Tag Archives | fear

Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway — For Writers and Creatives

The_ScreamFeel the fear and do it anyway is one of the great all-time phrases ever. And I certainly can’t take credit for the words. It was the title of a book that came out years ago, by Susan Jeffers, and I clutched that book to me like a life raft at the time.  I was reminded of the book again last weekend when the minister of my church referred to how she also found it life-saving back in the day. (Books really can change lives, never forget that as you write.)

I’m heading off to teach today, and I’ll be honest, I’m nervous. I’m not nervous about the material because I’ve taught it a million times (just not in this format). But I’m nervous about logistics, and getting there on time, and about how I’ve put everything together, and what to wear, and the biggie–what will people think of me? Will they like me? If you stop and think about that one for a minute, it is the most ridiculous fear on the planet.  We can’t control what other people are going to think of us. We can be kind and open but if someone takes an instant dislike to us, there’s not much we can do about it.  I can’t tell  you how many times I’ve taken an instant dislike to someone–and later become close friends with them. Yet this is one of the most crippling fears people have. Oh, we humans are a funny lot.

And here’s another funny fear: that of putting words on the page. Or paint on the canvas. Or stitches on the fabric. We creatives face the blank page and panic.  But why? Because all those thoughts about how people will react to the words on the page (which actually aren’t even there yet) crowd in and stop us.  We tell ourselves we don’t know how to do it, as if everyone else has innate knowledge of it that we don’t share. That’s simply not true. They learned it by doing it, just like everyone else. The one exception is my four-year-old grandson. He comes up with the most amazing facts and when I ask him where he learned that he just shrugs and says “I just know it.” Which is, come to think of it, probably the best attitude any of us can take.  Shrug and tell yourself “I just know how to write a novel.” “I just know how to put paint on the canvas.”

The thing is, if you’re afraid of something, it’s probably yours to do. That is one of the truest things I’ve learned through the years.  And so here’s my best advice as to how to deal with fear:

Take action.

That’s the best antidote to fear that I know. It doesn’t have to be big action, it can be something little. Tiny, even. Because teensy actions pile upon each other and cumulatively become big actions.  I remember reading Susan Jeffers book back when it first came out and being so fearful that the thought of taking action was simply overwhelming. Back then, I could never have imagined publishing a book. Leading writing workshops in France. Or teaching others. But little actions built up. I went to a meeting of a writer’s group. Joined a critique group. Put words on the page regularly and started shaping them into something more than journal entries. Took the scary step of showing those words to others.  And one day I found myself on the plane to Paris (alone–something else I couldn’t have imagined).

Before I started traveling regularly, I had a fear of flying. I’d grip the arm rests and hyperventilate during take-off and landing. But then I realized that if I ever wanted to go anywhere I better get over the fear. It is still not my favorite thing to do, but its not the worst, either.  Doing something over and over helps quell the fear (though I still get nervous about logistics, that’s for damn sure).

Write a word, make the phone call, visit the gallery you want to represent you. Send the query, ask someone for something you want, whatever it is that fear prevents you from doing.  Sit down at the computer and write the next scene of your novel or memoir. Because here’s the best part–once you’ve done that thing you’ll be flooded with the most glorious feeling of sweet relief.  Because you’ve overcome fear.  In many ways, I think it is the life journey we all share.

How do you overcome fear? Please share.

I’m off to teach at Sitka today, which is located on the beautiful Oregon coast, so I won’t be back in this space until next week. But follow me on Instagram for lots of photos!

The image is The Scream, by Edward Munch, of course, and it is in the public domain.

4

Traveling Discomforts and Mercies

Contrast_tower_toureiffel_14714_hWhen you read this, I'll likely be sitting on an airplane from Seattle to Paris.  It'll be cramped and the flight attendants will be speaking in French and I'll have no idea what they're saying and the person next to me will look like they just got out of prison, or the hospital.

Yeah, you're not feeling too sympathetic to me, are you?

Because, Paris.

And the south of France.

I know.  I can't wait.

