“I wouldn’t allow fear to get in the way. Because it’s fear, after all, that kills us.”
~ Tori Amos, on the writing of Little Earthquakes
CNF writers are brave.
We share personal stories presented as truth, not disguised as poetry or fiction. When we write our stories, it’s not surprising we experience fear.
There’s the fear we will never do our stories justice — that they won’t come out on the page the way we want them to.
There’s the fear our stories will show someone we love in a bad light. That someone may be hurt by our stories, or tell us “that never happened.”
There’s the fear of working with stories that have big, difficult emotions attached to them — the fear of re-triggering past trauma.
There’s the fear that our stories will be ignored or dismissed.
All of those fears can keep us from doing something so vitally important: telling the stories that would be healing, enlightening, and affirming to share.
Every writer, working in every genre, has to learn how to work with fear. Because fear isn’t just a block; it’s THE block.
Fear comes up often in my CNF Outliers e-course. I see myself as a “story excavator” — someone who looks for ways to help learners move past their fears so they can begin to uncover their stories.
I point students to the forms that can help personal essayists sidestep fear — the hermit crab essay and the prose poem, in particular.
When students submit their work I recognize how much has been entrusted to me. One student called what I do “compassionate mentorship”, offering personalized support for learners as they practice new ways of storytelling.
I’ve had to work past some fear to tell some of my own stories.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting some tips to help you work past fear so you can keep writing. Some tricks I’ve gleaned from other writers, some I’ve discovered on my own.
For now, my writing friends, let me leave you with two thoughts to consider:
1. Fear is a normal part of truth-telling, the heart and soul of what creative non-fiction writers (and songwriters, poets, and fiction writers!) do.
2. When I first listened to Tori Amos’ album Little Earthquakes I was at the beginning of my creativity journey. There were songs about voicelessness and trauma, including rape. I’d never heard such beautiful, courageous songs.
I felt then, in my early 20s, that I was living inside some of them — complete worlds I couldn’t have articulated on my own, but Tori Amos had. I was so grateful those powerful songs existed to help me make sense of my world and to feel less lonely in it.
I imagined Little Earthquakes couldn’t have been easy to write. But in an interview Amos said that when she meets the fear she says hello, pats it on the head, thanks it for coming along, then keeps on working.
I took that wisdom with me on my own journey: to write, and keep on writing, you have to acknowledge the fear to keep it in its place. To not let it grow.
If we let it, fear can hold us back in so many areas of our lives. Let your writing be the place where you express yourself freely and tell the powerful stories that want to be told.
I’m so looking forward to the next session of my 6-week CNF Outliers e-course, where we’ll explore some brave writers of the flash essay, prose poem, lyric essay, and hermit crab essay.
The e-course will run March 27 to May 1. If you have any questions, or if you’d like to guarantee your spot early, please drop me a line!
“Thanks for helping me explore courageously. After the discussions we had around fear of approaching difficult subject matter and the inner critic, I really had a sense that you got it. I had the sense that I could trust you in this process. And my instincts were right.” ~ Rowan Smith-McCandless