A Worthwhile Trade

In her article this month (Oh, Let Go) Jennifer Paros discusses the importance of letting go of fear while writing. Faulkner talked about shutting fear out of your workspace, and Norman Mailer felt he spent most of his life trying to conquer his fears. Conquering is all very well and good, and shutting out could certainly work in the short run, but to me letting go remains the only viable plan. Things released are always less likely to return than things beaten down or locked out. Fear can be vengeful, particularly when it has been punched or excluded. Attention is attention, good or bad, and all things grow the more light and sun you throw their way.

Better always to let go. For one, it’s honest. Whatever you’re afraid of didn’t sneak up on you in the night and crawl in through your ear. You chose it. It was a decision you made about your life or life in general. Most likely you thought it would keep you safe, or make you popular, which is just another form of safety, or even happy, which is more safety still. Whatever the reason, you chose it, because you choose everything.

Second, in order to let go, you must observe yourself as holding on. Before we let go, we always perceive our relationship to fear in reverse—that it is holding onto us. We say it is “stronger than us,” that is has a “powerful grip on us.” Yet we are really like people crossing a wide and sturdy bridge, clutching white-knuckled to a railing for fear we might decide to hurl ourselves over the edge.

You chose to write because you didn’t want to be afraid. On some level, you understood that you could not write through fear. Perhaps at first you hoped that merely by writing the fear would go away, that the magic of creation would heal you. And, in fact, in this way it can: In order to write, you must love to write, and in order to have what you love the most, you must let go of what you fear the most. It seems like a worthwhile trade.

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