Writing and fear…and fearlessness

I hear a lot about writing and fear…especially from women…I see workshops all the time about tackling fear, working around fear, writing about our fears, and how we can support each other so that we can deal with our fears…

What I do not see a lot of…is an interrogation of fear, the breakdown of fear…what were we afraid of as children? what are we afraid of now? what will we admit to being afraid of and what won’t we? how is my fear different from someone else’s? what do I think is fear but really isn’t?

There were very few things I was afraid of when I was a child. I wasn’t afraid to climb up to high places, wasn’t afraid to try jumping off the roof when one of my brothers dared me, wasn’t afraid to go to new schools every time we moved due to the harvest seasons, wasn’t afraid to fight the kid in 3rd grade who called me a wetback. I never cowered when my father took out his belt, never turned away when he’d backhand me, never backed down from my older brother even when my mother would tell me ‘no le busques ruido al chicharron’…My older brother came at me with a running tackle me when I was twelve and he was a high school football player…I may have winced but I never took my eyes off him and I didn’t go down.

So you’d think that would make me a generally fearless adult…and sometimes I have been proud of myself for doing things I didn’t think I could do…but truthfully, my list of fears goes on for quite a long while….main highlights: bees, cockroaches, car accidents, the sight of my own blood, surgery, ongoing physical pain, debt, homelessness, amputation, getting alzheimer’s, and the fear that keeps me awake at night–dying before my brother and leaving him without a caregiver…

I know those fears. I’ve written about some of them and will write about others and will probably talk about all of them many more times….but what are my fears related to writing? Are they really fears? And what is a real fear and what is a fear of risk?

I’m not afraid of writing itself. Not afraid of the things I might reveal about myself or my thoughts.  I’m not afraid of what I might end up learning about myself or how my family will react to what I’ve written. In my case, both my parents and all my grandparents have died, I have no children, and except for my brother, Moisés, I don’t care any more what my other siblings think.

In the world around writing, I’ll confess I’m afraid no one’s going to read or understand my work…afraid I won’t have that shelf of books with my name on the spine that I dream of, won’t reach some level of success that will justify how much I’ve poured into writing and into the business of writing…I’m afraid I’m going to give in to someone else’s concept of ‘the market’ and that I’ll sell out the work I’m supposed to be doing in order to write something sell-able….I’m afraid I’m going to run out of time, i.e. die, before I can write the projects fermenting away in my brain…

But none of those fears are fears that I think are valid reasons not to write…much less valid reasons to not put my work out there…I refuse to accept fear of risk when it comes to my writing…

And please forgive me, but I recently saw the movie ‘Easy A’ and the concept of having or not having the “lady-balls” to do something has shaped my world-view every since…(”having the ovaries’ just doesn’t cut it…)

What I’m most afraid of when it comes to writing is that I won’t have the lady-balls to sit down and actually do it, the lady-balls to claim the time and energy so that I can write, the lady-balls to believe in my work, to finish my work, to share my work, to send my work out there…the lady-balls to take rejections and bad reviews and blank incomprehension…

And beyond that, at the heart of everything, I know I have one person who believes in me beyond reason. My brother Moisés was there that day in 2002 when I almost gave up writing, not because I was afraid but because I felt defeated…there’d just been too many people who didn’t ‘get’ my work. Because of him, I rallied. And all these years later, it often seems to me he understands my work better than I do. He is the most fearless writer I know. His work leaves me awed/stunned/challenged every time I read it. He never hesitates to speak his truths…he speaks from places I haven’t even contemplated going to …And he never talks about fear keeping him from writing or writer’s block or ‘the anguish of writing.’ Every day he has to deal with physical pain, exhaustion, and medications. When he has a project in mind, he begins to amass energy, calculates all the variables and challenges of each day to support an hour’s work, a single hour and sometimes not even that, where he can concentrate and create. It is a deliberate and dedicated effort. It is fearless and full of grace. And though I’m right here, even I can’t know what it costs him.

And next to that, all of my fears are only petty things. I have no excuse. I can’t back down now. I have work to do…

I’m going to leave you with a well-known quote from Audre Lorde:

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

And you can find the entire text of Audre Lorde’s The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action at this interestingly titled blogsite:



4 thoughts on “Writing and fear…and fearlessness”

  1. I like this posting about fear. We all suffer some sort of fear. I too have tried to not offend by writing my truths…and afraid about what my friends, siblings, and others might think. Quite frankly I have come to the conclusion that what I am REALLY afraid of IS WRITING THE TRUTH. …go figure

    1. write the truth, dee, write the truth! my only suggestion, though, is that it might be helpful to figure out who you can show your work to without fearing ‘what they’ll think’…whether that means some friends who have accepted you, warts and all, in the past, or writer-friends who have a little more distance from your personal life….suerte to you…abrazo/ire’ne

  2. So powerful for me to hear what another has to say about fear. I found the lists you made — of the things you weren’t afraid of, didn’t back down from, regardless of certainty of outcome, and what you are afraid of now — powerful. I suspect we all have lists like these we carry inside, reminders of when our courage seemed more obvious. The thing is, I also suspect it’s easier to see standing firm in the line of a running back as standing up to fear. As we grow — not just up but in wisdom and seasoning and depth — we need to look at more subtle expressions of fearlessness. Your words were the perfect reminder for me to take a steady and gentle gaze at my own life, the places I’m afraid I haven’t been living fully enough, and be willing to see where my courage, my corazon, does shine through. I hope you have done the same in writing this! Un abrazo!

    1. i suspect i could write a book on this…i found myself cutting away whole paragraphs in an attempt to keep this post manageable….but yes, i agree, it is easier to see physical examples of standing up to fear during childhood than current ‘more subtle expressions of fearlessness’….all i can say is that i had to start somewhere in this attempt at interrogating fear…not just in writing, but in my life and especially, as it pertains to my health….(which i think is what the next post is going to be about)…i’ve been living in fear of my diabetes for the last three years…i don’t want to unthinkingly react or fail to act because of my fear…but i have found it useful to look at 1) other fears in order to see how relative they are to each other and 2) places/times i’ve been or am fearless–so i can remember and consciously sit with what fearlessness feels like…
      thank you for reminding me of the need for a ‘steady and gentle gaze’…i’ve always been more of a hammer and machete person, but it isn’t always necessary to be that way with myself…thank you, yael…un fuerte fuerte abrazo…

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