But just because I'm gone doesn't mean the blog won't continue.  As mentioned in a previous post, I hope to be able to blog from Pezenas, unlike last year when I got to France and realized you can't freaking blog from an Ipad.  And I have at least one guest post scheduled.

Also–there's seven years of content, over 1,000 articles to explore on this site.  (One of these days I've got to figure out a better way to organize it.  I've tried and failed in the past.)

And before I leave, I want to say something about travel that bears on writing.  One word:

Discomfort.

I've realized that a lot of what we fear in travel is discomfort.  We fear not being able to communicate, sleeping in an uncomfortable bed, eating weird food and drinking water that makes us sick.  Getting lost or missing a plane.  

And then when one or more of those things happens, we realize its not that bad.  And then you feel really good for having worked through the discomfort.  All of which adds up to something my wise friend Mayanna said yesterday: "I've learned that I have to do things that scare me."

And sometimes traveling is scary, or at least anxiety-producing.

Much like writing, no?

So next time you're in the middle of a writing session and you stop, paralyzed with fear because it has suddenly occurred to you that what you are writing sucks beyond repair, remember that a little discomfort is good.  Because it forces us to go places we've not been, whether in the real world or your writing world.

And remember how much better you'll feel once you have pushed through it.

So, what about you?  Do you like to travel?  Where's the most recent place you've traveled to?

Photo by Shawn Allen.

1

While I Was Out: Say Hello to Your Critic

Note: I grew up in the printing plant my father owned, and he had a whole stack of pads titled While You Were Out, with check boxes and lines to fill in about things that happened in his absence. I am going to be out for a few days at a wedding, so I thought I'd fun some oldies but goodies.  Here's the first, from back in 2010:

Since I seem to have been writing a lot lately about fear, and how to keep it at bay while you write, I thought it might be time for a little practical exercise.  This is one I present in my Writing Abundance workshop.  I did it for the first time years ago and have found the results of it–a way to deal with my critic–incredibly useful.Holidays 085

One of the problems that I often hear about is people being sidelined by perfectionism.  They get paralyzed because they are afraid they won’t do something right.  What this problem really is about is listening to your own inner critic, who constantly tells you that you are not good enough.  It is one thing to tell your critic to shut up, but it doesn’t really work.  Instead—meet your critic head on and disarm him.  Here’s how, by giving him and image and a name.  I met mine years ago.  His name is Patrick and he looks like a Will Ferrell in Elf, only small and not nearly so goofy and friendly.  Instead, Patrick is a bit of a prig.   Let’s go ahead and have you meet your critics and then I’ll tell you a trick to deal with her or him.

Meet Your Critic

1. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths
2. Think about how you feel when you are being critical of your writing.  
3.  See if any images come up—color, energy, sound, smell?
4. Hold with whatever you are getting and let it come into form.  It might be an animal, a human-type creature, or something totally abstract
5. Now open your eyes and write.  More details will emerge as you do.   Write a description of what you saw and then see if you can give it a name.  Even a purple circle with the name Stan works.

Here’s the deal: after you have identified your critic, you can talk to him.  I made a pact with Patrick years ago: he lies quiet while I write rough drafts, write in my journal, and do free writing.  In return, as soon as I begin editing and rewriting, Patrick is up and at ‘em, ready to help me out.  Because that is where Patrick excels—at being critical.  Sometimes I forget about Patrick and he gets cranky, very cranky.  But then he jumps up and down to get my attention, generally when I am first starting on a project.  Then I remind him of our deal.  And then he's content to go hang out wherever it is he hangs out until I call him forth. 

So give it a try.  And report back if you feel so inclined.  I'd love to hear what shape your own critic takes.

7

Fear and Focus

Photoxpress_1687829We don't always think of fear and focus at the same time, but there's very good reason to pair them.

Focus.  It's what we all desire, what gets the writing done.  Because the words don't go on the page without it.

Fear.  It's often what keeps us from focusing.

The kinds of fears we writers and creative types deal with are the insidious ones.  They may very well be so insidious that we don't even recognize them as fears.  Instead, fears can masquerade as a lack of focus. Have you ever told yourself any of the following when it came time to write?

