In Or Out: Dealing With Fear

Posted March 13th, 2012 by Candice

I’m taking a new online class that combines photography with writing.   Our lesson for the week is to think about fear and how we deal with it.

I’m old friends with fear.  I worry about everything:  Will we have enough money.  Will my husband’s illness get worse.  What if I never sell another book.  What if I never write another book.  And those are just the queen bees.  In my fear hive an army of worker fears feed the big ones.   [E-books, aluminum pans, the election, gas prices]

In one of the books that changed my life, Watership Down, I wanted to identify with the brave smart rabbit, Hazel.  But I’m really like Pipkin, the fretful rabbit who jitters in the background with his litany of worries.

This exercise made me track my fearful self all the way back to my earliest memories, and even before.  In the crib I must have heard the arguments between my parents.  Then there was the uncertainty of living with my aunt and uncle in a house filled with fighting and violence. 

When my mother remarried, we moved to the country.  I was almost five and afraid of everything:  the dried-up baby snakes my sister and I found on the back porch.  The tall oak trees that crowded our raw yard.  The fox that trotted from our woods to raid the neighbor’s henhouse.  The night sounds outside my window.

But once the new house became home and grass began to grow in the rough clay yard and I settled in the landscape like the foxes and snakes, I relaxed.  The rhythm of seasons calmed my Pipkin-ness.  When I started writing, I opened a door.   In my stories I could be brave and have adventures.

For years, I wrote and sold lots of books, writing to trends, writing what was popular, writing what schools needed, writing what people wanted.  I had lots of adventures through my work, but always from the comfort of my office.  Now a new fear moves to the top of the list:  time.  How will I best use the productive time I have left?

In her excellent book, Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life, Bonnie Friedman says:

The best art risks most deeply.  It is intended not for a group of readers but for one.  It descends into the subterranean, the shameful, the fraught, the urgent and covert . . . What could not be said aloud because it could exist only as this constellation of scenes, this concatenation of details on this page. What passes invisibly over the earth because you have not yet pointed a finger at it.

It’s time to take risks.  To write for the one reader.  To point to the invisible.  To follow the fox into the henhouse.  To face down fear and walk through doors into uncertainty.




18 Responses to “In Or Out: Dealing With Fear”

  1. Christy says:

    I love your door photograph. I want to open it up, step in and close the fearful door behind me.

    • Candice says:

      My photos are terrible–I Photoshopped this to the nth degree! I am dying to get in this place–it’s actually an old store. The windows are painted over with one little spot I peer through. I want this place to give its stories up to me. Maybe I’m asking too much?

  2. I love how you take fear and just walk into it more deeply. Cheering you on into the henhouse with that fox.

    • Candice says:

      There’s really no place else left to go, Jeannine. I’m tired of splashing around in the shallow end. (Good at mixing metaphors, huh?) I may crash and burn, and if I do, you-all will know about it!

  3. Karen Coombs says:

    “Now a new fear moves to the top of the list: time.”
    That says it all. With the publishing industry in upheaval and editors taking up to a year to respond to a query or to a full–providing they don’t have a “no response means no” policy–I worry that I won’t be around long enough to see publication of all the books I want to write or have already written and for which I’m seeking an agent or editor. (This after having published eight books with traditional publishers.) That means all the years of writing and perfecting my craft will have come to naught. Frustrating and heartbreaking.

    • Candice says:

      Karen, I let that particular fear in the door (traditional publishing kaput) and allow it to run around about three minutes a day. And then I shove it back outside. No matter what the form, there will always be a need for stories. People are *hungry* for stories.

      Worrying about not being around long enough to write your books–get busy on the ones that are calling to you now. Write them anyway. We don’t have all the time in the world and those stories need to be told.

  4. Melissa G says:

    Fear is a major theme in my life. I am an ideas person, which sadly go unaccomplished because I am paralysed with fear. It is a fear of not being good enough, being mocked. I know that what I fear is self-imposed but have not yet learnt to completely over-throw the fear.

  5. Wow. So glad John posted this on the DGLM blog today. It is indeed time, and I need to check out that Friedman book. Thanks!


  6. Donna says:

    I am so relieved to learn that I am not the only person who is afraid the whole world will discover the true me – and that I will not measure up. I recently read a quote from Thomas Carlyle, “The merit of originality is not novelty; it is sincerity.” Accepting the truth of this statement has been freeing for me, because while I may not be immensely talented or clever or creative, I am most certainly sincere. So there you go . . . when we are who we are, no more and no less . . . there is no way for fear to secure a foothold. I am grateful we can support each other!

    • Candice says:

      I love your quote. And I feel the same way–I’m not all that talented or clever or even creative. I’m flabbergasted by all the creative stuff around me. But I’ve learned to work deeper from the heart. Not so much the inner excavation, but trying to apply my inner truths to a world bigger than me.

      And yes, I’m glad you’re here, too. Very much.

  7. Brian Taylor says:

    This quote by legendary mystery writer Phyllis A. Whitney says it all, “You must want it enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like.”

    Fear quite often leads to regret, and I don’t want to be left wondering what I could have done differently. I don’t see the fear anymore, only the need to become a better writer.

    • Candice says:

      I tell my students about Janet Burrows, a writing teacher, to spend it all, all the time, every day. Don’t hold back. Don’t be stingy. Get moving and move like your pants are on fire. While you’re doing this, you’ll be learning the craft, paying your dues, and you’ll find you’re more interested in the journey than the end the result.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Rebecca D says:

    My goodness. Your blog crashed through my front door, and took its seat at my desk. I came home from work- as a writer, of course- so paralyzed with fear that I was considering giving up novel writing. I had put every spare moment into my first book for three years, and now that it is done, I don’t think anyone will want it. I thank you so much for helping me to look my fear in the eyes. It’s ugly. I am worried that I started writing for myself, too late. I’m 68. But maybe, I’ll get up in the morning,anyway, and begin again. I’m in the 12th chapter of a new work. 🙂

    • Candice says:

      Wow! Okay, first, I’m almost 60 and yes, I’ve published a lot of books, but none of the ones I want to, yet. It’s never too late! Think how much experience you have behind you, not years.

      When I finish my new books these days, I keep them home a few weeks. I don’t want my agent or the editors out there to see it, to pick at my characters who are doing the best they can in this world. Then I let it go. Because by then, I’m on to another book, another set of characters who are struggling along with me.

      I’m thrilled you are so deep in a new book! You aren’t as afraid as you think.

      • Rebecca D says:

        I love the thought that our characters are doing the best they can to make it in this world. If I can cut them some slack, certainly I can cut myself some, too.

  9. Candice says:

    Fear isn’t all bad, Melissa. When you live with it a long time, you learn to make it work for you. Keep it sort of beside you, not in front of you. Know that it’s there and acknowledge it and go on and do what you want anyway.

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