• Whatever You’re Most Scared Of

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 8 comments

    In Beatlebone, a novel I wrote about in last week’s post, “Books I Return to Again and Again (and Again),” Kevin Barry includes an entire chapter, ostensibly nonfiction, about his process researching and then writing the book. It’s such an odd and fascinating decision; somehow it works, and is among my favorite parts of the book.

    There’s a line in that chapter that I find particularly interesting: “Whatever it is that you’re most scared of surfacing in your work, you can be sure that it’s nearby.”

    Barry proceeds to write about the thing he’s most scared of. For him it’s sentimentality, something that permeates Beatlebone and, apparently, his own life, even though he doesn’t want it to.

    I just finished reading this book for the fourth time, and this time around, I forced myself to think about what I’m “most scared of surfacing” in my writing.

    What are you most scared of surfacing in your writing? Let us know in the comments below. Use a pseudonym if you’re shy.


    I suspect that what I’m most scared of is showing a lack of authority. Funny, given the root of the word. When I write — nonfiction in particular — I’m often afraid a reader will conclude I have no authority to write whatever it is I’m writing.

    It stems from a lack of confidence, for sure. My own belief in my lack of authority makes me write with less authority, which makes me doubt my authority all the more, which makes me write with less… etc.

    This is a big part of what drove me away from book reviewing. I did my best, and I wrote some decent pieces, a few I might even call good, ones that meaningfully contributed to the conversation. But for the most part I felt like my own belief in my lack of authority colored the work.

    From my internal critic, it usually sounded something like this: “Who are you to write about this book, or any book? You’ve never written a book, and you’re not an expert in literature. So what gives you the authority?”

    Occasionally this bleeds into my fiction, too: “What gives you the authority to portray these characters in these settings and use them to represent these ideas/themes?”

    I know this authority thing is irrational, but so are most of our fears. I’m terrified of bumblebees, too. And, like Barry says, my fear is always nearby when I write: if I try to ignore it, it becomes all I can think about.

    So now I acknowledge that it’s nearby. I struggle — but engage! — with these fears before I write and while I write, and because I do so, I’m usually able to keep them at bay. Which is sometimes the best we can hope for with our fears.

    Your turn: What do you think of when you read this line: “Whatever it is that you’re most scared of surfacing in your work, you can be sure that it’s nearby”?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for books for the Dallas Morning News, the Iowa ReviewElectric Literature, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services.

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    david lemke

    This may be tangential. I have big buckets of insecurities and fears, but in my stories I force myself to use them, even blowing them up huge. After all the past life regression work I did over the years, I don’t really fear death, (been there done that, ho hum.) however I fear pain. Also, I’m suddenly, after years of not being so, very claustrophobic, (no more airplanes) so dying slow, trapped in a hospital bed would be the lowest pit of hell. So I need to face that in a story sooner rather than later. It makes me cringe… Read more »


    I am not a well schooled writer I a concern ed that my writing is too simple or trash

    Barbara Mealer

    I’m afraid of being a success, so I sabotage by not doing what I need to do. Each book I complete, I have to force myself to get it ready for publishing. If you don’t publish, you can’t fail…right? Like David and Stephen said, you have those fears of not being good enough, it being too simple or, for me, to difficult to read. I’m working on reigning in my over the top stuff to make it more down to earth…that is until I get to the one where it has magic and druids and shamans and all sorts of… Read more »


    I am sometimes scared of writing myself out of reality-going off into some esoteric place and not being able to get grounded enough again to get to work and pay the bills. On the flip side of that I am scared that I will be passionately pouring out my soul, sharing my deepest truths, and people will find it…just…boring. I just try to remember: to thy self be true—I am what I am, and I can’t worry about what everyone will think. That very worry is what risks work becoming boring, I think, rather than the work itself. Right now… Read more »

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