For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Banishing The Fear

'We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path: and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; and where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; and where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our own existence; and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.'
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

There's no doubt about it, I'm afraid to begin my new novel. This happens to me every time I am about to launch into a new project. Perhaps it happens to everyone, I don't know, but I do know that the thought of sitting down and committing words to paper sends my stomach into somersaults and my heart rate soaring. Perhaps it is a simple fear of failure, the fear that this time I will have nothing to say, or no proper means to say it. The fear that my muse/s will abandon me, that inspiration will dry up and I will be left with empty words. Or perhaps it is a reluctance to mark the page because each mark is a choice and each choice closes off other choices, so as a new story begins to expand, paradoxically its potential begins to contract. Perhaps it's a fear of the commitment, which once taken will absorb much of my life for a period of time, turning me into a distant figure to my family and friends. I know from past experience that I will once again become immersed in the world of my story and the characters who inhabit it, and begin to resent any intrusions into that world. However, my reluctance to begin doesn't just relate to the time it will take to write this novel, or the immersion in another realm that is inevitable; it's also the journey itself that frightens me, with its peaks and troughs, because although this novel is a work of fiction it is filtered through me. In order to write it I will once again be forced to venture deep into the underworld in order to face my demons and bring them out into the light.

In Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood states that she believes all writing 'of the narrative kind. . . is motivated by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.' As I see it, the underworld represents our unconscious selves and the journey to it, a delving into what is long buried. Writing a story for me is a way of reclaiming the pieces of myself, of my soul, that have been lost, either given away or stolen. It is a way of gathering myself back together again - of making myself whole.

These journeys into the underworld are an initiation of sorts, into a deeper form of perception, a new esoteric understanding of the deeper laws of the universe. In Shapeshifters, writer, storyteller and healer, Luisah Teish describes a personal life changing experience: 'When I talk about the me that I was before that experience, I find myself saying, “she,” a third person. I understand that it's my personal history. It's not like a slate was wiped clean, but everything that plagued me before has been turned into compost out of which the new me was growing.'

Whatever their genre or medium, many contemporary stories mirror heroic myths, both in their structure and in the elements that make up their plots. Each story involves a character leaving the safety and stasis of their ordinary world and being plunged into a new and dangerous world, one in which they don't know the rules and where they must undergo a series of adventures. The second stage of the journey involves accepting change, stepping into the abyss with no idea what lies ahead. Like birds we must be willing to fall in order to fly. Risks are taken, and if successful there is a reward of some kind. The final stage involves returning to the 'ordinary world', understanding and integrating the reward and using it as is appropriate. A new status quo is reached and the protagonist has changed in some way.

When I complete a novel, in a sense I have become a new person, as have my characters. According to Christopher Vogler, in The Writer's Journey, 'The Hero's Journey and the Writer's Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys and rewards of the Hero's journey. . . Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one's soul and bring back the Elixir of experience. ' The act of writing changes the writer. To write a story is to descend into the underworld with only a few clues and no guarantee of a way back out again. It's a dangerous process, exhausting and filled with apprehension, but it's also a magical journey. This is what I must remember as I embark on my new novel, because although it is natural to feel fear, it's not okay to allow ourselves to be limited by it. And if I'm honest with myself, this fear I'm feeling is mixed with a delicious anticipation. . . It is time to begin.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:


  1. Hi Rosie, yeah it's not just you, I think everyone gets that terror of starting, and it's not just the fear of what you might unearth in the process. I think it's like the fear/excitement of skydiving. You are pretty sure that you packed your chute yourself and well... you KNOW that the VAST majority of people who jump out of perfectly good aeroplanes cackling like fools hit the ground soft enough to go to dinner afterwards. But there is that moment of looking down and trying to fight your natural urge to retreat back into the cosy cabin rather than fling yourself out there. It's a rush, for sure and one you crave, but there's still a momentary hesitancy. Putting yourself out there requires guts.

    What's the name of that book? "Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway"?

  2. I think this is the fear of the unknown, of going into the unfamiliar territory of our newest 'hero', into a land that we think we know but we're also aware that it might still surprise us. For me, this fear is always mixed with anticipation, one is driving me forward, the other is forcing me to slow down and re-think. That's a good combination for a writer, I think.

  3. Hi Brigita. Nice to meet you. Yes, perhaps it's that tension between fear and anticipation, between backward and forward movement, that we connect most strongly with our creativity.

  4. Jumping out of aeroplanes is a great analogy, though that's one adventure I would turn down.

  5. Kal Bashir's Hero's Journey at is better than Campbell's. It's a more intricate pathway and directed at films instead of myth. I highly recommend it.

  6. Thanks, Ed. That's a great link. I'm writing a screenplay at present (adapting my first novel), which is a steep learning curve. This will help. I imagine you already know Vogler's work but just in case you don't, he's a Hollywood script analyist, who adapted Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, to a more practical writing book for screenwriters and novelists, called The Writer's Journey. He's taken Campbell's more complex stages of the Hero's journey and simplified them to look at the stages in contemporary story. Very useful stuff. And it also looks at archetypes, which can be useful for characterisation.

  7. I love what you said about fear... For me, the feeling I get when I sit down to write is the same as when I am falling in love. Love and fear are so inextricably connected.