Finding truth, facing fear

A while back there was a discussion about fear on another blog (which shall remain nameless, because it’s bad enough to realize you’ve spilled your guts in a place where more than three people can read it — no need to provide a link to the darn thing). The discussion had to do with how fear keeps us from achieving goals and living up to our potential.

So I thought about it and “confessed” that I fear success. And in a way, that’s true. But the more I think about it, that’s not real fear so much as worrying about how I’d handle success — I’m talking about huge success, not the polite kind where you finally get published but your mom and eight friends are the only ones who buy your book — and how it might change my life. And it would, in the unlikely event it ever happened. But I’d figure out a way to deal with it. I’ve survived worse.

Then the other day I was wandering around on the internet and came across a blog about . . . okay, damnit, I can’t remember exactly what it was about. Or who wrote it. I’ve looked but can’t find it again. It was in the same vein of encouraging writers to face and overcome their fears in order to become more confident writers. If you find it, let me know and I’ll link to it. It was good.

The post included a quote about fear that rang so true it stopped me dead in my tracks. And then, typically, I got distracted by something shiny and forgot to bookmark the blog. It took me forever to find the quote itself, since I didn’t remember it verbatim. Here it is:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” –Marianne Williamson

There’s more to it but I’m not going to quote the rest, partly because it has religious overtones that make me uncomfortable, but mostly because this first part is what hit me in the gut and whispered, “That’s it.” That is exactly what I fear the most. Not success, per se, but my own power. The fear that I might be, through my writing, “powerful beyond measure.” Just saying it makes me cringe. [Insert standard disclaimer here about how fear is often irrational.]

I’ve had a few days now to mull it over and I think this is the reason my writing lately feels flat. Uninspired. Lackluster and tepid. I’m at the point in the story where big things are meant to happen, where powerful emotions are evoked and characters do and say significant memorable things. Instead, I’ve been pulling my punches and avoiding anything too strong or meaningful. Not on purpose, no writer does that deliberately, but subconsciously.

This fear has apparently set up a filtering barrier between my brain and the page. It has its own little monologue going on up there: “C’mon, who are you to presume you have something significant or meaningful to say? Who are you to provoke the thoughts and emotions of others? Who are you to think you can write something daring and different? You want to get published, you’d better play it safe.”

For months I’ve been thinking I’d lost the ability to tell a story (if I ever had it). But I now suspect I’ve simply been hiding from myself, from my own power.

Oddly enough, recognizing and acknowledging that fear has given me a sort of “permission” and the determination to embrace it. Which I believe was the entire point of the blog post first referenced above. It just took me a while to dig deep enough — via a superficial surfing of the web — to get at the truth of my fear.

So. There you have it. I’m still trying to come to terms with the concept — not that words have power, but that mine do. That I do. Beyond measure.

If I’m quiet for the next little while, it’s because I’m trying to find the courage to write through the fear. Trying to create something bold and powerful and true. Regardless of the consequences.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Finding truth, facing fear

  1. McB

    Congrats on finding the right door. Now open it and go through.

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  2. Ah, but McB, have I chosen The Lady or The Tiger? I’m telling you, this is scary stuff.

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  3. But BCB, so long as it’s your tiger…

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  4. Wait… isn’t that sort of the point of that story? That whichever you chose, it didn’t belong to you so much as you then belonged to it? Or to fate?

    Now I’m confused.

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  5. But you’re opening doors inside yourself.
    Trust the BCB.

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  6. McB

    Uh something like that. It’s been a long time.

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  7. orangehands

    First, I just have to say you stumbled onto one of my favorite quotes (even if, like you, I’m not too big on the religious overtones) and you quoted it correctly. (Most people think Nelson Mandela was the first to say it.)

    Beyond that, appreciate that you recognize the door and are now figuring out how to, as MCB said, go through it.

    Also, I’m not sure if this helps or hurts, but your words already are more powerful beyond measure. Your words have already changed countless lives, from the things you’ve told your children to the thank you to the checker who really needed it that day. Books are a way of reaching more people than just your daily life and blog already do, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t already changed lives. Everybody does, and has that ability – you can be the catalyst to someone else, whether you realize it or not. So your book is just another step in something you are already doing.

    And, if that paralyzed you with even more fear, ignore it and listen to MCB. Time to go through that damn door.

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  8. McB

    If it helps, I’m willing to give you a push.

