How do you deal with fear? There is a very simple answer to the question:
You don’t deal with fear. You don’t grapple with it. You don’t face it, conquer it, trample on it, or beat it into submission. What you do with fear is use it.
I rather arrogantly assumed I had moved beyond the fear stage of the writing life. I’ve had enough failures over the years to know they aren’t fatal, and enough success to build my confidence. So I thought anxiety attacks—not to mention out-and-out panic—were a thing of the past.
That was before I started working on the proposal for my latest novel. Novel proposals are challenging. Synopsising a 450-page novel in a few paragraphs is hard. Tooting your own horn on the page is agonizing. And facing the treacherous road to publication is terrifying. So, I found myself staring into the gaping maw of fear once again.
Fortunately, I know what to do. I relied on my decades of experience with the Demon and resisted my urge to hide under a quilt, send out a series of whiny, tear-stained emails to my friends, or eat an entire vegan chocolate cake, all of which are ways I used to react to fear. Instead, I took these steps. They work for me. Give them a try.
I admitted it. As much as I’d love to think I’m too experienced and self-assured to still be scared of anything about the writing/publishing process, I finally owned up to the fact that I’ve got a major case of the willies. It’s a little like that moment when you have to acknowledge that you’re no longer in love. Or when you finally decide you really do hate your job. Or when you give into the fact that you need glasses, whether you like it or not. You can’t move on until you say, “Hey, I know this feeling. It’s fear.”
1. I accepted it. "So I’m scared," I said to myself. "Now what? Do I cave? Do I fight? Do I go back into denial?" No. Instead, I relax.
No one died of fear, except perhaps in fantasy novels. Fear is as much a part of life as laughter. One thing that helps me is to identify how fear feels and where in my body I’m feeling it. For me, it’s a slight racing of the heart, a hollow feeling just below my sternum. A tingling sensation in my arms.
Once I recognize what it feels like, I can say: Whoops. There it is again. No big deal. Just fear.
2. I made friends with it. Writers have vivid imaginations. I used mine to envision myself turning around, looking my fear in the eye, and saying, “Stop lurking around behind me. If you have to follow me around, the least you can do is introduce yourself.”
I made my fear walk beside me, so I could keep an eye on it, rather than looking over my shoulder as I worked. It didn’t say much. But I knew it was there.
3. I put it to work. Fear is energy. Energy is power. It can be turned to creativity. Once I admitted, accepted, and made friends with my fear, I used it to generate words and ideas. I put it to work creating the sharpest novel proposal I could.
In “The Guest House,” Sufi poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi wrote:
Learn the alchemy true Human Beings know;
the moment you accept what troubles
you’ve been given, the door opens.
It’s a lesson we all need to keep learning again and again.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...