From FRAB to Fab (part 2): finding the fears that hold you back

Last Monday, I introduced the nasty FRAB–or Fear-Related Artistic Block. A lot of you responded well–either in the comments, via twitter, or by email. Thank you for all your replies. It honestly bolsters ME to know that I’m not alone with these nasty ol’ FRABs, and your personal stories and feedback also help me guide how I approach the rest of this series.

(Also, you might notice I changed the series’ name. I didn’t not come up with that amazing new name–it was crafted by the wildly clever Diyana Wan. THANK YOU, DIYANA!!)

To summarize last week’s post: Sometimes our creative flow gets cramped (or maybe–if you’re like me–it’s not just sometimes but oftentimes) and the cause isn’t just laziness or a simple I-don’t-know-what-comes-next-in-my-project. The culprit that keeps us from getting our stories on the page or our hearts on the canvas is that old, always-lurking enemy: fear.

Before you read on (and potentially waste your precious creative time), head back to my first post and run through the checklist–just to make sure you even have a FRAB. If you already know or suspect that fear is holding you back, then read on–because this week, we’re finding our fears.

And we’re not just finding the fears–we’re articulating them and getting really up-close-and-personal. If we don’t know which fears we have festering inside, we can’t make friends them…

Yeah, you read that right:

We’re not fighting our FRABs.

We’re making friends with them.

I used to be all about “punching fear in the face.” I used to think that facing a fear head-on and telling it to piss off was the best way to power ahead. I thought that if you smashed a fear hard enough beneath your boot heel, the triumph of proving a fear wrong would be enough to banish the fear forever.

Nope. Sorry. Not the case at all.

When you fight your fears by dismissing them or pretending you’re not afraid at all, you’re only brushing the fear beneath the rug. Temporarily. It’s like that one closet that everyone has*–you know the one where all your junk goes? That’s getting fuller and messier every time you crack the door to stuff in something else? One of these days, though, the closet will overfloweth, and when you crack open the door to hide one more unsightly sock or doggie chew toy before the guests arrive, the closet will reach its tipping-point…and an avalanche of stuff will crush you beneath its messy vengeance.

Obviously, the closet filled with stuff is a metaphor for that place we try to stash away all our fears. Now I’m not talking about your arachnophobia or your fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth (which is a thing–no joke–that’s called arachibutyrophobia). I’m talking about those deep fears that have to do with yourself. With your place in the world and how people perceive you. Those are the fears that can leave you so crippled with self-doubt, you want to vomit or cry or break something or maybe just huddle beneath a blanket and never face the world again.

Note: if you don’t have any fears like that or have already managed to deal with them, then why are you reading this post? You obviously don’t have any FRABs to befriend, and I am infinitely, infinitely jealous of your unwavering confidence. And you know what? Go. You. Rock that confidence–and maybe I’ll soon see you on the other side.

But if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have at least one gut-wrenching self-doubt–probably more than one. Most humans do. It’s both normal and totally okay. In western culture, though, we tend to glorify the tough guys. “Suck it up” or “don’t be a pussy” or “get over it” have been said to me more times than I can count. Worse, I’ve even said it before–to myself or to others.

Fear is seen as weakness, and no one wants weakness. “You should be strong” is what we’re taught, and as a result, many of us fake it until we make it.

But in my own desperation to be seen as “tough enough”–to fake confidence and strength until I start to feel them–I have spent my whole life shrugging off things that upset me. Smiling when I want to cry. Forcing a laugh when things I work really hard for fall through.

Yeah, well, thirty years of doing that hasn’t worked out so well for me. (Has it worked for you? If so, then see the note above.) The fears I think I’ve conquered, the zen and inner peace I thought I’ve honed–they always come roaring back eventually. Twice as loud and twice as mean.

I’ve tried rationalizing my fears too. And I’ve had plenty of other people try to rationalize my fears for me. But rationalization is really just another form of fighting a fear–of telling a fear it isn’t valid and to go back whence it came. But fears aren’t rational, so how could trying to rationalize them–trying to force them into submission via logic–ever possibly work? It certainly hasn’t for me.

And I know I am not the only person like this. As a culture, we have gotten really good at saying, “No problem”, that we start to believe that lie ourselves. But it doesn’t change the fact that oftentimes there is a problem.

So this week, to get to the bottom of our FRABs and keep them from popping up and hindering our creative flow, we’re going to figure out WHAT fears are stopping us in the first place. To start, I’ll share some basic fears.

Take note of any you suspect (or know) you might have.

Some General Fears

    • I am a failure–everything I try to do fails. As such, any new project I attempt will inevitably fail like all the others.
    • Everyone does this better than I do it.
    • I have no idea what I’m doing and one of these days, everyone is going to figure out that I’m just a fraud.
    • I have bad luck and that’s all I deserve.
    • Everyone thinks I’m a hack and they’re all laughing at me behind my back.
    • I’ll never get it right/perfect, and people will know.
    • I am wasting my time that should be used on something with guaranteed results.
    • No one cares what I think.

Contextualizing Those Fears in the Writing World:

    • I am a crappy writer and no matter how hard I try, I still suck. Why bother writing a new book just to watch it fail like all the others?
    • Everyone writes better stories than I do. Why even try? I’ll never be as good as them.
    • I don’t deserve the success I have. One of these days, everyone will realize it and my house of cards will topple.
    • My book has flopped/been rejected again/been overlooked by my publisher/etc., and that’s all I deserve because my book is crap. I am crap.
    • Everyone thinks my writing is terrible and they’re all laughing at me behind my back–or saying I don’t deserve the success I have.
    • I will never get this story perfect–be it the characters or the world or the research–and people will call me on it. There’s no point in even trying.
    • I am wasting my time and should abandon writing in favor of a “real job”.
    • No one cares what I think and no one will ever want to read what I have to say.

Obviously, this list is not even close to exhaustive. These are just the fears that popped in my mind as I was making this post. What other fears are out there? What fears do YOU have? If you’re willing to share in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

Or you can always email me privately: susan @ susandennard . com

OR, just make a list on your own.

From FRAB to Fab: Homework Assignment 2

1. Got your mission statement(s) from last week ready? Good. Pull it out. Look at it. Memorize it. It’s your fuel, remember?

2. Look over the list of fears above. Look at each fear closely and look at them honestly. Do you recognize any of them? All of them perhaps? If you have any fears that aren’t on the list, write them down (or share them in the comments/via email so I can add them to my list).

Also: think long and hard about this stuff. Spend time on it and dig so deep that it makes your chest hurt and your heart feel awfully exposed. Then, whenever you feel like turning away from the discomfort, look at your mission statement(s), remember why you’re doing this, and then dig a little deeper. You can do this. Get those fears on the paper.

And remember that these don’t have to be artistic-based fears. If you’re feeling brave, you can explore any personal fears that you think are holding you back.

3. Have you ever or do you currently deal with your fears by trying to fight or rationalize them? Has that worked well for you? Or have these fears that you thought you’d conquered only come back to nag at you later in life?


This week’s assignment is probably the hardest because it requires some uncomfortable self-honesty. But it’s worth it. I can tell you from personal experience that the payoff–that goal you set in your mission statement–can happen. So stay strong and then head to the next post, in which I finally show you how to do this FRAB-friend-making stuff.

*If you don’t have one of those closets or drawers or little nooks in your living space, then you’re clearly an alien.