What to Do When Fear Takes Over

by Katie Axelson | 55 comments

I’m not ready.
I’m not good enough.
That’s not my book to write.
That book’s already been written.
What if they hate it?
I’m scared.

Sound familiar?

Never fear (sorry). I’ve got the solution! Two of them actually.

Photo by Powderruns

Photo by Powderruns

1. Shut up

No one’s ever ready.

Sure, sometimes we look ready. Reality check: it’s called the brave face.

We’re all afraid. We’re all unsure. We’re all making it up as we go.

Join us. We won’t bite. Too hard.

2. Keep going

Your buddy fear likes to think he’s in charge of your life. Of course, he’s not. Show him who’s in control by doing the exact opposite of what he wants you to do.

If you’re afraid someone’s going to laugh at your work, share it with someone. (If you post it here in the comments, the promise not to bite too hard stands).

If you’re afraid of rejection, hit submit.

Put on your brave face and take care of business.

No one’s going to believe in your work if you don’t believe in it yourself. If you don’t believe in it yourself, you don’t believe in yourself and fear wins.

Fear wins all too often and it’s just not fair. Besides, who really wants to admit they’ve lost to fear?

So, whatever you do, don’t stop writing!

The world needs your story. We need your story. It’s too good to remain untold, unshared. Don’t let fear win.

What is fear stopping you from doing?


Write that piece you’re afraid to write. Post it (or a portion of it) in the comments and comment on a few other practices.

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Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.


  1. Benjamin Paul Clifton


    • James Hall





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  2. Benjamin Paul Clifton

    My body is burning as I raise from the dead. Well, in my nightmare I had been dead. If only.

    It’s much too early in the day. Or late in the night. I can’t tell. I let my calloused feet hang from the side of the bed to cool myself off and try to let my stiff body rest some more.

    I stand in a field of flowers with more colours than ever imagined. The field draws me into the greatest euphoria I’ve ever felt. It’s like I’ve had this built up inside me for years, I’ve just been missing it. A smile more grand than royalty’s spreads across my face like an infection with no chance of stopping it.

    Consciousness hits me like a sack of rocks as my body involuntarily lurches forward. “No, no, no, no, NO!” I scream out of frustration. Leave this place, a voice inside of me urgently demands. Run. Keep running.

    I don’t want to leave, I yell back in my head, yet my actions contradict my thoughts, for though I thought I don’t want to leave, I’m leaving. My bag still hasn’t been unpacked since being here, so I just throw last night’s clothes into it and run.

    As I run, a trail of tears flows behind me. What the hell is going on?! I’m not making my feet move; they’re moving on their own accord. I am a high speed train on a never-ending track without breaks.

    It was three months ago when this all happened.

    • Christy

      Benjamin I love the suspense in this piece!! Very intriguing. I’d love to read more.

    • Karl Tobar

      I like your descriptions and similes. I also have tons of respect for anyone who can write in present tense. I’ve tried; I can’t do it. I always find myself subconsciously switching back to past tense.

    • Margaret Terry

      this has great pacing, Benjamin. The short sentences “Run. Keep running” add to the tension. Hope to see more…

  3. Alicia Rades

    I was not expecting that “Shut Up” part, but I really like it. At this point, I can’t think of anything that fear is stopping me from doing, but I’m sure there’s something out there.

  4. James Hall

    I have the same issue with the internal editor trying to sabotage while I am writing, especially lately. I’ve hit the middle of my book and have planned events that are substantially moving and powerful. Issue is, I seem to have a fear of writing it because I don’t feel like it will accomplish it.

    I’ve only one thing to say to myself. Shut up, write it anyway.

    You can’t make a polished diamond from nothing; you first have to find it in the rough.

  5. A. J. Abbiati

    Hi Katie, thanks for the post!

