Signature Reads | 3 Fears Writers Can Use for Inspiration
Take Fear by the Hand: 3 Fears Writers Can Use for Inspiration
I was a pretty ordinary child. When I was 6, I wrote stories based on anything I didn’t know, which was everything. I plucked characters from the air as if they’d been mixed into the oxygen for my taking. I made up a language because it made more sense than the two I had been taught to speak, and then created a dictionary to house the words. If anyone was interested in learning my new language, I wanted to be prepared. My imagination was fiery. I pulled things apart and didn’t put them back together. I was born to create something from nothing.
We all have an inherent desire to explore and create. In our younger lives, we believe in ourselves because we’ve never had a reason not to. We create for the sake of creating, not for approval or praise or validation from others, but because we find joy in our ability to do so. We try hard because it feels good to, and that feeling is reason enough to continue trying.
As we grow older, though, it becomes more and more difficult to expose ourselves to the world. We crouch down and make ourselves smaller because we are afraid of being criticized or ridiculed—and because it’s an extension of us, our art suffers. In order to make your best work, you must take fear by the hand.
The fear of looking within.
One of the most common ways we hold ourselves back from making beautiful work by dismissing ourselves. We believe that our own experiences are trivial and couldn’t possibly contain value for anyone else. We read someone else’s work and believe they already told our story, and in a far better way than we ever could.
It’s easy to avoid looking inside yourself because you might not like what you find. You might be more broken or lost or anxious than you’d realized, and the idea of coming to terms with that is overwhelming: how can you possibly make good work if you haven’t figured yourself out yet? The truth is: you are unlike anyone else in this world, and your story is, too. The truth is that no person has themselves figured out. The truth is that if you dare to look inside, your art will reflect the fact that you are trying—and that is more than enough.
The best stories we tell are the ones that come from within—they tell the world why we are shaped the way we are, and connect us to others. What kind of magic can happen when you examine your own fear of looking within?
The fear of vulnerability.
Making work that utterly exposes you is terrifying. The fear of vulnerability keeps us from writing honestly. It forces us to couch our words and cushion our emotions, because we are afraid to create work that serves as a reflection of ourselves. Just as the fear of looking within keeps us from seeing ourselves, the fear of vulnerability keeps others from truly seeing us.
We are drawn to writing that bites us with its honesty, writing that is stripped down and bare. As readers, we want to understand the author and who she is. As writers, we want readers to feel understood, unforgotten—and the only way we can do that is by offering ourselves wholly, even if it makes us uncomfortable. The next time you feel yourself shifting away from honesty in your writing, as yourself: What freedom can I find in complete vulnerability?
The fear of failure.
As artists, we are so afraid of failure that we often stop before we start. We make the same unfulfilling work because it is expected from us. We trap ourselves into a style or aesthetic that we spent years shaping because it’s what others recognize us for. We place limits on who we are and what we can do because we are afraid that we will never succeed at something new.
The fear of failure is debilitating because it freezes us in time—it keeps us in the same place instead of pushing us to evolve and bloom into something unexpected, something magical and surprising. Like all fears, the fear of failure is really a fear of the unknown—it’s your mind imagining a worst-case scenario and assuming it will come true.
The best way to understand your fear of failure is to first ask yourself: What am I afraid of? What will happen if I do fail? And then, reach around failure and ask yourself: What if this fear never manifests itself? What shape can my work take, and where can my writing go if I let it?