Staring Fear in the Face

Staring Fear in the Face

Posted on November 19 by Kate Armstrong in Interview, Non-fiction, Recent Releases
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As a writer of memoir, I’ve experienced the dominoes of fear; fear of starting, fear of failure, fear of telling the whole truth, fear of hurting others. In the big picture of life, I am no stranger to feeling fear and taking action anyhow. I had reached the jumping off point where telling my story felt more important than avoiding my fear of the dark places that could lead.


Apparently, I’m not alone in this inner turmoil. When it comes to question period at my readings, the most common emotion people want to hear about is fear. What was my greatest fear while writing my memoir? Was I afraid? What was I afraid of? How did I overcome my fear?


My answers to those questions helped me crystallize an understanding of my relationship with fear as it relates to my process of writing memoir, releasing my story out into the free world, and facing those people depicted in my book.


My fears always feel more manageable when I find a framework within which to explore them. Today those places are within categories and within quotes from others having faced the same feelings, while keeping in mind that courage can be defined as acting in the face of fear, not in the absence of it.


Debilitating fear of writing my story was a familiar friend until I stumbled across an article on Nobel Prize–winning author Nadine Gordimer, who spoke out against apartheid while living and writing in South Africa. She wrote, “Perhaps the best way to write is to do so as if one were already dead, afraid of no one’s reactions, answerable to no one’s views.” That day, I printed her quote, pasted it onto the bulletin board above my desk, and seriously got down to work.


During the writing process, healthy fear helped me to keep the fallibility of memory forefront in my mind, to work hard within the range of my creative ability to produce the best work possible, and to be circumspect on how much detail I was willing to share with the world. Author Anaïs Nin—memoirist, feminist, and generally regarded as one of the finest writers of female erotica—is quoted as having said: “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”


The counterbalance to debilitating fear in my writing life has become the willingness to try and fail, trusting that I can do anything I believe I can if I’m willing to work for it and to begin before I’m ready. There is always another chance to get it right especially with healthy fear close by as a guide to acquaint and reacquaint me with a voice inside that I can trust.


Fear is not the enemy. It’s the touchstone of self-discovery; and that lies at the heart of every memoir.