Fear is a throughline in literature. Yet my fear of writing — really authentic writing — is holding me back. I’m working on it. 


“Fear can make you do more wrong than hate or jealousy… fear makes you always, always hold something back.” — Philip K. Dick, VALIS

Fear in literature is as common as the Garamond typeface. Which is to say it’s everywhere. Fear is the writer’s prompt, the playwright’s manipulative toy. It is the stream carrying a narrative to its dramatic end.

Fear injects two of literature’s most popular themes, love, and death. Unrequited or rejection of love; the sudden or violent death.

Fear and foreboding are the currency of Gothic literature. Fear of the unknown and the unknowable animate modern literature, not to mention movies and streaming series. Netflix’s Stranger Things jumped the shark for me.

Fear punctuates Shakespeare’s plays; his characters are often driven mad by it.

What if fear held back Shakespeare’s work? If so, it’s hard to imagine what, if anything, he left on the table. Or, more appropriately, on the nib of his pen.

It’s a rhetorical question; who knows if he struggled with fear of getting the words out. One thing is certain: its always been hard to make it as a writer. It probably wasn’t any easier in the 16th century. 

I know a thing or two about holding back. 

I’m too afraid to write even about my own fear, my own vulnerabilities. This very article is but another toe in the water.

I’m so far back from the edge of the literary sea I’m not likely to get wet, much less caught in a riptide of words and emotions. 

Not that there isn’t enough material. I’ve got fear to spare. Fear that my writing’s not good enough. Fear that my modest, yet steady success on Medium is beginner’s luck. That there’s not a there, there. Fear that I’m too old, in my seventh decade, to make a go of it as a writer.


I am self-aware enough to know that my fear is a close, kissin’ cousin to weak self-confidence.

It is probably why I’m so timid in my writing, in trying new things, in getting it out there. In submitting to more publications. In mastering SEO (I’d rather have a root canal).

Fear sets in motion a self-perpetuating loop that feeds on itself. Fear breeds a lack of confidence, reinforcing the fear. Which in turns nurtures the low confidence. Oh, and did I mention insecurity about writing? That’s in there, too. How to manage the paralyzing insecurity about your writing
It happens, the insecurity thing, freezing one’s creativity. Crippling workflow, clogging, or worse, aborting ideas…medium.com

I probably speak for many; I can’t be the only one out there hampered this way. 

You’d think I could just get on with it.

You’d think that I, as a somewhat accomplished adult, a parent of successful grown children, who has weathered the ebb and flow of a privileged, yet textured existence, could move on. Surely I can look this challenge square in the eye. 

This isn’t my first swim upstream. Not the first time I’ve had to corral my wits and dig deep to summon the strength of soul. I’ve dabbled around the edges of mid-life divorce, late-in-life career re-entry. Now, a fresh topic, retirement and turning the corner of 70 — it deserves a deep dive. Swimming Upstream
How my 6th decade transformed my life and informed my writing.writingcooperative.com

I’m working on it. Working to take command of my unique fear and direct my cowardly self to stand down. Allow my risk-taker self to push forward. I think it’s going to happen.

Inspiration has come from surprising places. My own writing practice, through which I am building a small but increasingly resilient response to my insecurity. The Medium platform itself allows me not only a public forum but the window to how others deal with their personal demons as writers. 

I’ve learned what is helpful, what I can draw from and what doesn’t work for me. Shaunta Grimes’ Ninja Writer series is helpful; morning routines with daybreak protein shakes, well, not so much. 

While we’re on the subject of fear and writing….

That killer combo, fear and its undermining self-confidence, is eroding my secret desire to write fiction. Something I’ve never done, but can’t shake its siren call. “You must try me,” it whispers. 

 I write dialogue in my head around events or discussions I imagine. So vivid are those “what if” moments that I need to remind myself I’m creating an imaginary exchange, lest I respond to the fantasy and not reality. It didn’t happen that way. But it could, in a story. 

I used to have a habit of anticipating a disaster as insurance it won’t happen. Honestly, the biggest disaster could be that the story, stuck in the nub of my pen, never sees the light of day.

I can’t be the only one who feels like this. What about you? You, the precarious writer, sitting next to me on the sidelines, watching the game. What have we to lose? What’s up for grabs is all in our heads.

Fear is the anticipation of dread.

Search “fear” on Upsplash and you’ll get images of dark ‘n stark: foggy woods, masks, lonely, isolated human figures shrouded in mystery and drama. Predatory, ferocious animals ready for attack with bared fangs or stealth poison. 

The hourglass with the sand in its slow descent always reminds me of Dorothy and Toto in their hour of doom. They need to get over their fear and get back home. The flying monkeys have nothing on them. Nor on their collaborators, filled with courage and heart. 

The Upshot

I sit in brilliant January sunshine, the flawless blue sky of a crisp and clear polar vortex. Here there is no fear, no dread. 

 No fanged beast, no lurking shadows. And that’s the breakthrough. Here is where I can write. I hear Glinda the Good Witch over my shoulder, reminding me, as she did Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.

Stay tuned. 

Copyright 2019 Jane Trombley

If you’re enjoying this site, thank Nicole. She’s the creative mind behind PublishousNow.com. She’s also the community-building guru who can help you build your own thriving communities online; check out her resources at NicoleAkers.com. If you’re more into health and wellness, Nicole can help there too! Find a wealth of health at WeTalkHealthy.com.
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If you’re enjoying this site, thank Nicole. She’s the creative mind behind PublishousNow.com. She’s also the community-building guru who can help you build your own thriving communities online; check out her resources at NicoleAkers.com. If you’re more into health and wellness, Nicole can help there too! Find a wealth of health at WeTalkHealthy.com.

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