Abigail Sharpe, 2010 Golden Heart Finalist, asks WHAT SCARES YOU??

Fill in this blank:  I really wish I could_____, but I’m too scared.

I bet you could ask that of your characters, too.  What do they fear most?

Whether it’s fear of rejection, fear of failure, or even fear of success, it can be a paralyzing experience.  Sometimes sitting down to write a story can be scary.  Submitting it to your critique group is even worse.  And the most terrorizing of all?  Clicking SEND after writing that email to your dream agent.

Entering your story in a contest and waiting for the results gives me cold feet.  People I don’t know offering honest opinions over something I’ve spent months creating, and not pulling their punches.  What if they don’t like it?  What if they do?  Why did I do this to myself – again??

Even writing as a guest blogger gave me qualms.  Did I choose a good topic?  Am I being witty enough?  Interesting?  Am I babbling too much?  What if no one comments?

But let’s go deeper.  What about the fears you can’t identify, the ones you know lurk somewhere in your subconscious?  Do you sabotage yourself so you don’t have to face them?  Never give yourself a chance to overcome the things that make you panic?

Your characters have fears, too – even the stoic hero who can face death without batting his dark eyes.  And you can dig and dig and find out exactly what made her react that way to a spider or what makes him clamp down when he gets on a plane.  Does he not like flying because he’s not in control?  Did he become a pilot to gain some of that back?  Knowing the driving force behind their actions, their motivations for striving so hard, can bring a rich, underlying dimension to your story.

So what is it?  What makes your heroine’s skin clammy, your hero’s heart tremor in his chest, their bodies shake from jitters?

And I’m sure we all feel trepidation for things that aren’t writing related.  Is it going on a ghost tour?  The thought of singing karaoke?  Approaching that guy with the warm eyes and sexy smile that you see every day in the coffee shop?  Maybe you suffer from phobophobia – the fear of being afraid.  I’ve got some things that make me panic.  I’ll fess up to them if you fess up to yours.  I’m slightly hydrophobic.  And I’m scared of meatloaf.

Does this stop me from going into the pool?  Taking a relaxing bath?  Swimming in the ocean?  Well, yes on the last one.  And no, I don’t ever cook the aforementioned food.

So here’s my challenge to you, borrowed from Nike:  Just Do It.

Do something in the next week that you’ve never done before because your misgivings were too great.  And use it!  Use your anxiety and remember how you feel when you finally conquer the twinges in the back of your head that prevented you from taking part before.  Really.  Just do it.  Because what’s the worst that can happen?  Oh, sure, maybe you sing off key and have to dodge the tiny cocktail umbrellas other bar patrons throw at you.  Or you find out the guy in the shop is married.  Or your critique group tells you to use more of the five senses – and then they invite themselves over for meatloaf.  But now you’ve done it, you can work on it, and you can fix it.

And then you can find something else to be scared of.

70 responses to “Abigail Sharpe, 2010 Golden Heart Finalist, asks WHAT SCARES YOU??”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Abigail! Thanks for joining us today!

    Fear is a powerful topic–and you’re so right to connect our own fears as writers with the fears our characters face. I’m not sure there’s anything that motivates (and blocks) people more than fear.

    I’ve been reading through about 100 pages pages of my WIP today to get them sent out to my agent and to some critique partners. The first three chapters have been pretty thoroughly vetted (and praised) in contests, etc., but NO ONE has seen these pages, and that makes my stomach fall straight to my ankles. AARGH!! Actually sending them out will be my “brave thing” for the week.

    Now I’ll ask you to be brave and tell us all a little about yourself and your books!

    • Elisa, thank you so much for the invitation to blog here. You Ruby Sisters have been so welcoming to the 2010 Golden Heart class (and I’m proud that you’re among us!) and it’s really been heartwarming to participate in your blog.

      Good luck with your pages… but I know you don’t need it. 🙂

      So about my book, WHO WANTS TO MARR A COWBOY?

      Cowboy Riley Pommer moves back to the family’s pay-to-play-cowboy ranch in Wyoming to help care for his younger siblings after the death of their father. After leaving his job as a forest ranger, he’s getting used to living at home again. He’s been burned by women in his life, and is content to be single without any entanglements. His sisters decide to bring some happiness into his life and invite twelve single women from across the country to visit the ranch, hoping one of them can lasso his heart.

      South Carolina florist Ainsley Fairfax participates in the marriage rodeo as a way of escaping her overbearing mother. At the ranch, she’s free from trying to please everyone around her but herself and is more interested in the ranch’s greenhouse than any smelly cowboy so desperate for a woman that he needs a contest to find a wife.