I don't need to work on the book today

–The kitchen floor needs washing.  I better do it now, instead of writing.

–I need to check my email.

–Writing is too hard, I'll look at Facebook instead

Perhaps some of the following fears are hiding behind this sudden desire to do something, anything, other than write:

Not knowing what to write

–Not knowing how to write

–Going deep

–Not being good enough

–Being too good

–Putting yourself and your words out in the world.

Interestingly, dealing with issues of focus takes immediate care of many, if not all, of these fears.  Why? Because choosing to focus is choosing to be in the moment.  Choosing fear is opting to be mired in the past or worry about the future.  You can't do either when you firmly in the present.

So herewith, some strategies for both fear and focus.

1.  Remember that you are enough and have enough for what you need in this present moment.  You have all the tools you need to write or create.

2.  Have a curiosity about life instead of assuming an air of knowing everything.  Be present to the amazement of life.

3.  Move before you feel ready.  Send that story out even though you know it's not perfect, commit to writing a novel even though you don't know how.  Such leaps keep our creative selves alive and are one antidote to fear.

4. Stand for yourself.  Take responsibility for yourself and your work.  You committed to writing, now do it.  For some weird reason this always helps me with my fears.

5.  Meditate.  Everyone recommends it for a reason.  It really does help.

7.  Develop a morning ritual and/or spiritual practice that grounds and centers you.

8.  Do ONE thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is death to focus.  My tried and true trick is to set a timer for 30 minutes and only write during that time period.

9.  Work hard, play hard.  Focus and concentrate.  Then take a break and have some fun! 

10.  Don't forget physical exercise.  Move your body in some way, whether you like to take walks, do yoga or Qi Gong, swim or ride bikes.  Sometimes we just need to wear the old brain out to get rid of our fears!

Do you have strategies to accomplish focus and banish fear?  Please share.

 Photo from Photoexpress.

15

Round Two: The Things That Scare You

While I'm in Orlando, at the Suzanne Evans 10K business intensive, I'm posting old posts.  This is one of my all time favorites.

Jan. 22, 2010

I'm afraid of everything.Silhouette_woman_body_229243_l

At least that is how it seems some days.  Most days. 

Most people, looking at me, assume that I'm brimming with self confidence.  I travel alone, I speak and present workshops, I talk to strangers wherever I go. And maybe, if self confidence means constantly pushing at barriers, I am overflowing with it.  Because, the fact is, most of the time I'm either terrified or feel like an idiot because I don't know what I'm doing.  The only difference between me and others is that I'm out there doing it.  

Because to not to do it is to let fear win.

Recently, I did something I've always especially feared.  This is going to sound really silly to most people, but I've always been afraid to eat out alone, especially at a nice restaurant.  On Monday, my dinner plans got canceled.  No problem, I thought, I'll have a quiet evening home alone.  Except while I was out doing errands the thought hit me like a brilliant epiphany that I should go eat at the bar at J. Alexander's.  It is a nice big bar, with attentive bartenders and singletons eat dinner there all the time.  I know, because I've been there with a friend.

I argued.  The thought persisted.  I texted one friend, called another.  Perhaps they wanted to join me?  One was unavailable, one was sick.

I argued more.  Wouldn't it be best just to stay home and eat leftovers?

The thought grew louder: do the things that scare you.

And so I did.

I loaded up my armor of  journal and book and screwed up my courage and off I went.  And I had a fabulous time.  Struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me and never even had to pull out my armor.  Drank one glass of wine too many and ate a delicious burger and fries.

The next day, even though I was just the wee-est bit hungover, I felt fabulous.  Why?  Because I had felt a deep thrill of exhilaration while I was at the bar–I was successfully facing one of my deepest fears!–and afterward, an even deeper sense of satisfaction for having done it.

But here's the deal.  Fear is a sneaky demon and it shifts and shakes and siphons off our energy in unexpected ways.  Facing down one fear doesn't mean all the rest of your fears are now dealt with.  Not by a long shot.   You have to keep facing them, one by one, and then when you think you've gotten through the whole entire list some new ones will appear.  And fear can masquerade as boredom, or laziness, or telling yourself it just wasn't meant to be.  What I fear is not the same thing that you fear.  What you fear today may morph into something else tomorrow.

