When you’re scared, write on spec.

Do you want to write but worry that no one would read your work? Ever wonder if you’re a writer after all? Ever been so paralysed by how terrible the output might be that you never start?

Write on spec.

Before I explain, allow me to tell you a story. Sometime between 2016-17, I was in a terrible sort of headspace. I was scared out of my wits to write, even share an opinion. I was scared that I’d be attacked online for being a stupid person. I was petrified that I’ll be questioned about my opinion and I won’t be able to defend myself. So, I kept quiet. I was in hiding.

Thankfully, this was a problem I was seeing a shrink for. She told me, “See ma, first you write. We’ll see.”

So, I wrote a nearly 1700-word long piece about how Jyothika’s Magalir Mattum was a fabulous film. I included everything I loved. I responded to every piece of criticism anyone ever laid on it. I protected it like it was my own. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

I did all this while I had work and life that kept me going. The stakes were low. If my speculation didn’t work, it was only a few hours lost. Acknowledging that I’m doing this speculatively meant that I wasn’t working myself up about the response. At least not yet.

Once done, I went back to see my shrink. She said, “great, now, send it to your favourite editor and see if they’d like to publish it.” Well, by the time I gathered the guts to pitch a story, Magalir Mattum was passe, but I slowly got over the fear. So much so that, these days, I file my opinion about films in just a couple of hours after watching it. 

🤷‍♀️ Who’da thunk, right? 

(Side note: Apparently, everyone around me knew. I was the only one who thought I’d lost my ability to write. :P)

Anyway, back to the story. In essence, on-spec is what my doctor asked me to do. On-spec (on a speculative basis) is just a fancy Hollywood term for writing without a buyer. Work that isn’t commissioned. Don’t think of the ‘speculation’ part as scary, think of it as adventurous, and keep writing. Courage will come.

See ma, first you write. We’ll see.

P.S: Writing on spec isn’t a great practice for every story you want to pitch, by the way. Editors reject ideas all the time. If you keep writing everything entirely before you pitch, you’ll be wasting A LOT of time.

My advice here is to write on spec when you’re too scared, paralysed or in doubt. Once you’re over the obstacle, pitch first.