      Ainsley’s misconceptions are shattered when she meets Riley and realizes he’s neither smelly nor desperate. He’s also not happy about the wife wannabes invading his home. Neither Ainsley nor Riley expect the attraction that develops between them. In the face of sabotage attempts by the other would-be wives and pressures from their families, Ainsley has to stand up for herself instead of avoiding confrontation and Riley needs to let go of old hurts and open his heart before they can find happiness together.

  2. Hi, Abigail! What an interesting subject. Fears and insecurities can be crippling.

    To quote one of my favourite movies (Strictly Ballroom), “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” And I think that’s so true. When I was younger, I was scared of everything (quoting another great movie–Dirty Dancing!), like public speaking, telling people I’m a writer, talking to strangers, the list goes on. Now I’m more likely to plunge in and just do it because I don’t want to miss out on new experiences.

    Great post!

    • Thank you, Vanessa! One of the funniest scary experiences I had was when I had a cold and saw a bug in my house. I screamed – only nothing came out. So I tried again… still nothing. Seems like I needed to do something visceral in order to be scared and when that didn’t happen, my fear went away.

    • Shoshana Brown says:

      I LOVE Strictly Ballroom. Such a good movie. And a great illustration of the important points in this post. 🙂

  3. Lynn Cahoon says:

    Hi Abigail – (stopping over from 100/100 group..)

    When I was younger, nothing scared me. I’d try anything. (Except the mystery meat my mom cooked – bear, deer, pheasant..give me plain old hamburger please.)I was in high school clubs, ran for district and state office, and even took a history trip to the east coast.

    Now’s another story. I remember the first chapter meeting I attended by myself. I drove an hour to be there and then sat in the car outside the bookstore, thinking about just turning around and going home. I am so glad I got out of that car.

    I’ll have to find something brave to do this week. Thanks for the challenge.

    • Carla says:

      Lynn, bear? Really?

    • Lynn, I hear ya about being scared of nothing when I was younger. I used to jump from one store rooftop to another. Now I watch my wee one jump off his perfectly respectable jungle gym and I have to bite my tongue.

      Thankfully by the time I drove my hour to my RWA chapter meeting, I knew others who were going to be there. I don’t know how I could have done it if I were alone. Go you!

    • Kim Law says:

      Oh, Lynn…I remember that fear? I knew absolutetly no one when I walked into my first chapter meeting, and I rate as high of an introvert as possible on all the tests! Fears can be overwhelming! I had intended to go to that first meeting the previous year (in January), but couldn’t bring myself to do it. The next year, and the next January rolled around, and somehow I pointed my car in that direction and actually made myself walk in the door. So very glad I did!

      • liz talley says:

        OH, me too. I sat in the car nervous as a cat in a room of rocking chairs. Took me a good five minutes to summon the courage. For some reason, I thought they’d be snooty and look down on me. Don’t know why. I think that’s my reaction a lot because I grew up without much financially and my blue-collar parents instilled that in me. To expect that sort of thing.

        My chapter is so awesome…can’t believe I was scared of them.

  4. Carla says:

    Great post, Abigail, but if I may paraphrase Blue Oyster Cult, “Don’t fear the meatloaf.” Seriously, I have a quick and easy recipe. There’s always a fight over who gets the last piece. My secret: ketchup. 🙂

    Okay, you’ve shamed me into it. I’ve been dodging edits all week long, and once the edits are done, the story can progress from there. It’s time to rediscover who my characters are. I think that’s what I’m afraid of, that they’re becoming people I didn’t know they were. That would indicate a loss of control on my part, and most people who know me know I’m a control freak. Wow, a terrific blog and therapy too; thanks!!

  5. Fear is crippling, no doubt. We need ro remember to beat that demon over the head and back into the closet that we never open. And then, take the leap of faith. We’re all unique and soon or later we will find our match.

    Great post!

    • Thanks, Autumn. And it’s true… unless you’re doing something death-defying, there’s no reason to be scared of something you’ve never done before.

      But I’m still not making meatloaf.

      Oy. Maybe that should be my challenge this week. *sigh*

  6. Hope Ramsay says:

    Right now, I’m really scared that the second book, due to my editor in a few weeks, is crap. And it’s totally stressing me out, and I’m usually a supremely confident person. Some would say over confident. . .

    But aside from that, I would have to say that my biggest fear (besides being totally scared of snakes) is the fear of not being liked. So I’m already getting queasy about reviews. But this fear of not being liked, goes way deeper than my writing. It goes all the way back to childhood where I was the kid picked last for basketball, and the first one who got hit in dodge ball. (Oh the bruises…both physical and emotional.)