    One of the things I did to conquer my own fear was to really dig deep into the technical aspects of the craft. Above all else I was (and continue to be) petrified of pulling a malaprop–especially in front of a large audience. Is there anything more embarrassing? So every time I came across an element of my writing where I was not absolutely sure of the craft behind it, I made it a point to become sure before I used that element. If the issue at hand was simple, like a punctuation problem, I would just look up the solution. If the issue was more complex (there were LOTS of these), I would spend hours/days/months/years reading and doing research until I found the solution. I still deal with craft issues this way, but thankfully the fear-inducing ones are cropping up less and less often…


  6. William Teague

    My fear is sounding pretentious or writing purple prose. But here it goes, an excerpt from a novel I’m writing.

    Tommy, reflecting on the
    news from the doctor – remembers the feelings of dread and the
    disbelief in his head. Intense pain – pain that makes your guts
    crawl; where silent screams cry on your insides but can’t cry out.
    The kind of crying that children do when they gasp and stutter on
    every breath as they hyperventilate; only this crying takes place
    deep within. . . . And then there’s nothing. No feeling. No anger.
    No more anything. Numbness so deep, it feels like the earth itself
    has stopped. A loneliness that makes you feel dead inside, where your
    physical body seems to operate like an empty machine. You eat without
    hunger, you sleep without rest. You no longer hunger or thirst for
    anything. The only motivation is to self-destruct, to destroy
    oneself; to no longer exist. It was the worst news he could ever
    receive; worse even than facing his own demise.

    “After we got the diagnosis, I slept there in that single hospital bed with her. I
    wished we could just die there together in each others
    arms that night. . . but only she did.”

    • Karl Tobar

      I didn’t detect any pretentiousness here. I loved your descriptions of loneliness, especially about the body operating like a machine. &Very powerful line of dialogue to tie it off.

    • Margaret Terry

      not sure what purple prose is, William, but this was as authentic as it gets. So many powerful lines, simple, yet strong: “Numbness so deep, it feels like the earth itself has stopped.” Wow!

    • Karl Tobar

      Purple prose are sentences composed to sound pleasant, use elegant language and beautiful turns of phrase but they don’t really move the plot forward.

    • Giulia Esposito

      This is not purple prose, but what it is powerful, RAW writing. I love it. Well done and thank you for sharing.

    • George Wu

      Interesting irony at the end.

    • John Fisher

      Intense language for a lethal situation. I too found the twist at the end interesting and surprising.

    • Benjamin Paul Clifton

      Awesome writing. This epitomizes how one feels when losing a person he loves. Awesome irony. It is a great emotional piece, the kind that brings meaning to or makes sense of the world.

    • Christy

      Amazing! I love it. Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Karl Tobar

    Fear often prevents me from starting a story because sometimes I feel like I don’t know enough about the things I want to write about. For example, I wanted my next one to revolve around prisoners, but I feel like I don’t know enough about prisons or the law processes that land people in said prisons. . .blah blah blah and the fear is always there: What if it’s not believable? What if they say I don’t know what I’m talking about?
    Well I went ahead and wrote it anyway. Who cares, right?!
    ~ ~ ~

    Natalie—wake up he was screaming—sobbing—even though her eyes were open. Handcuffed to the bed with blood streaks down her cheeks, lining her upper lip like a villain’s moustache. He tried to reach out to her, to grab her shoulders and shake her awake, but he couldn’t reach her—no matter how far he stretched his arms she was always just out of reach. Her naked body fading and shooting backward—the entire bed shooting backward away from him, away from him into oblivion.

    Clanging behind him jerked his attention away.

    “McCarthy. A letter.”

    In his cell he woke up on that terrible cot that seemingly made for uneasy dreams—or maybe those were due to the shambles his life had fallen into. Back to reality the nightstick banging on the bars had jerked him, as if the guards couldn’t leave the mail on the floor of his cell and let him sleep, no matter how unpeacefully. He looked on the other side of the iron bars where they stood, eyeing him.

    “You woke me up.”

    “Plenty of time to sleep now, don’t you think?”

    Jenkins, shorter and fatter than his counterpart, snickered, “I think he’s all the time in the world to sleep.”

