It was a perfect day for a beachside BBQ. A cool breeze was blowing in off the Pacific. The sun was shining full and warm. I’d awakened with the sun at about 6:30 a.m., an hour earlier than my alarm, and made pancakes and eggs. I had enough time that I’d even considered going to a 10 am yoga class before meeting with a new friend to go to her co-worker’s BBQ party.

Then I reconsidered. I was overcome by an urge to stay in, to gather myself. Not understanding the urge, I started to gather things. I began putting what I would need for the day in a pile on the corner of the couch: towel, sunblock, a change of clothes, phone charger, a cooler full of sodas, snacks. Then I remembered: I was taking my bike, so I started to rethink, unpack, and regroup.

IMG_2356The closer it got to “go time,” the more I felt like I should stay. Something wasn’t quite right. I tidied the bathroom. I put away some clothes in the bedroom. I organized the files on my desk. I started double checking things. Was there enough food and water in the cats’ bowls? Did I close the refrigerator door all the way? I was now officially late.

“Go,” I told myself aloud. “Stop fucking around and go!”

But my resistance was strong. I considered texting my apologies and staying home and watching movies.

“What are you doing?” I said again out loud. “You’ve been looking forward to this!”

I stopped for a moment and took a breath. I paid attention as the inhale expanded my body — my neck, shoulders, and chest were tight. And that’s when it hit me… I was afraid! I didn’t know these people. I didn’t know if I’d fit in, or if I’d be physically comfortable there (too hot, too cold, too hungry, etc.), and that was enough to create unconscious fear. (When this happens chronically, it’s called anxiety.)

What’s weird is, I’m constantly told how brave I am. People say to me “I wish I had your courage” because I travel alone, because I play my guitar and perform in public, because I’m willing to try new things – improv comedy, spoken word, sailing, sky diving, entrepreneurship.

People assume that because I do these things that I’m not afraid to do these things. They are wrong.

I’m afraid a lot. But the fear involved in the “big stuff” like jumping out of planes and into new things is easier to deal with than the everyday fears of the “little stuff” like the beach party. The big stuff is easier because I know I’m afraid so I can face the fear, but with the little stuff it’s easy to overlook the fear. When I don’t see it, I’m not able to challenge it; then, I’m unconsciously controlled by fear.

Writer’s block is just like this. Like the beach & BBQ outing, writing is something I want to do. But deep inside, I’ve also been afraid. I dawdle and procrastinate when I am afraid “to go there.” For years, I was unaware of this fear, so I was really hard on myself for not writing more. I’d tell myself I was never going to amount to much (even when I was working as a weekly columnist) and I’d feel like a fraud around writers and artists who were prolific. In essence, I compounded my yucky feelings (fear) with more yucky feelings (shame).

And I wondered why I just couldn’t be more creative!?!

I faced the fear of sharks, freezing, drowning, and loss of control when I learned to sail…but it’s still not as scary as writing.

Does anyone create well when they are afraid and ashamed? Self-actualization and self-expression are high on the pyramid of the hierarchy of needs and safety and acceptance are at the base. It’s difficult to deal with the needs at the top if we haven’t met those at the bottom. In fear and shame, I couldn’t build a happy, productive creative life.

My point is, “Just do it!” (or as my friend put it the other day “Just sit down and fucking write”) is not the answer for someone who is deeply and unconsciously afraid. I had to build a healthier relationship with my feelings and creativity. Awareness of the fear lets me begin to negotiate my way through it. Then writing is like sky diving: I face the fear, lean into the resistance, and take the plunge.

In case you were wondering, I also made it to the party. And I had a great time.

Watch my free webinar Practical Magic for Writers to learn other approaches to move through resistance and enhance creativity or click on the button to get my guide to overcoming procrastination, How to Get Started and Keep Moving.



7 thoughts on “When you’re afraid to go there

  1. I feel this fear all the time. Often, as a friend pointed out to me, the things we are the most afraid of are the things we enjoy the most once we GET there. For me, the struggle is in the GETTING there. The same holds true for writing. Once I begin, I feel like I’m flying! Thanks for these words!

    1. Yes, sometimes getting into action removes the fear. I find that true as well. I love how you express it as flying. I understand. I sometimes feel like I’m out of my body in another place and time.

  2. Thank you for stopping at my blog. I hope you’ll come back often. I really like what you had to say in “When You’re Afraid.” Especially fear involving writing. I want to recommend a book. Not necessarily just for you, but for readers of your blog. It’s “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Her book is designed to help us unblock creatively. She looks at things like our detractors and naysayers, our internal editor, the lies we tell ourselves about our talents or abilities. She suggests a daily writing tool called “the morning pages.” She instructs us to get up and grab a pad and pen first thing in the morning. (Try to avoid using your laptop for this.) Write whatever comes to mind for three pages. Don’t worry about ever showing it to anyone. This is therapy. Meditation. Free expression. She says it’s one way to “beat the internal editor” out of bed. The book is jammed full of a ton of information. I highly recommend it.

    1. Yes, I’ve read The Artists Way and I’ve even been in a group that read the book together and discussed our progress. I write a lot anyway. All the time. I have a full shelf of filled up composition books. First thing in the morning is a good time, for sure.

      1. Very cool, Marya. Also, if you haven’t read it yet, get a copy of “Writing Down The Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. I would love to participate in an “Artist’s Way” class. I live in the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania, about 55 miles north of Harrisburg, on the Susquehanna River. I’ll have to Google it and see if there are any groups coming up soon in a locale near me. So glad to have stumbled upon your blog. (Or did you stumble upon mine? Anyway, nice getting to know you.)

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