On Fear, Writing, and Life

Three stories up. Unforgiving concrete below. My heart was hammering in my throat as I swung my leg over the balustrade of the balcony, and I froze, suddenly and acutely aware that dying was a possibility if I messed this up.

But I had to get out of the house. Everything I wanted was out of the house. I simply couldn’t stay in the house any longer.

Climbing from my balcony to my next door neighbour’s balcony was the only way out, since there was a party in the street below and many guests had parked their motorbikes and were sitting at tables right outside my front door. I didn’t know how long the party was going to continue. Eyeing the celebrations below me, I wondered how traumatic it might be for the guests if a phalang (foreigner) suddenly crashed their party—literally.

I changed my mind and retreated to my bedroom twice before I finally swung safely over the balustrade across to my neighbour’s balcony.

It turned out to be an easy feat. No death-defying leaps or genuinely dangerous acrobatics necessary. I was jubilant. I hadn’t died. I’d conquered my fear. I was free.

I’ve noticed this pattern of desire and fear when it comes to my writing, too—in fact, with quite a few things in my life.

I desire something—I simply want to write; I actually have a brilliant idea for a story or a blog; I want to get to know someone; I want to pursue a challenge at work; I want to make a difference in the world; I want (insert desire here).

Then fear rises, and often I retreat some, assaulted by doubts and twisted speculation that keep me frozen in place. I have nothing meaningful to say as a writer. My “brilliant” idea has been done before by better writers than I. That interesting, attractive person will reject me. I’m going to screw up that work challenge; the kids will hate me; my colleagues will be disappointed in me; I won't really make a difference; I will be a failure.

"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" Vincent van Gogh
"I wondered about the explorers who'd sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams." Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care 

I am learning not to listen to whatever lies fear tries to whisper into my soul. Some risks are worth taking, and dreams deeply written on the heart are worth pursuing.

So I write again. And I strive to live. 


  1. Wow, when was this? Anyway, more to the point: are you inside my head, or something? This is exactly how I feel! The fear and anxiety related to the writing process is something that I don't think gets talked about enough. This isn't something I used to feel as a kid churning out fantastical flights of fancy - so, if we learn to fear, surely this is something we can unlearn (at least in part. Perhaps our inner critic has a function when it's not creatively crippling us?). Thanks for the reminder. :)

    1. This was in Laos :) You know, I'm beginning to think that all writers struggle with this fear. I'm sure it's a major factor in my reluctance to write these days! But I like the idea that we can unlearn it, because you're right--I wasn't like this as a kid either. You should try and read "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott; it's a fantastic book on writing, really funny, and she talks at length about fear and the inner critic too. I might actually do a review on the book for the blog.


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