Education

On Being Afraid to Write

There are things I’m afraid to write about.

  1. I’m afraid to write about my anxiety. About how it can sometimes debilitate me emotionally, socially, and physically. About how responsible I feel for passing my anxiety on to my children, particularly my youngest daughter. About how it prevents me from being my best self–as a friend, a wife, a parent, a woman.
  2. I’m afraid to write about my fears involving my children and my husband. About how worried I am just envisioning potential harms they might suffer–someday–that might cause them pain. (See what I mean? “Potential harms.” I’m even afraid of spelling out just what “harms” I’m afraid of.)
  3. I’m afraid of reflecting, really reflecting, on my impact as an educator and a coach. Most of those who know me know that I am exceedingly reflective, almost to a fault. But sometimes I think I am superficially reflective, that I am too afraid to write toward the deeper challenges I face in my career, and whether or not I am succeeding in meeting those challenges.
  4. I’m afraid of writing about what I don’t understand. Or what I feel like I will never be good at. I’m afraid I might only practice a “growth mindset” when it suits me.
  5. I’m afraid of writing about my true feelings about a variety of things. Of articulating what I really think about difficult issues and situations, particularly those that have affected me personally.
  6. I’m afraid of writing about certain people in my life. About those who have caused me (or others with whom I am close) pain, and how my feelings for them have irrevocably changed.
  7. I’m afraid of writing about the pain that I fear I have caused others.

Because I am afraid to write about these (and other) things, I wonder about my students–and my colleagues– as writers. Yes, writing is about communicating ideas, and entertaining others, and informing or enlightening an audience. But in my experience, writing is also about thinking. We write to discover what we truly think about something. About ourselves. About the world around us. We may not always do this consciously, but we do it. So when our students (or our colleagues) resist writing, I wonder what it is they’re really afraid of.

Those of us who teach writers know this much:

  • Writers are afraid of looking or sounding stupid. (“I can’t write/spell/articulate my ideas/hold a pencil/type.”)
  • Writers are afraid of sharing their work once it’s “out there.” (“Everyone will make fun of me/criticize me/reject me/think I’m stupid.”)
  • Writers are afraid of being misunderstood. (“No one will get what I really mean.”)

What else holds writers back? Even when we are assured that we won’t have to share, that our work won’t be read, that our writing is for our eyes only–still, we resist. Yes, we all “have a story to tell,” as Donald Graves has famously assured us. How many of us, though, are afraid to tell our stories–the ones that truly matter to us? That make us unequivocally, painfully–even gloriously–who we are? The mere act of writing always, in some small way, affirms some aspect of ourselves, of who we are at our most raw. In short, the act of writing forces us to simultaneously ask and answer the question: Am I a good person?

Because of all this, there are things I am afraid to write about. Because of all this, I am sometimes afraid to write.

Might others feel the same?

1 thought on “On Being Afraid to Write”

  1. Calling this what it is is brave and important. And it’s such a tangle. I think writing vulnerably–even if it’s facing bite-sized risks one at a time–is sometimes the answer to the fear. Be patient with yourself.

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