And so, my challenge to you is the same as my challenge to myself: do the things that scare you.  The only way out is through.  The only way to conquer fear is to walk through it, one step at a time.

What does this have to do with writing?  You know exactly why talking about fear relates to writing.  You know exactly.

0

Fear

I hate earthquakes.

Like hate hate them.

They terrify me.  And yes, I've been in a few.  Not big ones, because we generally don't get big earthquakes here, even though the experts say that the Northwest is due for a whopper like the one that hit Japan. Land-earthquake-earth-58633-l

And so I, like so many others, have been on edge since the events of last week. 

It didn't help that there were tsunami warnings on my beloved Oregon coast.  Or that the nuclear power plants in Japan were in danger of meltdown.  Or that some yeehaw "scientist" predicted that a huge earthquake might hit the West Coast.  Or that we started bombing the hell out of Libya.

All of these things, and earthquakes in the lives of so many friends, have lodged themselves inside of me and wrapped themselves into a ridiculously big ball of fear.

It culminated the other night.  We went out to Happy Hour with friends and, while I only consumed two glasses of wine, it didn't occur to me until later that the pours that night were huge.  Like nearly double size.  I think.  Don't really remember. But what I do remember is that an excess of wine is not good for my sleeping habits.

And that night I awoke in the middle of the night and I could not get back to sleep.  This is unusual for me.  While I often wake in the middle of the night, I generally go back to sleep easily and quickly.  Not Friday night.  Of course, the moon was nearly full and the sky bright.  And that didn't help either.  Because it just made me think more about the Super Moon which was supposedly going to trigger the above-mentioned earthquake.

And then, in the way that fear has, thinking about the earthquake made me think about other problems in my personal life.  (Which, let me just note, pale in comparison to what the people of Japan face.  In the light of day, I know that.  In the dark of night, fear makes me forget it.)  I tossed and turned, unable to switch my brain off and get back to sleep.

Finally, in desperation, I started counting my blessings.  You know, like that old song, the lyrics of which go something along the lines of "Just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you'll fall asleep counting your blessings."  Nowadays we call our blessings gratitude, and the word is overused and the act often made fun of, probably because Oprah promotes it and people make fun of everything she does.

But I have to admit that it helped.  I lay there and thought of all the things that I feel grateful for, from the fat cats that were hogging the bottom of the bed to my writing career.  And pretty soon I fell asleep. 

So why do I mention all this on a blog devoted to writing?  Because I imagine quite a few of us are feeling fearful these days.  Or if not fearful, then on edge.  Anxious.  Nervous for no reason.  And none of these feelings, not a single one, are compatible with writing.  I think that counting your blessings, or making a gratitude list, works because it helps us to remember.  When we're fearful, anxious and on edge, we don't remember how lucky we are.  We don't remember our true selves.  And most of all, we don't remember that we can write ourselves back to ourselves.  All we have to do is pick up the pen.  Which is what I did the next morning, as I do every morning. 

And then I felt better.

What do you do when you get anxious or fearful?  Please feel free to share in the comments.  Because what works for you might well be useful for someone else.  Thanks.

And remember, if things get too out of whack for you, contact me.  I can help with a Get Your Writing in Gear session, or good old fashioned coaching. 

***And please, remember to come back to this site on Friday because I have an amazing interview that will inspire the hell out of you lined up.  

 

Photo by runrunrun from Everystockphoto.

10

They Call it Fear

First there was the story I read online about how the Northwest, including Portland, could expect a Violator3_black_white_686057_l major earthquake of the sort that just decimated Chile sometime in the next 50 years.   I hate earthquakes.  I expect the earth beneath my feet to stay steady, thank you very much.

Then I watched a little bit of the local Fox News.  I never watch television news, but it was on after American Idol, and the TV didn't get turned off fast enough for me not to see the story about the guy who got slashed up by a trio of men who invaded his backyard in the early morning hours.  (The victim was outside having a smoke.)  This wouldn't have been so bad, except it happened fairly close to my house.

