Michele: We’ve had several discussions on Miss Demeanors about fear and how crippling it can be for a writer. I’d like to put a positive spin on it and share an example from each of you about how you conquered a particular fear. It need not be related to writing. I’ll be posting about my fear of knitting, yes knitting, and what I learned from it.
Connie: Fear of knitting??? I can’t wait to read about that! Knitting is what I do to calm myself down. In regard to writing, though, I do have fears. Every time I begin a new book (only working on my third, but hey), I think: I can’t do it again. My writing will be marginal at best. No one will like it. I’m a fraud. The only cure is to plow ahead. Eventually I get into the story and setting. The characters come alive (for me).
But there is another fear related to deadlines. On the one hand, as a procrastinator, I need deadlines to motive me. But only the other hand, if the pressure is too great, I fold. Can’t think straight. So working under a deadline as I did for Book 2, I had to actually plot out the progress I intended to make and think of the writing, not as a whole book but as scenes. I can write a scene in a day. Okay, so it’s appalling, but at least I have something then to work with.
Bottom line and *note to self*: get writing, girl–just the next scene.
Tracee: Michele, is it possible you are distantly related to Mme Defarge? A family history of bad knitting experiences….
Cate: I am afraid of free time. Not having a work-related goal in the morning makes me feel like a failure that can’t justify her existence. I feel panicky and emotional. Sometimes frantic. I’d rather do anything than nothing.
Journalism was a great career for this fear because every day I had a deadline—sometimes I had one every few hours.
Then I left my career for the dream of being a real writer, and a life of waiting. As writers, we must wait for word back on our WIPs from agents and editors. We have to wait for bids on books. We need to wait to hear from script agents and production companies, many of whom decline offers with radio silence—so we don’t even know when we’re done waiting.
I find the lack of agency excruciating.
Usually, I try to handle it by finding another goal for myself that can distract me, a little, from the fear of waiting only to be told that I’m not good enough and that my work wasn’t up to par or a million other creative spins on rejection that all add up to wasted time and energy and, maybe, life.
Recently, I built my kids a music room. I went to the hardware store and lumber yard, learned to use my husband’s power tools, combed craigslist for extra equipment and used sound proofing, and then I drew the artwork etc.
I don’t know if that was facing the fear so much as distracting myself from it. But it helped for a few days. And my kids love it.
Paula: I’m not afraid of much, apart from what I consider to be a realistic caution related to physical peril. I’ve survived earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, landslides, n’oreasters, marriage, divorce, single parenthood, unemployment, countless moves, and more. But when I was doing my yoga teacher training, I found that I was afraid of the headstand. I’ve never been fond of being upside down, but whenever I tried to stand on my head–a very important posture in yoga–I suffered a panic attack.
My trainer told me that I must be worried that I couldn’t hold myself up, and to look at the psychological roots of that anxiety. But I knew that wasn’t it. So I consulted my yoga mentor, Emma Spencer Boyle, who knew me very well.
“You like everything in its place,” she said. “And you want your feet on the ground where they belong.”
That made sense to me. Just knowing that helped me conquer my fear. I took my time and breathed my way through headstand step by step–and today I can stand on my head at will.
Now all I have to do is breathe my way through Book Three.
Laurie: Fear absolutely robs us of our joy. It’s a thief. I learned this the hard way, when I grew up loving to go on airplanes. I had no fear of heights and I loved looking at the clouds and the wonders of the heavens. But then, because of the events of 9/11, I developed a pretty bad fear of flying. It went against all logic and robbed me of something I used to hold dear. To conquer that and to get over other anxieties that I might face including if I get jammed up in the writing process, or become overwhelmed with author obligations, I’ve learned to do two things.
First, my friends who are psychologists consistently tell me to never underestimate the power of one minute of deep breathing. The science of it is that in one minute, it can rewire your brain to be relaxed by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate so that your brain can think more clearly. The second thing is cultivating gratitude. Gratitude is a potent force. I’ve read many articles about the fact that people who work on gratitude are happier, they sleep better, and they battle with depression and anxiety much less frequently.
When I take time to think through all the things I’m grateful for about writing, for instance, I remember why I write and the joy that I receive from it. It helps me get a clearer picture of the process as a whole and not get bogged down in one overwhelming piece. And let me tell you, my love of flying has absolutely returned.
Alexia: I fear public speaking. I hate getting up in front of a crowd with a violent purple passion. However, I’m at a point in my career–both in my day job and my side hustle (I’ve decided to call writing my side hustle in order to appear hip 😂) where public speaking is a necessity. I joined Toastmasters for a while–didn’t stick with it but I remember some of the tips and techniques they taught and I try to use them. I also write out what I’m going to say. I don’t care if anyone sees me reading from notes. I’d rather read than fumble for words or to freeze up. I don’t eat or drink before my presentation, except for small amounts of water so my mouth doesn’t dry out. My stomach is knotted up enough without forcing it to digest food and beverages. Mostly, I just get up there and do it. I think of public speaking the way I think of exams or injections or paying my taxes–unpleasant but necessary, so just get it over with. I’ll never enjoy it but I’ll do it when I have to.
