“Action conquers fear (for now)”

Since I’ve begun writing for this blog, many people have confessed to me that they, too, harbor a fear of writing.

But how (readers will ask, time and time again) does one move past that fear?

“Even though my former professor highly recommends it, I am hesitant to pursue the MFA in creative writing,” one young woman told me, upon reading my blog. “I would like to have read [in your article] some solutions about how to overcome the fear demon.”

Yes, and I would like to have written that. Because if I actually knew some concrete ways of overcoming our fears, my writing life would be much easier.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across the following quote by author Peter Nivio Zarlenga: “Action conquers fear.” I felt this saying embodies much of what I’ve written here in the past few months, but I’m not sure I agree with it in its most literal sense. The word “conquer” seems to imply that the fear is banished forever, and for me this has certainly not been the case.

When I sit down to write, I worry that I will waste hours staring at a computer screen, unable to produce anything. Worst of all, I dread to learn that what I eventually produced won’t be as good as I’d originally hoped.

I’ve been writing articles for Magnificent Nose since July of 2011, and in all that time I’ve missed exactly one week. (And that week was planned. –ed.) I have demonstrated, over and over, that I can produce something on a deadline. And much of what I’ve written has been fairly well-received.

But I can’t say that my actions have conquered my fear. Because even after all of that, I feel afraid. Each and every time.

This will be the week I run out of ideas, I tell myself. This will be the week I have to message my editor and say, “Sorry, I’ve managed to put up a convincing show for almost seven months now, but that’s it. That’s all I’ve got.”

Luckily I’ve learned to put off writing that e-mail and write an article instead. Some have been surprisingly good. Others, just okay. But I can say with great confidence that they’re always there. What solution do I use when fear tries to get in the way of creation? I write. And I tell myself that next week, when I feel afraid, I’ll write again.

So a more accurate version of the Zarlenga quote might be, “Action conquers fear, (for now).” I could be nitpicking here, but I like that better.

“I would have liked to have read some solutions,” readers will continue to say, but if they’re expecting a bulleted list of wittily-written tips that will cause their fear to dissipate, they’ll need to go elsewhere. I offer no easy fix for the problem of fear. Instead, I put my faith in one very difficult solution:

When you feel afraid, accept your fear.

And then, write anyway.


Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.

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5 thoughts on ““Action conquers fear (for now)”

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  1. I definitely prefer your quote to Zarlenga’s original 3 words of wisdom.

    You are right about people trying to find solutions by reading piece after tip-stuffed piece: if they are fearful of writing, just reading about how to possibly overcome it won’t abate that fear; if anything, it will only make it worse.

  2. God bless the Internet. Why, it’s just full of great writing advice in blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook groups, old listservs, authors’ blogs and the blogs of people who, like me, are technically not, you know, authors. One could spend hours every day combing through them for tips, strategies, philosophies and tricks. And that’s before you start ordering the hundreds or thousands of available books on the subject. And soon, the free time is all used up and it’s time to cook dinner, and not one word has been joined to another on the page.

    But Sara, what you’re saying beats all of them. Just sit. Just write. Just (I know it’s a cliche!) do it. Don’t overthink it. Later you can figure out whether it’s any good or not.

    Works for me (though I do check that Twitter feed, just in case).

  3. I came across this, that reminded me of this article:

    It is almost axiomatic that, if a project doesn’t cause a modicum of fear (can I really bring this off?), that it probably isn’t sufficiently challenging or interesting to sustain the level of involvement you need to feel in order to see it through to the end. But how do you deal with the urge to avoid your book project, because the mere thought of getting to work on it stimulates overwhelming feelings of fear, self-doubt, and . . . sudden exhaustion?

    The answer is all too obvious, though most of us find it hard to see. Get into it. Get involved in the actual work. Fear immediately disappears when your attention is engaged by the work at hand. It is similar to what happens to a baby’s attention: there she is, wailing away full blast with her entire small being, when the neighbor’s miniature dachshund appears. The tears shut off like a faucet, because the dog captures her attention so completely that she forgets to cry.

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