Fear – A Writer’s Friend or Foe?
Fear seems to be one of those emotions that we writers have to deal with a lot, or anyone else for that matter. It seems to chase us down anytime we try to step outside of our nice comfortable comfort zone. But I’ve always thought a comfort zone can one of the most uncomfortable places we can be. When it comes down to it, when we are alone, or the TV is switched off, or there is zero distraction in our life and we sit quietly listening to that inner voice—it whispers something profound to us…
…You are more than this, you can do more than this, you have something special to offer…
…and it’s a terrifying thought. Because then, we have to look that monster, Fear, in the eye. That somehow we would have to conquer it—we would have to face our fear! And that thought is often too much to bear, it’s easier to hit the button on the remote and slip back into our coma.
Is fear the enemy?
I know this is a strange question and I think most people would say, yes, fear is definitely the enemy. It is the menace that stalks the writer and squeezes out all hope of ever being published. It is the killer of inspiration that crushes the life out of our creative endeavors and instead leaves us playing small.
Or is it?
Maybe it is right now, but can that negative force be put to good use in the writer’s life?
I have always been a very fearful person. For as long as I can remember, fear has stalked my every hope and dream. It has been around the corner, lying in wait, every time I thought I could try something new. Or it has tried to kill the life out of every new connection and communication.
Who knows where my fear came from; fear of not being loved, fear of not being good enough, fear of falling flat on my face. I could go on.
One thing I do know is it has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember. It has traveled with me everywhere I have gone, and in everything I have done.
I spent the majority of my younger life trying to shake it loose; trying to run away from it, overcome it, conquer it, or destroy it. I pinned a badge on My Pinterest Page years ago that says Punch Fear in Face.
But I then realized I was going about it all the wrong way. I was always looking at fear as a problem, a curse, and as something that I had to get away from. Then one day I realized I couldn’t. That fear was my constant traveling companion. It had always been there and always would be, and there was nowhere to hide.
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
I read a book back in the 90s called Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers; it stayed with me long after I read it, particularly the 5 tenets about fear. I wrote them on cards and stuck them to my wall, to try and get the principles through my thick skull:
- The fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow!
- The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and…do it!
- The only way to feel better about yourself is to go out and…do it!
- Not only are you afraid when facing the unknown, so is everyone else!
- Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the bigger underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness!
But it still took me another ten years, at least, to get it! I was still fighting, still battling, and still trying to punch fear in the face.
My Friend Fear
Then one day I had an epiphany, fear wasn’t the beast I was trying to make it out to be, it was actually my friend.
I know, shocker. All it was trying to do was keep me safe from the big bad world. Like an over-concerned mother trying to stop her child from swinging too high on the big swing at the playground—never mind that the child gets to experience the exhilaration of flying! It’s better to just be on the ground, to be safe, to be secure, and let’s not let any of that bad stuff happen to you.
The problem is, bad stuff still happens. Not only in the playground, but crossing the street, or driving in the car. At any moment something bad can happen and it puts the brakes on this whole thing we call living, either temporary or permanently.
So I got to ask myself the question: Do I want to die in the back seat of my car riding to play park strapped into my nice safe seat? Or, did I want to get up on the freaking swing and fly as high as I could? —with death being a mild consequence of living and taking that wild ride.
Fear’s just fear, it’s never going away, I told myself. So I decided to treat it as an awesome friend whom I would listen to very closely and consult on all my endeavors. Anytime I’m about to step out into new territory, I listen carefully to that inner voice of fear. My close consultant.
The voice of fear that sounds something like this:
You shouldn’t do that thing: no one will like you.
You shouldn’t do that thing: you’re going to look like an idiot.
You shouldn’t do that thing: who the hell do you think you are.
I listen very carefully, and then I do the exact opposite of what fear tells me to do. See if fear is just trying to protect me, then I no longer see it as a menace. I now see it as a compass and I use it to guide me to where all the growth is at, where all the fun is at, and where all the best swings in the playground are.
I’m still scared. I might fall flat on my face, but it doesn’t matter. I have to just pick myself up and look for the next big swing. Sometimes, I may take a little time to lick my wounds, but I don’t stay there, I have to get up and look for that next swing—the one that scares me the most—after all, what else is there?
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
I can either choose to live full out or shrink back and hide in the corner.
I get to choose.
What are your thoughts?
I’d love to know what you think! Do you see fear as a friend or foe? How has it stopped you in the past? What will you do now to change things? What tips and strategies do you have to motivate you to step out and take risks? What do you tell yourself when fear tries to cripple you?
Please share your comments in the comment box below, along with any other ideas you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you!
Is fear your enemy?
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I thought I had read this and replied, but I suppose not. Great post. I, too, have found fear to be the frenemy I wish I’d never known, but, alas, always with me. One achievement in particular has helped me more than anything. I kept hearing that I couldn’t do it – even I said it, often – and then I did. Now I simply remind myself that I made it, and if I can do that, I can do anything. Sort of like swimming so high – if I can go that high on the swing, I can do anything. I CAN DO ANYTHING!