    Shaw, the taller of the two, dropped a white envelope into the cell. It was a surprise. Mail? From whom? A distant feeling of hope like something that’s just out of reach passed through Elias. Maybe they found out he’d been right, that
    Jim Masterson and Scott Hearst were responsible for the death of his girlfriend. But this was not likely.

    “Aren’t you going to read it?” They stood at his cell in childish anticipation. It seemed to Elias that the authorities of this prison had nothing better to do than to practice their cruelty on the helpless pity of prisoners, who were mostly terrible men, yes, but the guards reminded him of irresponsible babysitters.

    “Why don’t you read it to me, dad?”

    Shaw and Jenkins exchanged a look of—was it mischief?—like two seventh grade girls who had a secret.

    “Read it on your own time, then.” They moved on.

    A letter—could it be an apology from the state of California, Sorry, dude, we got the real murders, apologizing for the inconvenience they had caused him? Could it be they would compensate him for tattooing rape and murder in permanent ink on his criminal record? Perhaps more than anything else, that got under his skin. You could be as innocent as a newborn baby, but society doesn’t know that. Loan officers and potential employers don’t know that. No sir, once you don those labels, they stick with you for life, Jack, and nobody cares if you did or didn’t do it. The simple fact that twelve of his peers even considered that he may be capable of such a thing and their minds are made up. He was now Elias McCarthy, rapist and murder, even though he wasn’t, not really.

    • William Teague

      I’ve never been in prison but I do know someone that has been, personally I think you nailed it. Very vivid scene you’ve painted.

    • Margaret Terry

      yikes! What a powerful start, Karl with strong pictures:”blood lining her upper lip like a villain’s mustache”… the fact that the guards moved on scared me more than anything. Will they be back? What are they planning? Did they read the letter?? Believe me, I sure want to…nice work.

    • John Fisher

      I really identify with the fear you express at the beginning of your post of not knowing enough, of not getting it right in one way or another, and the comments from some readers to that effect. And what busy person has time for exhaustive research before writing? It’s the fear that stops me from attempting much in the way of fiction, and that tends to make me discount my own attempts at it.

      But your exploration of the thoughts and feelings of the prisoner knowing his own innocence, yet experiencing the consequences of falsely-attributed guilt, are very realistic and believable. I think the attitude of the two guards is very true to life judging from what I’ve read on the subject.

  8. Margaret Terry

    OK, Katie – I’m doing what the guy in the picture is doing…

    Yvonne was painting again. The smell of slick oily fumes stung Scarlet’s nostrils and coated her throat like sour milk as she approached the landing of their fourth floor walk up. When she entered the narrow hallway of the tiny apartment, she had to weave her way around a maze of newly painted items. The baby’s high chair, the market wagon, and her sister’s scooter stood drying on newspapers spread out on the floor, each one painted the sickly chartreuse her foster mother had used to paint the hallway the week before.

    Yvonne had painting frenzies each time they moved. “Change is good for the soul, Scarlet” she’d sing as she painted the kitchen stove. “New color, new windows, new life. Moving is such an adventure!”

    Scarlet hated moving. New life for her meant new friends, new school and another new boyfriend for Yvonne. It didn’t matter how many times they moved, Scarlet was always surprised at the things Yvonne chose to change with a new color.

    ‘Chugga, chugga, chugga…” Her three year old sister Marcie was kneeling on the kitchen floor pushing a column of red Monopoly houses toward the living room. Her thick copper hair that was tied in a tight pony tail on top of her head bobbed like a bunch of carrots. “The couch is wet. You can’t sit on it.” Marcie jumped up fast as a grasshopper and scrambled over to the Monopoly box. She grabbed the Scottie dog and placed at the head of her train.

    “Did you forget to use the potty Marcie?”Scarlet asked. “Is the couch wet because you fell asleep on it again?” Marcie ignored her and pushed her train towards the living room.