Susan: I have fears about a number of things, one of them being surgery, but I think my fear of failure has been a fairly driving one. Closely related to my fear of humiliation. A few years ago I went to Costa Rica with my daughter and she wanted to go zip lining over a tropical canyon. It seemed the sort of mother-daughter thing that was important to do. You want to empower your daughter to be brave and ferocious. Anyway, to make a very long story short, I got stuck in the middle of the ravine. I could not seem to relax while hovering over a 1000 foot drop. The guide had to come out, wrap his legs around me, and cart me back to the landing. Unfortunately, it was not the sort of thing where you could stop and get off in the middle. I had to do EIGHT more ziplines to get out of there. I kept telling myself that sooner or later I would defeat this fear, but I couldn’t. I was just as terrified on the last round as the first. Afterwards though, people came up to me and hugged me and said my fear had been inspiring. Or as one woman said, “I knew I could do better than you and it gave me courage.” I realized that people, and especially my daughter, would like me regardless and that sometimes it’s just in the trying that you show courage. That said, I will never go on a zip line again.
Tracee: Is now a good time to mention that my biggest fear is of needles, and really any medical procedure? I have also been reminded this week that my other big fear is getting up in front of people (Cate, love that photo of you last week at your ballet recital). Clearly I’ve had to deal with needles in my life, and I had two entire careers built on public presentations. I wouldn’t say that I conquered either of them, but I stopped worrying about it. I suppose in the end I must turn to Roosevelt and say that the only thing to fear is fear itself.
I still have many fears – of rejection, of being unable to do something, or do it well, but usually I can take a hard look inside and move forward (or stop caring which is a mind game to forget fear). In the end, the only unconquerable – and as I’ve realized potentially paralyzing – fear is of the things beyond my control. And I don’t mean natural disasters. I’ve never thought I could conquer Mother Nature. I mean being unable to help someone. It’s no longer putting antiseptic on a scratched knee. Sometimes life throws us problems that are outside our/my control. I find it difficult to push through, and difficult to acknowledge that I have no way to make things right. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that’s it’s not on me to fix things. (Maybe this is because I’m an oldest child and a Leo!)
Alison: Fear in all its flavors is uncomfortable: phobia, anxiety, worry, dread, nervousness, panic, feeling overwhelmed, butterflies, and actual, real fear. I used to greet all fear with aversion and suppression. I don’t any more. We know the human animal is not particularly adept at distinguishing real fear (there’s a lion over there) from all sorts of anxieties (the senior partner wants the memo finished by end of day). I’ve started addressing the different fear voices that inhabit my own brain is different ways. Real fear triggers immediate action: I scoop up my toddler daughter, without thinking, when a car starts backing into her in a parking lot. When I wake up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed, I remind myself that things always look better in the light of day. Then I listen, because so often that middle-of-the-night voice points out an aspect of a project I’ve missed. Dread? Am I doing something not aligned with my values or do I need to reframe my attitude. Butterflies? That’s the magic spot where I know I’m venturing into unknown territory and am probably on the right path, even if it’s scary.
As someone who meditates every day, I agree with Laurie. Breathing is a powerful tool, one that can give us a little space to see more clearly when the voices of fear are at their loudest. I also rely on breathing to help me with my mild claustrophobia (rears its head when scuba diving, driving through tunnels, and once in the tower at Notre Dame). I’m able to hold multiple realities in my head at the same time: I’m unreasonably afraid of not being able to escape, the panic is real for me, and I’m in no immediate danger. Having said that, I’m not planning a scuba diving trip any time soon, and I take the GW bridge instead of the Lincoln Tunnel. 😉
Robin: Mountain biking taught me the most about dealing with fear. There’s a lot personal risk involved, particularly at the level I rode for many years (racing semi-pro) so I either had to learn to embrace fear or stop. I chose to embrace it. Riding was a great outlet to expel anger, grief, frustration, anxiety, and such, not only by physical exhaustion, it also forced me to focus solely on the moment as I picked my line over, around, or through obstacles. That opened up a whole new world to me that permeated most facets of my life – if I could barrel down a steep, twisting, muddy, rocky trail on two wheels and stay upright (most of the time), I could do anything.
I’m not nearly as aggressive on a bike these days but I do still ride.
Alison: Why does it not surprise me that you were a semi-pro mountain biker, Robin?
Robin: I’ve lived a lot of lives 🙂
Michele: Haven’t we all, Robin?
Readers jump in with words or photos describing how you overcame your fears!