You are so right, James! Once you fly on that high swing there is no turning back! Because after you experience what is on the other side of fear; there is nothing like that exhilaration!
Thank you so much for sharing!
You always have such great insight. Here’s my 2 cents: Fear has many facets. It can signal need for caution and shouldn’t be ignored, but we can’t let it rule our lives. My fears held me back more when I was younger but sometimes I’d forge ahead anyway. Now I just don’t have time for such nonsense. So what if I make a fool of myself? Allowing fear to cripple you can actually increase danger because you can’t think clearly. Being an introvert, though, I still hold back from potentially good experiences because of shyness. As a writer, examining fears can be an result in tools to make characters more complex and alive. Thanks for your post. It made me think.
This is great insight Marie! You are so right about fear, it distorts everything, and doesn’t allow us to see clearly. I used to let fear stop me in my tracks all the time, but, I realized I have no time for that nonsense either. So when I do feel fear it’s just an indicator for me to dive in.
Thank you so much for sharing!
Shot me through the heart on this one, SK! Yes, it’s my friend and foe. Having been traumatized earlier in life I have had to learn discernment. Sometimes fear warns us of danger. However, learning the difference gives me freedom. Being locked in my fearful place has kept me from doing so much. No more.
It’s a complex relationship we can have with fear. I finally came to the realization, that for me, it wasn’t going away anytime soon. That’s why I looked at ways that I could befriend fear as it accompanied me on all my exciting adventures. And, respect it, when it saved me from the jaws of death!
Thank you so much for your heartfelt sharing, as always, I appreciate your comments, Kim!
I love your approach of listening carefully to the fear and then doing exactly what it doesn’t want!
My experience and some of my studies have taught me that when we stand up against our fear we actually begin to reprogram the neurobiology in our brains – making courage something easier to access each time we do.
It feels unfair that it’s taken me almost half a century to really begin to bridle and drive my own fears, but there’s no point in looking backward but for motivation.
Great post! Thanks for the reminder, S.K.
This is an excellent point Traci! The more we face our fears the easier it becomes, and our courage expands each time we take a step forward! The things that once seemed insurmountable look like molehills compared to the next big challenge. But you’re so right, it definitely builds our courage muscle each time we step out, making our next push out of our comfort zone easier!
Thank you so much for sharing!
Traci, I appreciate that you mentioned how long it’s taken for you to get where you are with fear and other issues today. I sometimes mourn that loss of time, but you’re right. We can’t look back.
Huge things can be accomplished with concentrated effort! Now, you just get to use the time that you do have, as the driver to take you where you want to go.
I’m a big believer that everything happens in it’s time, maybe this just happens to be the perfect time for you!
I’ve been trying to reframe how I see fear for a long time now. For much of my life it has held me back, but I have slowly taken steps to work past it. I’ve done a lot in a short time and must say that I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but fear is still an adversary at this point; it holds me back, keeps things up on the high shelf where I can’t reach it, though I’m scrambling to climb up the counters to try anyway.
I enjoyed how Elizabeth Gilbert describes how she sees fear in Big Magic and would like to transform the monstrous form into something more manageable. It would certainly make things a lot easier.
Great post, SK, thanks so much for writing and sharing. Every writer knows the dance with fear.
Thanks for sharing your experience with fear DMG! Yes, I think every writer does know the dance with fear. Like you said, it’s all about reframing the meaning we give fear. When we have to face fear anyway, if we want to reach out beyond it, then we have to give it a more appealing face than the monstrous one it can sometimes seem to have. Like an over concerned mom, or a scared little kid, therefore making it a lot easier to deal with.
I love how Elizabeth Gilbert’s takes fear on all her creative journeys, and actually has a conversation that goes, ‘you can come but you don’t get an opinion’.
Thank you so much for commenting and sharing!
Elizabeth Gilbert is amazing. Eat, Pray, Love is part of the perfect storm that finally helped me to start breaking free from chains of fear I had all my life–about myself and my creativity. I’m still working on it, but her example has been an excellent one to follow.
I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love just Big Magic. But, based on this wonderful comment I’ll be sure to put it on my list! Thanks for sharing Kim!
Man, the comfort zone is so warm and calm and well… Comforting. Very hard to break free of that safe zone and explore a bigger world. What is it that makes the bird crack the safe haven of the egg? Instinct? Necessity? Wherewithal? Damned if I know. If I knew how to snap my fingers and make folks fear disappear, including my own, I’d be writing this comment from my yacht in the Mediterranean. If there’s one magic ingredient I’ve discovered trying to help myself and others crack the shell it’s this: Desire. The only way true change comes about is because the little bird wants it to.
You can drag a horse to water…
This is an excellent point S.C.! Only two things drive us, either pain or pleasure, and when one or the other peaks we move—either away or towards the thing that we want. But, you’re so right, if we don’t really want it, then we won’t do whatever it takes to get it!
Thank you so much for commenting!
HIT. THE. NAIL. ON. THE. HEAD. S.C., that’s what keeps us moving. Anything I’ve ever accomplished that I thought I could not do was because I wanted it more than I feared the outcome. Thanks for reminding me.
Great comment, Kim! Reminds me of the quote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin