First published on Patreon 8th October 2018
Sometimes fear is awful. It can be debilitating. Sometimes, fear sticks itself to the roof of my mouth and between my lungs and the base of my skull, leaving me thoughtless and wordless. Sometimes, fear keeps me rooted to the spot so long I forget how to move.
But even with all that, fear isn’t my enemy. Like all emotions, it’s information. The information may be overwhelming me to the point I can’t process it properly, it may not be complete, but it is important. When what I’m making frightens me, this is information I absolutely need. Advice I’ve read/been given has often told me to ignore fear and forge on regardless. It operates under the assumption that my fear is baseless, irrational, disproportionate. This is neither useful nor true. What if my fear is telling me this work may harm me? What if it’s telling me I don’t have the skills yet? What if it’s telling me that I’m not ready to deal with the emotions this will trigger? What if I ignore that, just keep writing, and end up doing myself a lot of damage in the process? This isn’t so much a ‘what if’ as it is a summary of the way I repeatedly re-traumatised myself through my poetry whilst at university because I thought that’s what poets did. If I’d stopped to listen to my fear, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through some of the emotional turmoil I did.
What I’m saying is listen to your fear. Sit with it. Ask your fear its name, its purpose. If it is solely a fear on the unknown, or a fear of failure, it can probably be safely ignored. But if this fear is telling you – like it told me when I wrote Wanting – that this thing will uncover some deeply uncomfortable emotions, it may be time to focus on self care and take your time. Sometimes, you fear will tell you that now is not the time. It’s OK to listen then. It’s OK to put this project down and come back to it when you are ready. It’s OK to never be ready.
Fear is your friend. It’s not always your most helpful friend, but no single emotion can be. It’s still worth listening to.