Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest post: Laurel Garver on writing through fear

Every year, I select a topic for a regular series of guest posts. This year's topic is fear, and Laurel Garver is my latest guest writer to tackle the topic. Her post reminds me that art is one way we often find power in situations that might otherwise overwhelm us.


Writing through Fear
by Laurel Garver

Conventional wisdom says fear is something we must combat as writers. It steals our joy, robs us of creativity, yada, yada, yada. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as neurotic as the next person banging away at a keyboard, with hefty baggage aplenty that Dr. Freud would love to unpack.

However, I happen to think that combating fear is counterproductive.

Why? Fear is one of the deepest, most primal urges we have as humans. It is a core motivator, the inverse of most desires, and therefore, key for understanding and creating the stakes of any story.

Fear is something we shouldn’t try to send packing, but rather stalk, study, and seek to deeply understand. If you spend your days chasing it away, you might find yourself at a loss for anything important to say.

Instead, consider the things you fear as grist for the mill, fodder for your hungry imagination. Ask yourself, why does this scare me? what history does it return me to? what possible futures do I believe it will lead to? The best antagonists you will write are born the moment you look under your bed and stare your own personal boogeyman right in the face.

Fear is also a potent source of material for poems. Poetry seeks to distill experience into brief, intense verbal happenings, and nothing is more immediately intense than fear. My strongest work has captured moments when fear is first glimpsed, recognized, understood, or courageously faced, be the feared thing vindictive chickens, air travel, a parent’s mental illness, powerlessness over cycles of poverty, or my own frailties.

Know your fears. Write them. You will always have a story to tell.

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Laurel Garver (@LaurelGarver on Twitter) is the author of the novel NEVER GONE, and MUDDY-FINGERED MIDNIGHTS, a new poetry collection about creative life, our capacity to wound and heal, and the unlikely places we find love, beauty, and grace. Learn more about her books at http://laurelgarver.blogspot.com/2012/06/publications.html.

11 comments:

  1. I agree with you whole-heartedly. The best scenes I've ever written is where my character faces the same fears that I have (or at least something similar).

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    1. Fear is something most of us can identify with!

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    2. We can write so much more viscerally when the emotion is genuine, I think.

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  2. Fear is, like it or not, a part of my writing process, most present when I'm starting something new. I'm trying to learn to acknowledge it and not despair but move forward.

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    1. Mine, too--I'll tell myself it keeps me on my toes.

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    2. I think Anne Lamott says fear about writing itself is a reflection of its power and importance to us. We fear in to proportion to how much we love something.

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  3. Great suggestions on how to deal with fear. I agree with Caroline. It's part of my writing process too and sometimes I despair.

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    1. It definitely can give us something to write about!

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    2. Stare it down, really study it. There's a story waiting to come out.

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  4. Such a great post for the new year. I never thought about it, but as authors we really can stare our fear in the face, then sit down and pour that emotion onto the page. Good point!

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