Fear is an inevitable part of being a writer.
I think if you're no longer even a little nervous about the quality
of your work - Is it good? Good enough? Accurate? Fair? - it's time to
stop. I've been writing professionally since my freshman year of college,
1975, but I still sweat the details. I feel confident enough in my
reporting techniques, in finding and dealing with sources, in tracking down
tough stories and doing whatever I can to get them first and better than my
But I'm still always a little worried: that I'll get something
wrong, forget an important detail when intervewing someone I can't speak to
twice, concerned I'll get anything they tell me wrong, from the spelling of
their name to the context of their remarks.
It's also normal to fear others' judgement, from that of your peers
and colleagues to your editors or producers who can, after all, demote or
fire you for an error or misjudgement.
While I was researching and writing my first book, a hideous mantra
rang in my ears all the way to publication date, the phrases I was sure
some reviewer would toss at me like a 90-mph curveball: "Poorly written.
Thinly researched." Luckily, I didn't hear either. But I sure did stress
Your internal demons can bite harder than anyone else's.
But writers face other fears, based on the kind of reporting some
stories require. I'm not only talking about donning a Kevlar vest to enter
a war zone or, as several of my brave Daily News colleagues did - like
Tamer El-Ghobashy and Nicole Bode during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
- working for days or weeks facing widespread death, physical danger or
Danger is real, as is fear, and both have to be managed, usually
on your own.
During my international fellowship, in 1982, I decided to interview
squatters in London, Paris and Amsterdam. On a windy, rainy fall night I
went alone into Brixton, a dodgy part of London, to meet someone I didn't
know at all, someone deeply involved with the illegal and aggressive
squatting movement. I wondered if I'd come back, and in what condition. He
turned out to be a gentle guy, even walking me all the way to my Tube
On another story that year, I traveled eight days with a French
trucker making a delivery from Perpignan to Istanbul. We were both single,
had never met and he spoke not a word of English. I was 25, he was 37. We
slept in bunks behind the truck seats, barely three feet apart, night after
night. Was I a little scared? Yes.
But by the second day, Pierre cranked up the Rolling Stones to wake
me as he barreled down the highway. By the journey's end - a trip that
included having our gas siphoned out in the middle of the night in
Yugoslavia and being stopped by a furious Romanian cop who took all my film
- we'd told each other our life's histories in French and had some wicked
adventures. My fears had evaporated.
There are always new ones waiting.
I was recently in the Bronx, running late in the pouring rain,
desperate to just park and meet up with a waiting interview subject and
photographer. I spied a parking spot on the street opening up and dived for
it. A woman in her 60s who assumed I had stolen her spot, (I didn't even
see her), began shrieking at me at the top of her lungs, using her car to
block mine so that I couldn't escape. When I shouted back (stupidly), she
pulled out a tire iron.
I don't enjoy having to call 911 when I'm simply trying to get my
work day started.
Now, as I head into alone into whatever neighborhood holds the next
story, I worry about the next crazy with a streetful of sympathetic
neighbors and a bellyful of rage.