    “No, Scarlet” Yvonne strolled into the kitchen. Her auburn pixie cut was flecked with paint.” Marcie slept in her bed today.” She turned to follow Marcie into the living room Scarlet noticed a flash of green that razored her cheek. “The couch is wet, because I painted it!” She grabbed Scarlet’s hand and pulled her into the room. “Well, what do you think?” she asked. “It took me all day to finish that couch. It sucked up the paint like a vacuum for Pete’s sake.”

    Thoughts raced through Scarlet’s head tripping each other like bad boys on the playground. Where would we sit? Where would we play? What kind of mother paints a couch?

    “I think it looks so much better, don’t you?” Yvonne cocked her head from side to side to examine her work.

    “Um…why did you paint the couch, Yvonne?” Scarlet’s stomach felt like it was full of bees. She swore she could hear them buzzing.

    “Oh, Scarlet. You know why…” She closed one eye and raised her eyebrow like she was looking through a camera lens. “I had to paint it to cover up all the band aides.” She pointed to an overstuffed arm that rolled into a curl.

    Scarlet put her hand over her mouth and held her breath. She had never noticed the band aides before. She hadn’t noticed the strips of duct tape held the split fabric.The couch with the soft blue chintz had been her haven. It was the one thing they never left behind with all their moves. It was the one place soft enough to support her and her two sisters as they nestled into its deep embrace…

    • John Fisher

      I like the humor running through this, Margaret — “a new boyfriend *for Yvonne*”, “The couch is wet. You can’t sit on it”, “It sucked up the paint like a vacuum for Pete’s sake”.

      Yvonne seems to embody the adventurousness that Scarlet both dreads and envies. These people could have some real adventures ahead of them!

    • Margaret Terry

      thanks so much for your comments, John. You have helped me so much with this scene for my WIP as Scarlet reflects on her childhood. This was a scene I was afraid to write because Scarlet is so terrified of Yvonne, who is truly mad. The couch paint was a pivotal moment for Scarlet to learn that. Your comments helped me see that I failed to show how Scarlet is feeling!(it’s a struggle for me to do in third person – I am better using first person) I am so glad to see your perception and that I completely missed showing Scarlet’s fear, confusion, loneliness in this foster house! Boy, oh, boy – thank you. The Write Practice is so grand at letting us practice and learn from this community…

    • John Fisher

      Wow! So there are deeper, darker dimensions . . . That’s what’s great about this community — the feedback we give each other!

    • Karl Tobar

      I can’t believe she painted a couch! Funny because she acted so nonchalant about it. Great characterization; I believed it. One thing confused me though: Why had Scarlet never noticed the duct tape?

    • Margaret Terry

      thanks for reading this Karl. Good call on Scarlet and the tape – need to fix that and get more into her head and heart…(btw – she acted so nonchalant because she was crazy, also something I need to get better at showing in this scene!)

    • Victoria

      The first time I read this through, the impression I got was that Yvonne was on drugs (or medication) and that she had been on them a long time, which had affected her mind. I could definitely tell she was crazy/mad. (And that was before I had read any of the comments below!) However, I can see how it could be missed. Even something as simple as Scarlet thinking, “Yvonne hadn’t always been like this” or “she could remember a time when Yvonne was ‘normal.’ …or if that isn’t applicable, “She wondered if Yvonne had always been this way.” That would give the reader a clue to the reality of Yvonne.

      One thing I was confused about was Scarlet’s relationship to Yvonne.

      Even though you didn’t emphasize the fact that Scarlet was scared of Yvonne, I sensed that. I felt the horror that Scarlet felt as she talked to someone who’s mind wasn’t completely present.

      I like the last paragraph about how the couch was a haven for her. I’m not sure how young Scarlet is here, but if she’s young enough, I could see her not realizing about the duct tape.

    • Margaret Terry

      thanks for your comments, Victoria. One of the difficult things with attempting a new scene as a practice in this forum is that the community is unaware of other scenes and character development happening in the WIP. Prior to Scarlet coming home to see the couch, Yvonne has had a suicide attempt (good call on assuming she was medicated!) and she has thrown Scarlet down a flight of stairs in a rage over a dirty wash cloth. But no matter what happens before the couch scene, I still need to improve at ways of showing how Scarlet feels! I so appreciate you reading this, helps a lot.

