Saturday, July 23, 2011

To be afraid or not to be afraid... that is the question

Fear is powerful. It can cause people to do atrocious things, and keep them from doing outstanding things.
"Fear is the Mind Killer."
Frank Herbert, Dune 

And yet, it’s a gold mine for writers. Just think-where would Stephen King be without it? 

I had a dream the other night where I was walking through a forest covered in snakes- which I'm terribly afraid of- and it inspired me to do this post. They were everywhere, twisting around branches, slithering under water, coiling in the dirt- and I was trying to meander my way through them. At one point, I wanted to turn around, but the two people who were with me encouraged me not to give up. I took a few steps and realized it wasn’t as bad as I thought. As long as I left the snakes alone, they minded their own business. None jumped down from the trees to attack me, or latched on to my ankles or anything.

When I first woke up, I thought maybe it was my subconscious trying to tell me something. Maybe it meant I was letting my fears keep me from taking the right path. Then I started thinking maybe it was the opposite: why waste your time taking a short cut full of obstacles, when you can take a longer, clear cut route? Being my usual indecisive self, I couldn't decide, so I let the interpretations fade to the back of my mind as I went to work.

Less than two hours into work, I was sent out on a story that took place at a serpentarium. Coincidence much? I, of course, didn’t tell anyone I was afraid, but walked through the main entrance with a forced sense of courage. And, much like my dream, it was surprisingly painless. Most of the snakes were asleep, but a few lifted their head and slithered around, and I watched them without being afraid. Thankfully, we didn't have to touch any or open their cages (hey, everyone has their limits, right?).

Maybe all my dream meant was that it’s time for me to face my fears and realize that, as long as we’re aware of them, there isn’t really all that much to be afraid of.

Isn't that what reading is all about? Facing fears from the comfort of our home? Watching others make mistakes and deal with devastating consequences without any risk to ourselves (other than perhaps loosing a few hours or being glued to a book)?

While we shouldn't let our fears hinder us, they can serve a purpose in our lives. In addition to alerting us to danger and heightening our senses, they enhance our writing. Fear can provide a great source of motivation for a character and a cause for empathy from a reader. Because... let's face it, we all get scared sometimes.  

What are some fears you've overcome? Are there any you haven't quite mastered, but want to? Have you incorporated any into your writing? 


  1. Sometimes I am scared of the future. I just don't know what's going to happen and I constantly wonder if what I'm doing now is the right choice. I know it's a little abstract (it's not a fear of snakes or anything) but it definitely tends to hold me back sometimes. I am trying to overcome it by relaxing and just letting the future handle itself. I can untie my knots eventually!

  2. I have a horrible fear of heights. I have faced it and suffered through it at different times in my life but it hasn't helped me overcome it. And age has taught me I don't have to.

    I am perfectly happy with my phobia. I haven't written it into a story but maybe in the future...

  3. Like Marsha, I am terrified of heights. In the past I would paralysed with even the smallest height off the ground, but I've been working hard to overcome it. Now I can go up tall ladders, walk along cliffs, and have even para-glided. So, I've decided to take the same approach with my writing- overcoming my fears of failure are the only way to fulfil my writing dreams!

    Like you say, our fears serve a purpose.

    Ellie Garratt