    Great subject Abigail.

    • Oh, Hope… I can only imagine. Thoughts of being a one-hit wonder… oy. But you wouldn’t have gotten where you are if you were a talentless hack. I can’t wait to see what you do.

    • rita says:

      Fear be gone. Your next will be more brilliant than the first.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Oh, Hope…I SOOOO hear you! It’s so scary to be in the midst of a new writing project that no one’s seen…it’s so easy to convince yourself you’ve utterly lost your touch and none of it makes sense or will interest anyone else.

      I feel utterly confident that what you’re writing is excellent. Much harder to believe it of myself. Sigh.

  7. Great post, Abigail! I’m scared of spiders. The next time I see one, I’ll TRY to memorize my feelings for my characters. Either that or I’ll just run. 🙂

  8. Nan Dixon says:

    Great Post Abigail –
    Reading my writing in front of crowd is one of the scariest things I’ve done. The first time I shocked myself. I grew up as a Theater Jock – public speaking shouldn’t bother me – but my writing was so personal. I didn’t want to expose myself to critism.

    Thank goodness I have thick skin.

    Now it’s heart-wrenching sending off queries to agents. Are they good enough – should I have the critique group look at them one more time?
    You can really out think yourself in this business.
    (I also cringe at spiders – yuck) Nan

    • That’s so true, Nan! You CAN think yourself out of it. I’ve read my stuff to my critique group, but the thought of doing it in an open mic type setting? Holy Moly No.

      And you know… I’ve sent pages off to an agent and then later noticed I sent the wrong stuff. Nothing happened, other than the big R, but I’m still here!

  9. Second try at leaving a comment. Yeah, I have fears. It would be inhuman to not be scared witless about something.

    A fear for me: vomiting. Stupid, but true.

    Another fear: the physical equivalent of vomiting in the publishing world.

    Intriguing post, Abigail.

  10. rita says:

    Great topic. I see fear as my best friend and worst enemy. As for what scares me you’d have to first define fear. When does anxiety becomes fear. Is it the bone turn to liquid feeling when you see that 700 pound tiger bounding your way? Or apprehension of going on a blind date. We all define it differently.
    Another reason knowing your characters better than yourself becomes important. What is THEIR definition of fear.
    I could stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon and enjoy the vista all day as long as there is a fence or railing. Take that away and you aren’t getting me anywhere near the edge. High bridges don’t bother me but a low dock on the river with nothing on the side would cause hyperventilation. Yes i can swim. Saw a movie of how the arch in St Louis was built and became physically ill watching those guys walk around the top with NO ropes. Then there is the fear of getting gasoline on me. Gag!
    As for the lesser evils I call anxiety, those change with the wind. They are my daily challenges. “What’s the worst that can happen?” can be a mantra for me.

    • All good points, Rita. What I think of as fear could just be mild apprehension for someone else. But what is the worst that can happen? I had the gasoline spill… it was gross, but I survived. Thankfully no one came at me with a lit match. 🙂

  11. Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

    Been having a bit of a mental melt down this week about over extending myself, stressing myself. Editor had to talk me down from the ledge (whick is not really in her job description – bless her heart). I’m hoping it means she likes my writing.

    I think I fear success.

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      You know I’ve never really understood this idea of someone fearing success. I wish someone would explain the difference between fearing success and fearing failure. Fearing success has always sounded like mumbo jumbo to me. Isn’t fear of success just fear of failure wearing another dress?

      • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

        Sorry hope, I didn’t come back yesterday. I think fear of success is sabatoging yourself. Not doing the things you should, and doing things you shouldn’t.

    • Isn’t it weird that you work so hard for something and then when it happens, you almost don’t want it? Deep breaths, go get a massage, and put it behind you.

      I know, right? So much easier for me to say it than for you to do it, Kelly. Hee. 🙂

      • Hope Ramsay says:

        Yes, but the panic that sets in after you’ve achieved something is not really fear of success. I’m really scared that my editor isn’t going to like the 2nd book. And I’m overwhelmed sometimes with all the new stuff I need to learn. And I’m often surprised by how my life has NOT changed since the Call.

        But this is not a fear of success. This is still plain old fear of failure.

        I just don’t get it when someone says they are afraid of success. It’s just another way of saying you’re scared to fall from the success you’ve achieved. And that’s really fear of failure.