    • Victoria

      Yes, I know. I was thinking the same. It’s hard to understand fully what’s going on when we haven’t read other parts.

      Maybe having Scarlet sneak into the house would emphasize her fear. And when Yvonne grabs her to pull her into the room, she could resist a little. Just having small actions like that would go a long way to showing her fear.

    • Margaret Terry

      great ideas, thanks!

  9. Giulia Esposito

    I think my fear is stopping me from finishing stories. Sometimes I know how they end, and I get stuck somewhere in the middle because I keep thinking it’s too hard or that some scenes aren’t working. I have finished stories, so I don’t know what exactly is holding me back at times. Maybe the story is too important to me? I’m not sure.

    • William Teague

      I identify with what you’re saying. I think that part of my issue is that my story is the largest thing I have worked on thus far. It’s 300 pages and I feel unable to see the forest through the trees; or in my case see the story through the pages. I keep going into it trying to rework it, make stronger connections between chapters and or scenes but still feel a bit frustrated and overwhelmed. Someone told me I have a fear of success; Ha ha ha fear of success, I’d sell my soul for success. . . Just kidding. . . I don’t have a soul. LOL ha ha!

    • Giulia Esposito

      Good to know I’m not the only one stuck in the middle of my own story.

    • John Fisher

      I too frequently feel the “story is too important for me” fear/sense of inadequacy. Someone has said, “Write through the fear”, and that’s what I’m currently attempting to do. Not easy though.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Yes, it’s easier said than done. I try and do it, but as you probably know, some days are harder than others.

    • John Fisher

      Right you are! 🙂

    • Karl Tobar

      Knowing how they end, to me, is a huge advantage, and you should take that advantage!
      You can always finish your first two drafts and use the feedback–let your critique group decide if the scenes are/aren’t working.
      I can relate to the story being too important, as in you don’t want to mess it up (did I get that right?) That slowed me down tremendously with my last story. I don’t know if you’ve heard the advice, but what got me through that particular fear is knowing that “not everything you write is going to be the best thing you’ve ever written.”

    • Giulia Esposito

      Yes, I’ve heard that Karl. Perhaps it’s a bit of the perfectionist in us all that slows us down at well, because you are right, I don’t want to mess it up. Maybe I need to just put all of that on pause and just write.

    • Karl Tobar

      I guess it’s true that you can’t mess it up if you don’t write it, but at the same time, you can’t make it good if you don’t write it.

    • Giulia Esposito

      There in lies the challenge then, to just write it. Thanks for helping me remember that everyone!

  10. Katie Hamer

    “Feel the Fear, and Do it Anyway” (Susan Jeffers)

    I posted a story yesterday, and, guess what, no one died (Well, not as a result of it anyway!)

    I never thought I would be able to share my writing, but now I’m sharing nearly every day 🙂

    • John Fisher

      Good, Katie! I am sharing nearly every day too, and I’m finding it very helpful to my motivation to keep writing.

    • Katie Hamer

      Good to hear! 🙂

  11. wumpie

    Wow! Perfect post and perfect timing for me. I hit send today. I have that post-partum-what-do-I-write-next feeling, but I DID IT!

  12. John Fisher

    Later, after all the angry words had struck and left their mark, when he had time to think it over, he asked himself — Am I really an atheist?

    Depends on what was meant by “atheist”, he supposed. If atheism referred to non-belief in the deity he had been sternly/tenderly admonished to fear/love in his childhood and youth, a sky-dwelling father-god who made all, knew all, saw all, controlled all, and would judge all of humanity, individually, after our deaths, who had fathered a man-god with a young woman for the purpose of performing substitutionary propitiation years, centuries, millenia in advance, who purportedly loved humanity but insisted that god’s people be cultural conservatives and unquestioning practitioners of moral austerity, then yes, he was an atheist. His nature and proclivities, punished but unconquered by decades of life, proclaimed his heresy louder than any preacher or talk-show host.

