Sometimes it’s furry and almost cute, like that shaggy creature from the Muppets. Other times it comes with the darkest terror and creeps behind the diaphragm, stealing breath and hope and making us grab our pillows to scream. Sometimes, it speaks to us in the voices of disgust, or disappointment, or distrust, or anger, or wounding that we have heard on that morning when we were 6 and thought we could still do anything. Sometimes it’s remembering the really awful, terrifying, violent stuff we have survived.
Fear. So much fear.
Writers face it in scads because our work requires us to risk, to become vulnerable, to speak when staying silent is safer. We know that it is safer all around if we just don’t write. And we know that is true.
And yet, there is a way that fear left unspoken starts to grow sharp and acidic. In time, it erodes our hope and our honesty. It makes it harder and harder for us to speak ourselves at all.
When I am afraid to write – every day – I find excuses not to do it. I make myself busy with other worthy things, things that are less scary – like cleaning the house or posting cute goat pictures. I say that “I have too much paying work” or “reading is writing” or “I’ll just watch one more episode.” Because I know how to do those things, and those things don’t require as much of me – they are not as terrifying – as writing.
But how do we become brave? Or rather how do we find our bravery that is there, a gleaming white pebble beneath the fear?
1. We start. We take out a notebook and a pen, we open that file on our laptops – and we write. 10 words, 25 words, 10,000 words. We begin with the fear if we must. We write it out of ourselves, word by word (bird by bird, as Lamott would say). We just begin. Somewhere.
2. We remember that we do not have to share what we write with anyone if we don’t want to. We can say the things that hurt us most. We can say them raw and ugly and full of swear words, and no one on earth has to know that we have said them. We remember that darkness is part of being human, and we write it out of ourselves and into a form we can manage and shape. We remember that it’s okay to lament, to rail, to be unsure, to ask questions and not have a single answer. We let ourselves be honest.
3. We trust ourselves and the people who love us well. We trust that if we feel called to write than it is good to do so, even if we have no idea what the hell we are doing. We trust those people who speak life into our spirits, who hold us up on hard days, who believe that we are valuable and good and precious. We call forth those words – and the rare good ones we say to ourselves – and we jot them as notes at the top of the page so that we can glance at them when the ugly voices speak up.
Every day when I sit down to write, this is how I do it again, even when I’m busy, even when I feel horrible, even when those ugly reviews and those wounded people’s voices shout so loudly. I start, I hold it close, and I trust. Just as we all do every day that we are brave enough to live bold in this world.
What fear might be holding you back today? What would it feel like to release that fear into words? If you try it, please know I’d love to hear how it goes.