Fear Is the Boxlocker of Dreams

So sayeth an internet meme made from a vulgar cross stitch, except I changed one of the words. Wink!

I have come to believe that fear is the #1 barrier to the success of creative endeavors. The evidence:

You're Not Lazy: The Last Motivational Blog Post You'll Ever Need (Medium)


Tim Ferris on Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals (TED Talk)

This idea rings true for me and the other ladies of my writing group. We struggle to finish manuscripts, applications, and query letters, not because we are lazy or incompetent or truly too busy, but because we are afraid of what comes next, whether it be failure, rejection, or the dizzying terror of succeeding and having to face an unfamiliar challenge.

The first member of our group to publish a complete novel, Meika Usher, did so after going to great lengths to face her personal fears. She didn't go back to school for a fancy MFA degree. She didn't take endless webinars or read a library of self-help books. Nope. Instead, shy Meika booked a solo tour of Europe and literally lost herself in unfamiliar territory, alone, for weeks. She survived and lived to tell the tale--and many other tales, which she is now promoting and selling!

Speaking for myself, I have fears that go way beyond worrying about creative failure or success. I'm constantly distracted by mom-related worries, from the real-life concerns of my daughter and her little friends to news stories about horrors that could, I imagine, befall my own family.

And whenever something terrible happens in the news, the trolls come out on social media. Even our own family members (we all have them) go out of their way to demonstrate that they are terminally stupid garbage people. It makes me feel sincerely that people I know are awful and mean-spirited and dangerous, even if I know that they are just frightened jerks behind a keyboard, like me, only less eloquent.

My time and my energy are wasted worrying about hypothetical threats.

I am now certain that anxiety is the greatest challenge I face as a writer. I have talent, skills, knowledge, resources, and inspiration. Fear is the only thing keeping my literary dreams from coming to light.

But fighting fear is easier said than done. So I've made a plan for myself based on these expert recommendations by the nice people at the University of Minnesota. As the Medium article explains, it's not enough to read and absorb this information; you actually have to do stuff. So my personal stuff to do includes:

  • Designate no-electronics time for several hours in the evening. No internet, no TV, no amplified background music. Read from a novel on paper every evening during that time.
  • Be mindful about acknowledging how adorable my immediate family is. I have a cute, playful, soft, murderfaced kitten and a lovable husband and daughter. I pledge to spend less time worrying about them and more time enjoying them.
  • Take all the risks  in my novel manuscript, where all decisions and consequences are rewritable. Enter the flow and go wild. Write like I'm having a lucid dream. Be the terrible goddess of the narrative. Discover what it feels like to strip off the bonds of critical thinking and create havoc. Try on the skin of a terminally stupid garbage person and run amok. Escape reality and all of its worries by spinning entirely imaginary horrors. Remind myself that even grammatical horrors are OK in a first draft.
  • Focus on using social media to maintain real-life relationships with people I actually talk to offline. Support my writing group ladies. Unfollow and unfriend as needed. Remember people who don't even know how to use the Tweeter machine. Visit my mom more often.
  • Keep. On. Walking. To school. That little bit of outdoor exercise is so good for me, and it soothes me to remind myself that every time I don't use the car is one time I've increased health and safety for my daughter and everyone around us. I can't control every risk to my child, but I can make strategic choices that count.
  • Organize smarter. Focus my strategies for social and political changes that will make my community safer so that I have less to worry about. Turn anxiety into action and action into results. Achieve the satisfaction of having done my part...

So I can get down to turning my nightmares into dreams and my dreams into a wicked good novel.


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