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The Writing Life: Fear is a Trickster in Stilettos

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Fear returns by the light of the moon. By the rising of the sun. By the caw of seagulls on the harbor at noon. For many writers around the world, Fear ushers in doubt, a lack of confidence, an inability to begin, a paralysis to continue, writer’s block, impostor’s syndrome, fear of failure, fear of success, and perhaps ultimately, self-sabotage—to name but a few of her charming influences. A conduit of a writer’s deepest and darkest secrets, Fear keeps her scarlet hood pulled up, veiling her eyes. She sees no one, yet everyone at the same time.

She sees you, dear writer.

And she sees me, too.

She sees so many of us.

She is a trickster, an all-knowing enemy. She is as familiar as your family yet as foreign as a stranger. Every night, at my desk, she approaches. Her hand rests on my shoulder, while holding a single finger to her lips. She smiles, leaning in, her breath warm on my ear. “You can't write that …”

Deep down I know there's some truth there. Maybe I can't pull it off. Maybe, just maybe, I shouldn't be writing this or that or XYZ number of things. The audacity!

Then I get back to work.

It's that simple, and it's that damn-well complicated.

Night after night, and week after week, and month after month, this tango keeps on. Despite her words, despite her partial truths, and despite her breath on my ear, I tell myself, Just do it, Mell. Keep showing up. She’s part of your community, so take comfort in her predictability. She'll be there whether you write or not. So, write. Submit. Chase a contract. Grab 'hold of the life you want!

That's what a real writer would do.

When the writing life gives you fear-mongering lemons, make fear-ade.

Fear-aid. a writer needs all the help she can get sometimes.

“Don't you know? Those who can’t do, teach,” Fear says.

I keep writing.

“Listening to you, class after class, telling your students to be brave, to trust the writing process, and look at yourself. Ha! Never trusting any part of this."

I've reached my daily word count.

" You can pretend that I’m not here all you want.” She turns away. “Hypocrite.”


I’m here, laid bare, dear writer. Armed with the knowledge of what I’ve discovered about myself while writing my novels—and that’s that I haven’t healed in full. But have any of us? In a world divided, we need a healing balm, a beacon, and some damn hope, now more than ever.

In short, something's gotta give.

So, where does that leave us? Many writers I know (myself included) tend to be realists, if skeptics. Yet, at the same time, deep down, despite everything, we're doubt-ridden, hopeful creatures. Maybe the very thing that's gotta give is within us. Under layers of trauma, and existing in a world of hatred, of racism, of maniacal world leaders, of darkness. Maybe, healing starts within. It begins right here. With Me. With You.

With Us.

If we do the grit-work and practice self-care , maybe we can drive out the fear. Maybe it’s all about showing up, trusting the process, anyway, in spite of Fear. Whether I want to accept it or not, she's popped up everywhere, and every time I’ve ever written, sans exception—from my apartment in Eastern North Carolina, to an outdoor café in center-city Prague to our flat here in the UK—Fear is always there, dressed down in trainers, or up in haute-Givenchy. Despite the costume, she’s there in the same way darkness is standing by when the lights go out.

“Don’t blow your chance again by submitting it too soon,” Fear says. “Make sure that manuscript's as perfect as you can get it. One shot. You've one shot. If it’s taking you this long to revise, then something must be wrong with it! Great writing always rises to the top--it will always find a home. Don’t write for the industry, but I’m afraid great writing isn’t good enough nowadays—you must have a book that can sell! It must compete! It's just business, after all. C'est la writing vie, right? How else can you reach thousands of readers unless you sell it?”

Wait, stop.

Let's get real--it's noise.

I can choose to ignore her.

Then I don't.

So, I will anyway.

I will fight her, anyway.

Fake it 'til you make it, right?

Fear may be part of our writing community, but she isn’t OUR community. She is but a single voice among so many positive and motivating ones. She is part of you, and she is part of me, and she is familiar most days, and shocking and unexpected on others. And, (on a rare occasion), I take comfort in her predictability. Because when that part of us—when she—wields her ugliness, full-throttle, we can take comfort that we’ve heard her before, and that we've written anyway.

Fake it 'til you make it.

It takes a village to raise a writer, am I right?

We can do this together. So, let's get back to work!

If we heal ourselves, we'll heal the world.

What do you do to slay fear, writer?



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