This year more than most, fear has been an unwanted guest in our homes—intruding at the dinner table, interrupting our sleep in the early mornings, and inserting itself into conversations with friends and family. Fear is an uninvited companion whispering in our ears as we pass others on the street or pick up a few things at the grocery store.
Fear has many sources: the virus, election uncertainty, wildfires threats, economic worries. The content of its conversation may vary, but most of us have seen and heard more of fear this year than we care to.
This isn’t a post about fear, though, it’s about writing. Because one thing fear does is to shut us down.
The freeze factor
“Fear freezes, hope motivates.“
I can’t remember where I first read that insight among in cognitive-science based reading. Maybe it was in Writing to Persuade by Trish Hall. Perhaps it was in Jonah Berger’s The Catalyst. There’s consensus among those who write to persuade others—lead with hope if you want people to take action.
If you lead with a fear-based message, it’s difficult to get people to take action. Look at the fear-based messaging around climate change. It’s not having much of an effect.
On the other hand, if you want people to do nothing, fear is a powerful message. We’ve all seen this strategy in political messaging.
We need to take the same perspective when navigating our own fear. Because we have some degree of choice over what we pay attention to.
Reinforcing hope by writing
Writing is an optimistic act. We believe we can reach someone and our words will make a difference or have an impact. Writing to serve others gives us a purpose. But motivating ourselves to write takes effort.
If we spend too much time with fear, it’s hard to write.
When we feel fearful and make ourselves do the work anyway, our actions can alter our own beliefs. We can take control, even if just over a tiny corner of our lives.
If you’re feeling fearful, try writing. Picture something that you want to move toward and write your way there, whether it’s working on that novel or spinning out a hopeful vision in your journal. Take the reins and write.
Fear only wins when we shut down.