power of fear in writing

Spent the weekend at the always awesome Ontario Writers’ Conference, theme: “Writer as Witness.” Talked social media and fellowship-finding with rocking writerly folk, and shared my fave tips for finding fellow weirdos. More (so, so much more!) on that later.

My favourite moment of the weekend was Paula Todd‘s (whose speaking prowess I am now doomed to envy…she’s so boss) closing address about the relationship between fear and writing. I saw the talk on the schedule and – selfish me – figured it was about not being afraid of failure, pushing through rough first drafts, taking risks – the usual ra-ra “go forth and write” jam.

And it kinda was. But in a new and mindset-busting way.


The shining concept was that we should write because we are afraid. Our deepest fears should be the spur that puts words on a screen.

Not the small insecurities we all experience from time to time (rejection letters, am I good enough, blah blah insecure blah), but profound fears. Fears that instruct our actions and convictions.

So here are some of the fears that motivate me as a writer:

1. The fear that the world’s most beautiful and timeless myths and legends will be lost if they don’t constantly evolve and reimagine themselves.

2. The fear that if I don’t signal boost and amplify messages of equality, we will never become a truly inclusive society.

3. The fear that not enough stories are mindful of diversity, whether gendered, racial, sexual, faith-, ability- or age-based. That while “writing what we know,” we overlook other groups who currently lack equal representation in the published world. The fear that – as a straight white writer, especially – I’m not writing stories that reflect diversity and equality.

4. The fear that there aren’t enough books celebrate diverse and complex female characters. And the fear that a lack of female representation discourages women from participating in my genre, my culture, or the publishing world at large. I’m afraid that – without the opportunity to see themselves reflected as characters of agency in fiction – young girls will surrender agency in the real world. I’m afraid of another generation of young men (including my sweet-hearted three-year-old nephew) growing up feeling unable to express their feelings or explore “unmanly” interests or genuinely respect and value women. I’m afraid female authors will keep feeling pressured to use pen names or initials to ensure their books are accepted or shelved or purchased.

So I’m feeling pretty psyched and must now go put words on a (different) screen.

What fears motivate your writing? I’d love to hear.