Facing the Fear

This past weekend Chelsea Cain gave a little gem of a talk at Write on the River. Hers was an inspirational review of her climb to fame. She said that perhaps someone in the audience would have a million-dollar idea for a novel. Hearing her personal story, many of us left that auditorium feeling that we just might be the one to have the next big success.

Mining your life

One of the things Chelsea Cain did to find her million dollar story (Sweetheart, Heartsick, Evil at Heart) was to pay attention to the things she was afraid of. She talked about the Green River serial killer, and how she grew up knowing that death came to young women in horrible ways right here in the Pacific Northwest. She was able to mine her own childhood to find the emotional depth to tell her serial killer stories partly because she was always afraid of one.

Her advice: to find the kernel of a great story, we should look more closely at things that terrify us. This is not just for thrillers or horror stories, but for stories that explore our deepest selves, our most vulnerable selves.

Changing your life

How fascinating then, that later in the day teacher and author Bob Mayer talked about facing fear.

What is all this sudden attention to the fear factor, I wondered? Why should I be afraid of anything in the the writing arena? (I mean, I am afraid of serial killers and and spiders that jump. Also salsa with mold growing in the cap. . . but in writing?) Bob Mayer went on to talk about how fear holds us back from our best work. And fascinatingly, how sometimes our biggest strength masks a fear. And that particular fear is not only holding us back, it’s invisible to us, and therefore all the more damaging.

I recommend a Bob Mayer class (Warrior Writer, for example) to toughen yourself up to face tough times in publishing.

If “tough times” sounds scary–(talk about fear!)–it doesn’t need to cripple us. It can even be the engine to power us to our best work. Timidity, holding back, giving up, making excuses, refusal to learn from mistakes . . . these are garden variety responses to fear. And as mundane as they are, they can kill a career.

As this blog has always maintained, there’s a huge psychological dimension to sticking with the writing life. Come to think of it, deep psychological insights are also critical to developing enduring characters. There’s kind of a two-fer going on here.

Fear. Let’s sit down and stare at our own for awhile. I think it might be worth a million bucks.

6 Responses

  1. I remember Octavia Butler once talking about how she’d take the darkest parts of her nightmares as “the kernel” for her stories.

    That’s certainly a rich source of emotional intensity; who wants to write (or read) a story we don’t care passionately about?

  2. Bob Mayer says:

    I’m emailing back and forth with a writer right now on this very subject– about what she really wants to write. We know it will be dark, so she has to really face her fears.

  3. Kay says:

    I’ve never found actual dreams to give me much insight. For my part, I’ll try thinking through the things that haunt me until I get “a shiver”. Although once I wrote a whole book based on one image from a dream. It got published, but not sure it was a good story!

  4. Kay says:

    I hope she finds rich material there. So intriguing, that idea that the thing you fear may hold the most promise!

  5. Tiyana says:

    Hmm… Exploring my protagonist’s fears and having her eventually face them has always made sense, though I’d never considered whether some of her fears are actually mine in a different/disguised form. That could get a little psychoanalytical, heh.

    Interesting advice!

  6. Kay says:

    Yeah, it’s been a little psychoanalytical for me for years!

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