100-metre sprint in the Olympics. Probably I could have been as good as Usain Bolt.

I’d bought a French cookery book for reasons that remain unclear. In it were some recipes for tarts (apple, almond and pear, prune) which looked rather unappealing even on the pages of the supposedly sexily-photographed book.

I still don’t know why I did it. Any regular readers will know that I am not a great cook. Poisoning has really happened.

I was dimly aware of regulations about having a stainless steel kitchen which had passed hygiene tests. But I thought I’d just ignore that.

I made the short drive to Leamington Spa, a small market town which was once a place for the ‘quality’ to take the waters. I spied a little café and walked in. The woman behind the counter looked friendly and was friendly. She didn’t ask any hard questions about my kitchen and seemed quite excited by the idea of French tarts.

I went home feeling rather pleased and had a think about what kind of tart I’d make for my debut.

Prune. I chose prune.

I made the tart and it looked quite convincingly tartish. The pastry crust did not disgrace me by crumbling and the filling looked pruney.

Why did I choose prune? I don’t know why. I think I thought that the denizens of Leamington Spa were unlikely to have tried prune tart before and that it would be a novelty for them. Lucky, lucky them.

I thought about this episode in my past again today as I was mulling over the difficulty of writing a novel. I am out of excuses now. The course is over. I am a qualified writer.

I just have to write the novel which should be a breeze, what with my new skills.

So what’s stopping me?

The first obstacle is fear. I sit at my desk and think, what is the point of me sitting here? It is all such dross.

‘Just write,’ an old friend (also a writer) says. ‘Don’t worry what it looks like. That’s for editing.’

I’m trying to take her advice. And to learn from a recent post by Isabel Costello, who points out that this kind of avoiding behaviour has emotional roots.

For me the emotion is fear. Turns out I am a giant cowardy-custard. What if I can’t doooo it? I am constantly whining to myself. What if it’s rubbish and everybody laughs?

I am not as brave as I thought.

And, what’s worse, it’s just not much fun, sitting, worrying and not writing. I’m sure I could be doing something more constructive.

Like making tarts?

When I delivered my prune tart all those years ago, the nice woman seemed unphased. She might even have been pleased. I remember her smiling. She certainly didn’t jeer.

After several days, I rang her and asked how the prune tart had been received.

‘Well, Cathy,’ she said. ‘How can I put this? I’m still looking at half of it.’

Thus my career in tarts crumbled. Bada-boom.

Perhaps I should have signed up for the marathon. Because I think I’ll give writing a bit more of a go.

How do you get over the fear? I’d love to know.

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Posted in creativity, criticism, feedback, Writing
13 comments on “Me, Usain Bolt, French tarts and the Olympics of Fear
  1. Another great post, Cathy. Your writing is lovely but alas I don’t think you ever get over the fear. As I work as a freelance writer and people actually pay me to write, you’d think I would believe in my writing ability, but I don’t. I have occasional moments where I think I might be alright at it, but they are fleeting. I think this is what keeps writers going though, the constant striving to always be better. I think prune tart sounds delicious – the ladies that lunch in Leamington Spa missed out I reckon.

  2. I think you’re right – the tart is a red herring – you (like me and probably lots of others) are just looking for a way to put off tackling the novel we both want and do not want to write! Back to work on our respective novels! Come on….if you can do it so can I!

  3. Hi Cathy, great post and thanks for the link to mine. I’ve done enough venting recently but all I can say is the great things in life always come with fear attached. You are a fab writer and once you get into it, writing a novel will be fun I’m sure. I tried not to get too overwhelmed thinking how long it had to be but enjoying the chapter by chapter sense of building something. Whatever you write, I’ll read!

    • Cathy Dreyer says:

      Thanks Isabel – your post was really timely and helpful for me in recognising what certain behaviours and feelings are actually about. So thanks to you. Looking forward to your book too :-). Cathyx

  4. I think ‘fear’ is part of being a writer and just shows that you care about your writing, Keep the faith!

    • Cathy Dreyer says:

      Thanks Helen. Your comment makes me think about the luckless bloke who I once paid to teach me tennis. He was a really excellent teacher and I was not a promising student. (He later confessed he doubted I’d ‘ever’ be able to serve.) But when I complained of nerves, he said that nerves just meant I cared about winning … Cathy x

  5. tmycann says:

    I think the better fear to focus on is whether you will go nuts with this particular story idea bubbling in your brain without an outlet. Just let it pour out. Tell yourself you’re lancing the story ooze that would lead to madness. It’s purely self-centered. Nobody has to see it. You’re working on your therapy.
    Once you’re done, then you can see whether there’s anything you enjoy in the re-reading process, and THEN make the decision about whether anyone else gets to see it.
    Good luck!

  6. Cathy Dreyer says:

    This comment came from someone who wants to remain anonymous and emailed me. I thought it was very useful.

    ‘”Sometimes perseverance is about carrying on writing; it’s not always necessarily about carrying on writing the same thing. You might have to start 4 novels to finish 2.” – Anon.

  7. Would it help the fear if I pre-ordered your novel?? 🙂

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