Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Sinking Into Fear

ScaredCat_PaoloMargariPhoto: Creative Commons, Paolo Margari

A few Saturdays ago I woke up with a really ambitious plan for the day. My list of to-dos included typical weekend errand running along with writing, cleaning out my email inbox and reading through my news feed to find interesting articles to share on social media.

I was coming off the heels of a really intense week and figured I would keep the momentum going by staying in work mode. That was until I stood up and heard my body telling me, “This isn’t going to happen today.” I sat back down and decided to give myself a little bit more time to wake up before I hit the day running. I ate breakfast, drank a cup of tea and stood up again ready to get going. Just as before, my body delivered a firm, “Nope.” After a few more failed attempts to get motivated, I decided to refresh my tea, settle into my blanket on my couch and faced the fact that I was in the throws of a lazy Saturday. I spent the day drinking tea, reading Rachel Zoe’s Living in Style and watching movies. Rather than feel guilty about all I wasn’t doing, I accepted the need to restore the last week’s depleted energy. Maybe I would have to double down on some aspect of the upcoming week to avoid falling too far behind on my work. In that moment, however, I needed to give myself permission to sink further into the crevice of my coach and just relax.

As creatives, sometimes we need to push ourselves beyond the moment we are in; but, there are other times when we need to sink into what we are feeling. This applies even to fear – sometimes, we need to allow ourselves to feel afraid.

In the past two years of freelance writing, I’ve realized I’m not really in the business of words so much as emotion. I often write for start-up creative entrepreneurs or nonprofit leaders who have used their passions to fuel new organizations or enterprises. More than a mere copywriter developing communications materials for these creatives, I act as a sponge soaking up their emotion and then translating it into written content. Similarly, for my own writing, I do it best when I allow myself to settle into my emotions.

Every month, I gather with a group of friends for a sort of creative support group. We usually have a topic of focus, and last month we discussed vulnerability. Inspired by Brené Brown’s TED Talk on using vulnerability to fuel creativity, I conducted an exercise where I asked everyone in the group to write down their deepest, darkest secret that no one else knew. We all wrote down our secrets and put them in an envelope, sealed it and passed it to the person sitting to the right of us. I then asked, “How does it feel to know someone else is in control of your biggest secret in the world?” The point of the exercise was to put us in a vulnerable position, and notice any physical sensations we experienced as a result of that vulnerability. Even though I came up with the exercise, I was totally freaking out. I had restless legs, sweaty palms and a racing heart. All I wanted to do was get that envelope back in my hands.

I did recognize the feeling, though. I often feel that sense of restlessness – the need to get up and pace around the room – when I hit upon something personal in my writing. Fear starts to creep in and I ask myself, “Should I really write this?” or more to the point, “Should I really publish this?” The same sweaty palms, racing heart and restless legs take hold – the physical manifestations of fear that let me know I’ve gotten to the emotional center of whatever I’m writing. The challenge, at that point, is deciding whether to run from it or go deeper.

I won’t pretend that I am the epitome of emotional self-awareness and that I never run from fear. I usually do until a deadline forces me back around. There are a few days, however, when I don’t let the sweaty palms deter me, and I find the courage to sit with my fear. Those are the instances when I have the most success writing something that emotionally resonates with other people. And, for me, that’s the whole point.

It makes sense that we run from fear. The feeling isn’t exactly pleasant. But I’d like to suggest that, instead of avoiding or even bulldozing through fear, we occasionally allow ourselves to sink into it for a while. Around fear, there’s usually some really, really good work close by.

Speak Your Mind