The Fear of Being Derivative and of Not Fitting In

I (obviously) haven’t been blogging much. What I told myself was that I was afraid to put anything out there that was too much like the writing that some of the big-name fat activists, like Ragen Chastain and Virgie Tovar are writing.

Almost a year ago, I emailed Ragen some photos for a video montage (I’m at :42, 1:07, and 2:59) and thanked her for giving me the words to say what I want to say about fat acceptance and fat civil rights. But I also I told her that I was afraid to blog too much for “fear of being too derivative.”  Ragen encouraged me to blog, even if I said the same thing as she does, in my own words.

So what’s this fear?  The fear of sounding like everyone else?  Of not having anything original to say?  The fear of being derivative doesn’t even come up in Google suggestions for “fear of being  d . . . ” The actual fear of not being or sounding original only shows up once in the top ten websites in a Google search of “fear of being derivative.”

To flesh out the fear a little more, I feel like I don’t have anything original to say.  I read books and online constantly, so I’m afraid to start writing because I feel like I’ll just be parroting back something that I’ve read–not something that I’ve thought of myself.  And then I think that even if what I say isn’t quite the same, do I need to be writing if I’m almost like someone else?

But isn’t everything derivative?  Isn’t there only one universal Hero’s Journey?   How do you get over the fear of sounding like everyone else?

So I did what I always do:  Look for answers in a book.  In Bird by Bird: Some Thoughts on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott acknowledges that her students often take on someone else’s style, that another author’s style is “a prop that you use for a while until you have to give it back.  And it just might take you to the thing that is not on loan, the thing that is real and true: your own voice.”  She says that “the great writers keep writing about the cold dark place within.”

And then it hit me: My “cold, dark place within” is the fear of not belonging, of not being like everyone else.  I’ve found myself taking great pains to try to fit in, and I even created an extrovert, at odds with my bookwormish and somewhat socially-anxious self, to attempt to fit in.  As a fat woman, I’ve been subject to appearance-based stigma for just about my entire life. Last to be picked on teams, never had a date in high school, blah, blah, blah.  The world tells me I don’t fit in when chairs or desks are too small or I can’t find clothes to fit me.  The fear of not fitting in is probably one of the most universal fears, but for those of us who are fat, it’s not just a fear. It’s a reality.

But if not fitting in is my big fear, then how can I also at the same time fear being derivative, which is being just like everyone else?

Having both of these fears at the same time is completely irrational.

Seth Godin calls it the resistance–that fear that tells us to go slow, to compromise, that creates writer’s block.  I realized that that’s what my fear of being derivative is–the resistance has been winning for too long.

No more.

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One thought on “The Fear of Being Derivative and of Not Fitting In

  1. Annie Johnson

    Nice piece! You say, “Having both of these fears at the same time is irrational”

    Actually, it makes perfect sense, because we all have two basic needs. We all need to fit in, belong, because community makes us both safe and whole, and we all need to stick out, be different in our own way, because our value to our community comes from the ways in which we are different; it is our difference from everyone else that is the value that we have to offer.

    Also, rather than saying that you are rewriting something of someone else’s in your own words, I think it is better to say you are rewriting from your own perspectives. Each perspective offers new ways of understanding an idea, which gives it a new value that the original writing did not have.

    Reply

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