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  9. “Fear is the mind-killer”

    I read that quote a while ago on the blog of, I believe, the same person you’re talking about, and ignored it, until it rang true to me while skiing. Faced with a steep decent, on a snowy hill covered in moguls, I froze. Could not move an inch.
    Because, although I enjoy the challenge, I have a bad knee, and knew in my heart that if I continued I would get hurt. There was no maybe about it. I. was. doomed.

    Unfortunately, no eagles were available to pluck me from certain death (or at least another torn ACL) so I carefully picked my way down. It took me forever, but while I traversed the slippery slope, I also realized that the fear gripping my brain was there because of what might happen , and it held me back. The event could have ruined my entire day, paralyzing me at the top of the next lift, but instead, the next time I was faced with terrain outside of my comfort zone, I held the fear at bay before it could get a grip, and hucked it down the mountain. My style may not be the most graceful, but it gets the job done.

    Now, do I still achieve the occasional crash and burn? You betcha. Does it keep me from hitting the slopes? Nope. Because as much as I enjoy my pursuits, I know I will have the occasional failure, no doubt about it. Will I ever be Olympic caliber? Hell no, unless they have an “Started Way Too Late In Life, Overweight Middle Aged Women’s Long and Gradual Bunnyhill” Event. Even so, I keep plugging away, despite my limitations, because it brings me joy, along with the pain. And in the end, at least I’ll get a ribbon that says, “Participant,” as opposed to “Non, But Coulda Been A Contender.”

    So, BCB, keep getting on the lift. Because even if you don’t ever win a gold medal, at least you try.

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  10. By the way, that should read “steep descent” not “steep decent”, although the descent was decent.

    Stupid spell check-, it’s supposed to tell me what I mean to say not what actually I say.

    Slave Driver wanders off muttering to herself…)(

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  11. Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

    “Lack of fear can take an artist into places his skill does not permit.” –From “Footfalls In The Crypt,” by Norman Mailer, Feb 1992 issue of Vanity Fair, a criticism of Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK,” p. 126. (Yes, I’ve been an obsessive quote-gatherer in my past.)

    You are a gorgeous writer, Katherine. Your words are a thick atmosphere of oxygen and dangerous gases. Your skill is growing immense. Your fear can no longer protect you from what you cannot do, and is now trying to protect you from what you can. Fear now shows where you must go.

    It’s kind of funny. I’m writing what may be the best piece of long-form I’ve ever put together, spurred by National Novel Writing Month, of all things (I’ve always found that a rather ridiculous exercise, and here I am a sudden disciple). It’s about a gifted runner who always came in eleventh because of his fear of the attention that would come from success. Then a coach gets him to focus entirely on running and not on winning … and, of course, he wins, and his identity changes completely (just as he’d feared).

    His talent got him there. His character is revealed by the choices he makes in response to where his talent takes him. It’s not always pretty. But it’s far more interesting than the safety of coming in eleventh. For a writer, interesting is always more valuable than safe.

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  12. Gee, nothing like coming home from a hard day at work to find your friends beating up on you. 😉

    Holy guacamole, Jeff, people are going to think I pay you to say outrageously nice things about me. Either that or they’ll call the CDC and OSHA about those noxious fumes. But you’re absolutely right: my fear is trying to protect me from what I am capable of doing. I never really thought about it as also pointing out where I need to go. Like a signpost. I’m so glad you’re finding NaNo inspiring. The things that inspire us from one moment to the next are as changeable as the things that make up the moments — none of them are ridiculous. I’d love to read that story once you’re done. It sounds like you’re exploring issues I’ve dealt with as well.

    OH, I’m pretty sure you’re too young to be so wise. I’m going to try to adopt your view that I’m already wielding power and this is just a different medium with a different audience. Not sure it will work…

    SD, I started to write a comment telling you how I’m not afraid to crash and burn (though you will NEVER catch me trying to ski; my knees are far worse than yours) and that I’ve already failed many times in my writing and I don’t fear that but welcome it in a rather strange “how else can you learn” kind of way — and then I stopped and realized it doesn’t matter WHAT I’m afraid of, it matters that I’m afraid. And you’re right, I can’t let that stop me from trying. And if I’m going to make the attempt, it should be done with my best effort.

    BTW, I think I’d rather be confronted with a steep decent than a steep docent. 😉

    McB, darlin’, you know me well enough to know that if you pushed me I’d grab hold and we’d both fall. It’d be yet another grand adventure. Bring the kayak — in case of a water landing.

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