Why has “fearless” become the new buzzword? Universal Studios has been running ads during the Olympics touting a trip to their resort as a way to raise fearless kids who won’t be living in your house when they’re thirty-seven. A local zip-line park is running ads about becoming fearless when you tackle their zip-lines. Even my insurance company touts fearlessness as part of their offerings. And I’ve seen many more products touting their ability to turn you into some sort of fearless amazon, eager to face and slay every danger and demon your life can dish out.
But the kicker came when I was going through my Pinterest feed and came across an ad for a course that guarantees to turn you into a fearless writer. Wait, what? A fearless writer? What even is that? A quick google reveals a whole industry devoted to creating fearless writers. There are books, classes, articles, and entire blogs on the topic.
It’s like someone has decided that we’re all supposed to be Wonder Woman, climbing out of that trench into no-man’s land to open a can of whoop-ass on the Germans. Except in this case we’re supposed to open a can of whoop-ass on… What, exactly? A piece of paper? Nouns and participles? Our laptops? Editors or reviewers? Ourselves?
(And if you haven’t seen Wonder Woman, that scene is worth the price of admission alone, by the way.)
I had to unpack this notion of fearlessness and writers in my head a bit. There’s so much about this notion of fearless writing that makes me go, “Huh?”
Are writers really that fearful?
Are we so fearful that we need people to teach us how to be brave? I don’t think so. Fear is an overused word. True fear is the feeling that something or someone is likely to be dangerous, threatening, or painful. I don’t know any writers who honestly feel that way about any aspect of their career.
Writing isn’t likely to kill you. No one’s likely to threaten your life or your loved ones over your writing. (Unless you’re writing in a dictatorship that will kill you for defiant writing. If that’s the case, you have every right to your fear. Jut know that a course in fearlessness isn’t going to help you.) Aside from carpal tunnel, painful injuries aren’t likely, either. Let’s face it: There’s nothing we do while sitting behind our laptop screens that approaches true fear-inducing danger.
Even the “fear of failure” isn’t true fear. Failure isn’t dangerous or threatening. It’s as common as tripping over your own two feet. Everyone does it at some point. It’s a little embarrassing, but not dangerous or threatening. There’s nothing about failure to fear. It happens and you move on.
That’s not to say writers don’t have negative emotions. We absolutely do. There may be a little nervousness about putting yourself out there for judgment, but that’s a lack of self-confidence, not true fear. You may have a problem with procrastination, but that’s a time management or motivation problem, not fear. There may be some concern about what family and friends may think of your work but again, that’s self-confidence (or family drama) related.
There are also legitimate medical issues like depression and anxiety that may be impacting your writing. These are serious and aren’t going to be addressed by some course on “fearless writing.” These issues may feel like fear, but they aren’t, at least not according to the definition that the marketing machines are spewing out. They’re entirely different beasts and need proper treatment, not quick fix courses and platitudes.
Writers experience doubt, guilt, anger, grief, dread, sorrow, frustration, disappointment, boredom, jealousy, lack of motivation, and a host of other negative feelings. Some may call what they feel “fear,” but they are really feeling something else. And I think this whole “Fear” industry is taking advantage of that.
Which brings me to my next point…
Figure out what you’re feeling before forming a strategy to do away with it.
Okay, if these courses and books are really lumping all negative emotions under the Fear label, then what we have here is marketing hype. It sounds better to tell someone to fix their fear than it does to tell them to deal with their self-doubt, jealousy, and procrastination, or to clean up their family issues. “Issues” are complicated and difficult with no easy fix. You can’t just say, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” in the face of real issues.
Which means a course in fearlessness is utterly unlikely to solve your problems. You aren’t suddenly going to climb out from behind your laptop and start slaying everything in sight after such a course. All such a course is likely to do is make you feel worse because you’ll still have your same root problems, only now you’ll feel like a failure for not conquering them during the course.
What you need to do is pinpoint your exact emotions and hurdles and deal with those, instead of this made up idea that writing is scary. Writing isn’t fear inducing. The other things in your life may well be, or they may be something else entirely. But you have to be the one to figure out exactly what you’re dealing with and then form a strategy to deal with it.
That may mean going to see a professional for help, reading self-help books that specialize in your problem(s), telling your family to get lost, learning time management techniques, or learning to deal with rejection. It may mean changing genres or forms because you hate what you currently do (or it’s not a good fit for your skills). You may have to go to school to learn grammar or style because your “fear” is really a lack of skill. Simply telling you to be brave isn’t going to cut it. Bravery isn’t required in most writing situations. (Again, if you’re writing under an oppressive regime or outing a mafia don, then bravery is required. For the rest of us, not so much. We just need to get our acts together and deal with our crap.)
If fear is really a problem, should you even be a writer?
Okay, if you’ve been reading along and you’re thinking I’m nuts, that what’s holding you back absolutely is fear, then it might be time to rethink your career choice. If writing truly feels threatening or dangerous to you, then you probably need to find something that doesn’t feel so awful. I mean, if you’re terrified to put yourself out there, feeling like you’ll die if you get a negative review, or that writing is somehow endangering your life and well-being, then it’s not for you. That’s no way to go through life. There are other things you can do that aren’t likely to end with you having a heart attack or curling up in a ball under your desk.
I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s negative emotions here. We all have them and I have my share. But whatever those emotions might be, they are not fear and don’t deserve to be treated with such a broad, easy-fix brush.
This whole fearlessness thing is marketing hype designed to get you to buy a book, take a class, or go on a vacation thinking that this one thing will turn you into an unstoppable writing force. If you can conquer your fear, fame, riches, and untold success await! Yeah… No.
Fear has nothing to do with it. If you aren’t able or willing to write, there are likely other problems. Those could range from simple to complex, even all the way up to the fact that you really hate writing and would rather be a chef. None of them are fear and no course in bravery will solve them. You have to identify your problems and then develop a focused strategy to deal with them.
(Photo courtesy of www_slon_pics)
Just for starters, any course that guarantees anything is part of the heap of Bovine Scatology. Now, how fearful is this sentence 😉 ?