Before I knew it, I was getting re-acquainted with my old friend, fear. 

Now this kind of fear is a little different than being scared of stuff.

This is the kind of fear that most often is underlying, sometimes vague, beneath-the-surface misery.  It is not specific enough to battle.  There's no real way for me to put myself face to face with earthquakes, for instance.  And realistically, I'm not going to put myself face to face with a slasher.

No, this kind of fear is insidious.  It is the kind that terrorism is designed to instill.  It is the kind that seeps throughout every cell in our body, a nameless, creeping dread that if left unchecked, starts to subtlety control thoughts and actions.  And eventually it will manifest itself in my writing.

It won't be obvious how it's manifesting, either.  Instead, it'll take the form of procrastination or suddenly deciding not to move forward on a project or convincing myself its okay if I never write another novel. Because this kind of fear is leech-like, attaching itself to your bad habits and insecurities and magnifying them.  This kind of fear feeds on uncertainty and indecision. And before you know it, you're telling yourself you never wanted to be a writer, really, anyway.

So, how to battle such a sneaky enemy?  Here are some tips:

Acknowledge it.  The more you do this, the easier it will be to see.  Took me awhile, but last night after I'd soaked myself in a bath of fear, I realized what was going on.  Sometimes acknowledging is half the battle.

Dance with it.  Or wrestle it, or punch it in the face.  Argue with it, yell at it, tell it to go away.  Because this fear is stealthy and cunning, it doesn't like being overtly dealt with and chances are doing just that will keep it at bay.

Protect yourself from it.  Stay away from the things that cause it in the first place.  I usually don't watch television news, for instance.  I won't read books or see movies that have animals in them because I worry about the animals the entire time, even if there's a happy ending.  And because I take on things far too easily, I don't see war movies and I refuse to read anything written by Cormac McCarthy.

De-stress.  Meditate, do yoga or Qi Gong, find yourself a good relaxation CD (my current favorite, since I'm in the middle of a wonderful hypnotism program) or do whatever it is that rids you of stress.  Fear feeds on nerves, anxiety and stress, so it is important to deal with it regularly.

Write.  It always comes back to this for me.  Writing regularly is the best revenge against everything, including fear.  So write often, every day if you can, whether you are writing on a project you're passionate about or in your journal.  

And let me know what your fear-busters are, would you?  We can all use some help in banishing fear.

Photo by Violator3, used under a Creative Commons 2.5 license. 

10

The Things That Scare You

I'm afraid of everything.Silhouette_woman_body_229243_l

At least that is how it seems some days.  Most days. 

Most people, looking at me, assume that I'm brimming with self confidence.  I travel alone, I speak and present workshops, I talk to strangers wherever I go. And maybe, if self confidence means constantly pushing at barriers, I am overflowing with it.  Because, the fact is, most of the time I'm either terrified or feel like an idiot because I don't know what I'm doing.  The only difference between me and others is that I'm out there doing it.  

Because to not to do it is to let fear win.

Recently, I did something I've always especially feared.  This is going to sound really silly to most people, but I've always been afraid to eat out alone, especially at a nice restaurant.  On Monday, my dinner plans got canceled.  No problem, I thought, I'll have a quiet evening home alone.  Except while I was out doing errands the thought hit me like a brilliant epiphany that I should go eat at the bar at J. Alexander's.  It is a nice big bar, with attentive bartenders and singletons eat dinner there all the time.  I know, because I've been there with a friend.

I argued.  The thought persisted.  I texted one friend, called another.  Perhaps they wanted to join me?  One was unavailable, one was sick.

I argued more.  Wouldn't it be best just to stay home and eat leftovers?

The thought grew louder: do the things that scare you.

And so I did.

I loaded up my armor of  journal and book and screwed up my courage and off I went.  And I had a fabulous time.  Struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me and never even had to pull out my armor.  Drank one glass of wine too many and ate a delicious burger and fries.

The next day, even though I was just the wee-est bit hungover, I felt fabulous.  Why?  Because I had felt a deep thrill of exhilaration while I was at the bar–I was successfully facing one of my deepest fears!–and afterward, an even deeper sense of satisfaction for having done it.

