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Fear and the Writer

*technical note: Yes, I know my blog is acting wonky — thank you for noticing :) I am hoping to get help to fix it later today*

The latest WIP is giving me fits. (And I won’t tell you which one…) The first draft was suspiciously easy to write, caused little drama in my daily life.  It just unrolled, ten pages at a time, and now that I am revising it I can see what is wrong.  The writing is safe, controlled, and dead.  It skates along the surface of the story, a very difficult, heart-rending story.  The emotion in it remains untouched.

And there’s the problem, right there.  This book scares the daylights out of me.  The themes in it have sent me to therapy in the past — and that is not hyperbole but simple everyday fact.  I have nightmares about the things the main characters have nightmares about, in this book.  This book cuts close to the bone.

I don’t know how you cope with mindbending fear, but my coping mechanism since my earliest days has been to shut down, get very, very calm, pretend the terrifying thing isn’t there at all.  Skate along the illusion of serenity on the surface, whistle past the graveyard, and keep the primal terror locked up, hidden way down deep.

This is not a good coping mechanism for life or for writing.  I have learned, alas, that I have to dive right into the fear, GO THERE, face it directly. I know other people write from other emotions (and that sounds like a great idea at the moment!).  But I also know that writing must be honest, must stay close to its emotions, or it is too safe and remote from the reader.

Whatever terrifies me, whatever I’ve been desperately avoiding — that’s exactly what I have to write about.  That’s the charge right there, that’s where the good stuff is hiding, all hidden and tied up.  I have to let the monster loose.

I can’t tell you directly about what I’m writing about — that would take the charge out of the writing.  Read my books (she said, with a mysterious smile on her face).  But what scares you the most?  If you are a writer, maybe that’s what you should be writing about, too.


  1. admin says:

    Thanks, Tez :) Writing can be so exhilirating, but such a challenge. I guess the two go together…

  2. Robin Ruinsky says:

    Good post Michelle.
    The way to cope with mind bending fear is to write about it, to confront it, to go through that journey. Facing emotions with words and conquering them by unleashing them is what we do.
    But you already know that. ; )

  3. admin says:

    Hey Robin, thank you! Even writing this post scared me a little…

    Your recommendation is key to my battle against procrastination. When I’m procrastinating, it’s usually a sign that my fear is getting the better of me. It’s also a good sign — usually, the more a writing project scares me, the greater the idea’s potential and the more treasure the fear-monster is guarding.

    Once I get past the fear, there are a bunch of other emotions all tied up too…but that is for another post. Thanks again Robin :)

  4. Lucienne says:

    I don’t blame you, Michele, but you can do it. You’re strong!

  5. admin says:

    Lucienne, thank you so, so much for that. If I can just tap that emotion and reveal the heart of this book, it will work.

    I have to keep on trying — I love this quote of Agnes de Mille’s: “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

    Thanks again :)

  6. Charlene Teglia says:

    Michele, you can dig deep and do it. Holler for editing word wars if you need a hand to hold. : )

    If I wrote my nightmares, I’d be writing post-apocalyptic thrillers. I do believe any strong emotion is fertile fictional soil.

  7. admin says:

    Aw, thank you Charli. It is so good to have my writing buddies at my back :)

    I’m finding that to go forward from this point, I need to be honest about the emotions of my main characters. And that means mentally inhabiting their world, the choices they have to make, and the true consequences of their choices. The fact I’ve never had to make such stark decisions myself is part of what makes this so difficult.

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