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This Writing Life 19: Fear

Happy New Year, 22 days late!

I suffer from migraines, which are a massive pain (HA!).  This week I had one that started as an attack of blind panic.  Complete mental immobilization. Scared of everything. I couldn’t think, couldn’t work, couldn’t focus my brain.  It wasn’t until my head started hurting that I figured out what was going on, took some drugs and was finally able to focus again. By the time I did, I’d lost a day.

I hate it when that happens.

And much as I’d like to say that was the inspiration for this blog post, it wasn’t.  But it did act as a catalyst to finally write what’s been kicking around in my head for about three months. Because there’s stuff I’m afraid of, and it affects my work.

What If…

“What if” is one of my favourite questions. It’s the beginning of all fiction. Without “What if” there would be no stories.

Unfortunately, it’s also the beginning of all the fears:

What if I can’t finish the story? What if it won’t sell? What if I’m wasting my time?  What if it’s no good? What if everything I write is actually garbage? What if everyone decides I’m a fraud? What if I never sell anything ever again? What if the people reading this don’t immediately go out and buy Small Magics and Cold Magics?  (hint, hint) What if no one buys True Magics (coming in April) and my social media campaign fails and I have to go back to working in offices? What if, what if, what if…

Too many of the bad “What if” questions and suddenly you’re suffering from…

Fear Paralysis

The amygdala (fun word to say out loud. Amygdala. Amygdala… but I digress) is the part of the brain that, among other things, controls our basic emotional responses. Originally, there were believed to be only two responses: fight or flight.  New research into the amygdala indicates there is at least one more: freeze.  Makes perfect sense really. “There is a giant sabretooth tiger out there trying to kill me. If I hold perfectly still, nothing bad will happen.”

Unfortunately, the freeze reaction that can keep us alive against sabretooths (sabreteeth?) can also overwhelm us when we’re engaged in high-stress situations, like trying to make a living as a writer and all the nasty, self-exposing tasks that are involved in this line of work.

It’s gets so tempting to give into the freezing.

“If I don’t do anything, then nothing bad will happen,” is a wonderfully comforting idea. No risk, no danger, no nothing. Just hiding comfortably under the covers, with occasional ventures out for the bathroom and food.

The problem is, it’s a false idea. The truth is “If I don’t do anything, then nothing will happen. Ever.” No success, no new stories, no chance of ever being something more than an office drone.

But it is so tempting, some days…

Breaking the Paralysis

So what can we do to stop he paralysis that keeps us from getting things done? Three ideas:

1. Do Something Scarier. In my time I’ve scrambled up mountains, earned two black belts, and stood in the delivery room waiting for my daughter to take her first breath long after she should have (she did, eventually, which proves that stubbornness runs in the family).  And when you have scary things like that under your belt, you can use them to counter the other fears. Sure, a marketing plan is hard. So is writing a book or sending it to an agent for the first time. But if you can say to yourself “I did this scary thing, so how hard can that be?” it can help you break the paralysis.

2. Use Logic. Much of our paralysis comes from ongoing negative self-talk (to fall into psychology-speak for a moment). We think bad things about ourselves and keep repeating them until we start to believe them. The talk makes the problems bigger and bigger until they seem insurmountable. When we start thinking logically about the problem and questioning that self-talk, we can take control of the fear and that can help us break the paralysis.

3. Count to Three and Jump (and have someone help you). I am afraid of heights. All right, terrified. And when I ran the Tough Mudder (which is not on my list of hard things because really, not that tough) there was an obstacle that was a 15-foot jump into water. So I worked out a plan with my partner. We would stand at the top, count to three, and on three we would jump. We did, I did, and it worked fine (I don’t recall if I screamed all the way down or not, but 15 feet is a relatively short fall).  And sometimes, that’s the only way to beat the fear paralysis. Count down and jump.

But have someone counting with you, because scary things are a lot easier to do when you have someone counting with you.

Next week: back to to marketing with, “What do you mean, start over?”

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