But here's the deal.  Fear is a sneaky demon and it shifts and shakes and siphons off our energy in unexpected ways.  Facing down one fear doesn't mean all the rest of your fears are now dealt with.  Not by a long shot.   You have to keep facing them, one by one, and then when you think you've gotten through the whole entire list some new ones will appear.  And fear can masquerade as boredom, or laziness, or telling yourself it just wasn't meant to be.  What I fear is not the same thing that you fear.  What you fear today may morph into something else tomorrow.

And so, my challenge to you is the same as my challenge to myself: do the things that scare you.  The only way out is through.  The only way to conquer fear is to walk through it, one step at a time.

What does this have to do with writing?  You know exactly why talking about fear relates to writing.  You know exactly.

11

Feel the Fear and Write it Anyway

We interrupt the current series on scene to bring you this post on writing, fear, and creativity. 

I was having breakfast with my wonderful Nashville friend Sue (wait, should I say she's from Nashville if she is originally from Portland?) this morning and we started talking about feeling skittish and being nervous and anxious.  (Did the world financial situation have anything to do with this conversation? You be the judge.) 

I allowed as how I've recently realized that I'm nervous or scared pretty often these days. I travel alone a lot, and that makes me nervous.  I meet new people all the time, and that does, too.  Staying at home makes me nervous that I'm missing things out in the world.  And then we get to writing.  As my sister would say, gee-zus.  I attempt to write emotional truths in my novel and then I think about what my 92-year-old mother will say and I get nervous.  Or I write these true confessions in this (very public) blog and that makes me nervous.

But here's the deal:  I'm so used to the feeling of being nervous that I rarely even notice it anymore.  Ratchet it up to terrified (say, book deal) and you'll get my attention, maybe.  Meanwhile I go about my business being happily scared half out of my mind, doing it anyway: boarding the plane and hoping some kind gentleman will volunteer to lift my heavy laptop bag to the overhead compartment, meeting the new client, and opening up a new page to write on the computer or the spiral journal. 

I'm finally beginning to realize that if you're not scared, you're not living.  If you're not putting your nerves on the line on a regular basis, it is time to dial it up a notch.  This is true in garden variety living life, and its true in writing. 

Fear is the flip side of creativity.   But you can–and must–harness it.  Maybe there's a creative person somewhere on the planet who doesn't experience fear, but I don't know where that someone is.  If you find him or her, let me know.  Meanwhile, here are some ideas for harnessing fear in the service of creativity:

What you resist, persists.  Like anger or any other strong emotion, you can't let fear drive you but if you try batting it away, that doesn't work so well, either.  Try just letting it be.  Acknowledge it and then go write or board the plane or run the marathon. 

Denial is a river in Egypt.  And it is a big river, indeed.  Denial is a tricky mistress because being in denial means you don't realize you have a problem.  Its a brilliant coping mechanism.  Seems to me, though, that even those of us swimming in the depths of that river always see a glimmer of the light of truth.  Swim towards that light.  Allow it to illuminate the fear.

Only way out is through.
  I hate this emotional stuff, because it is so damn hard.  Which is of course, why we resist and go into denial.  But truly the best option is to plow into it.  Have you ever had the experience of resisting and resisting writing and then finally getting to it and having such a blast you wondered what the fuss was about?  I have.  It happens nearly every day sometimes.  Often you just have to walk through the fire.

Just do it.  This is probably about the gazillionth time I've invoked the Nike mantra in this blog.  That's because it is so simple and true.  Honestly?  This is the gist of it all, the kernel, the seed, the nut graph, the takeaway.  The single most important thing in life is to just do it.   Ignore the fear, forget the pain, concentrate on the moment, right here, right now and go write.

And, in case  you need more inspiration, here are some links about creativity you might find of use:

Building Success with Creative Adaptation

How To Write Remarkably Creative Copy

Of Creativity

We'll be back to the regularly scheduled programming tomorrow, with the final post in the series on writing scenes.  Meanwhile, you can read part one here, and part two here.

10