    But if being atheist meant that he never felt a larger presence enfolding humanity in love and acceptance in the teeth of all the outward negative feedback and disapproval, in the teeth even of his own resistance to It, then he did not qualify as atheist.

    • Karl Tobar

      The second paragraph was a bit hard to read. I can’t quite put my finger on it, maybe it was the wording? But I had to read it twice. I did find some lines very cool: “love and acceptance in the teeth of all the outward negative feedback”
      I found this very Kafkaesque (finally, I get to use that word!) with your conflicted character fleshing out his thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    • John Fisher

      I can see how my second paragraph would perhaps be hard to follow. I was trying to describe a former belief system that had seemed all-encompassing.

      Kafkaesque!! I’ll certainly take that as a compliment!

    • Victoria

      I think what makes the second paragraph difficult to read is not the information in it, but the fact that most of it is one big sentence. Breaking it up would be much easier to read and understand.

    • John Fisher

      You’re right about the one long sentence. It’s just that I’m at something of a loss so far, as to just how I would break it up. I don’t think simply replacing commas with semicolons, or (even worse) periods, would do it. It would still be very difficult for a reader to track, I think. I may need to go back to the drawing board as to how to express all of that in a readable manner. Thanks, Victoria, for keeping me on my toes!

  13. Jugar Jugar

    silence is golden. It has always been like that. Just keep quiet and continue to move forward. That golden rule is always extremely important

  14. Ann Bevans

    Great post, Katie. Fear is the number one thing that keeps writers silent. I recently met an elderly man who had just published a collection of his mother’s poems. She’d been writing for decades, stuffing her words in a drawer for her children to find after she was gone. What a waste! And how beautiful that her son is shining a light on what his mother made. You’re right. The world needs our stories. We have to be brave!

  15. Claire

    As Sylvia walked through the leaf-strewn path leading to the back entrance of the
    building, she debated with the idea of entering. She really didn’t feel like
    going back to work at that particular moment, and the fact was, that she had
    some time to spare from her lunch hour.

    It was a glorious fall day, and she decided to walk up to the weather-beaten bench, located on the grounds of the building not far from the back entrance door, and sit for a while. The area was deserted, and she was glad about that. She really didn’t feel like conversing with anyone today. All she wanted to do was reflect on the dream she had last night. It seemed so real and so tangible to her.

    It had been close to fifteen months since she had seen or heard from Nick, and yet, just thinking about what had taken place in that dream gave her goose bumps. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes.

    The autumn sun felt warm and soothing on her face. In an instant, Sylvia transported herself into the realm where Nick had manifested himself…

    There he was mowing the lawn, and she was intently looking at him through her second floor bedroom window. The sun created a bright aura around Nick, and she could see all his upper arm muscles flexing as he pushed the mower effortlessly along the grass. He stopped for a moment looking around as if he was aware of someone’s presence. Looking up, he saw her. He took a small handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped the beads of sweat from his brow and the back of his neck while maintaining eye contact. Sylvia sighed and thought, if only I could be that handkerchief… Without uttering a word, he turned off the mower and started walking towards the house. At the sound of his footsteps on the stairs, Sylvia’s heart skipped a beat, and it began to beat wildly when she saw him standing at the door. Walking towards each
    other simultaneously, they embraced, and the embrace made her remember many things. The feel of his hugs, his caresses, his familiar scent, the way his
    hair felt as she ran her fingers through it and, ultimately, the sensation of his
    body pressing against hers…

    Thump! Sylvia’s eyes opened wide, and she turned in the direction of the clatter that had shattered her reverie. One of the secretaries had exited the building and had let the entrance door slam. At that point, Sylvia stood and sighed somewhat annoyed. She reluctantly started towards the entrance bracing herself against the autumn wind, which was swirling the leaves along the path. The spectacle paralleled her present emotional state—disordered and at the whim of external circumstances…

  16. two juegos

    you are a young and talented writer. I like the way you talk, and your writing style is unique. I will read your work, thanks for sharing



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