  12. Kim Law says:

    Fears…yep, they can keep you from doing all sorts of things. Great topic!!! Generally, I’m pretty fearless, but there are some things I shy away from…hmmm…I would LOVE to go on stage somewhere and do inprov, but don’t know if I could ever actually get myself up there. Yikes!!!! How scary would that be? And where did this desire actually come from, is what I want to know? I don’t think I’ll actually do it yet, but maybe I’ll make plans this week to go to an improv show and at least “feel it out”!

    • I’ve actually done a lot of community theater, but each time I audition, I get the butterflies and my fingertips freeze. I’ve learned to stare at the EXIT signs.

      I say go for it, Kim! Find a community theater near you and audition. Just like submitting a manuscript, the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no.

  13. Great post! This is much like an exercise taught by a kindly guru who helped me sort through my life several years ago. I think “…but I’m too scared” could become “…but I think I’ll fail” quite easily, and with the same effect.

    But I haven’t done this in a while, so I’ll bite, and I’ll leave it as “scared,” because that hurts more.

    I really wish I could find the guts to pursue a career in law enforcement, but I’m too scared, though not necessarily of the physical and mental dangers inherent to the jobs themselves.

    There. I said it out loud. Ick. I’m an embarrassment to my family, who make a living putting their butts on the line for other people. But I’ve been aware of my cowardice for some time, and I recognize it as a choice.

    I suppose I took a step toward my dream this summer, getting Lasik surgery so that I can at least make myself physically qualified to work in the particular branch of law enforcement that most interests me.

    • Jamie, it’s great that you can say it, even. So many people dismiss their fears and don’t let them be known. Good luck with whatever you decide to do, but I want to know if you apply.

  14. Charlie says:

    Great post! Made me think of The Replacements and that scene where the coach asks them about the players’ fears. Some of the guys say spiders, bees, and that sort of thing; but Keanu’s character says quicksand—you get sucked under because no matter what you do things just get worse. I love that scene.

    Sometimes I think I’m afraid of everything, but I guess what really scares me is that I’ll make a stupid mistake with disastrous consequences. I just accepted this year that, yes, I am a control freak. I think that is all part of the fear. Not that I’ll try and fail, but that a mistake, a minor screw-up, or something out of my control will lead to disaster. You can probably tell by the darkness of my writing that I’m prone to thinking really dark. So, when I say disaster, I really mean disaster. Burn the house down, get someone hurt, ruin your life disaster.

    Publishing is probably not a great place for control freaks, but I do think it helps with the writing. I’ve never had to worry with the stakes not being high enough in my stories. 😉


    • I haven’t seen The Replacements, but Keanu has a point! And I never pegged you as a control freak. And if you burn your house down, you can stay with me. 🙂

      • Charlie says:

        You would LOVE The Replacements.

        RE: burning down the house – thanks for the offer and may I never need to take you up on it. The day I got a curling iron that shuts off by itself was a happy day for me. 😉

  15. Dara says:

    I’m slightly hydrophobic too. I won’t go too deep in a pool and I always have to have my feet touching the bottom. Also terrified of driving on a highway through major cities. Even when my husband does it, I am clenching my teeth and hoping to get through it without getting into an accident.

    I’m also afraid every time my chapter’s up for critique. It’s silly, and I know they won’t be mean about it, but I can’t help but get that pit in my stomach when they start talking about my chapter. 😛

    • Oh, Dara, I feel you on all counts. I try to hide the hydrophobia so my kids won’t pick up on it and be afraid, too. This means I HAVE to occasionally venture to the deep end. *shudder* And hearing my CG tell me what’s wrong with what I’ve written. Ugh. They also tell me what’s right, but do I focus on that? Nooooooooooooooooo.

  16. Vivi Andrews says:

    Writing fears are so much easier for me to overcome than my completely irrational stupid hysterical fear of spiders. And knowing they’re just as afraid of me as I am of them (and I’m much more likely to throw a dictionary on their heads than they are to do the same to me) doesn’t stop the hyperventilation or the nightmares. Stupid subconscious.

    Great post, Abigail! 😀

  17. I used to have a refrigerator magnet that said something like: Have you done something scary today?

    A good reminder that if you are playing it safe, you are probably not getting everything out of your characters or your story.

    What is it that Donald Maass says? Oh yes, another Maass-maxim: What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to your character? Now make it worse.

    Muah ha ha! Jillian

    • Jillian, that Maassism is sort of how this started. I was trying to pin down my heroine’s REAL fear. (I can’t make it worse yet because the story’s not written.)

      LOVE the magnet. And completely agree.

      You, however, have no writing fear that I can tell. Can’t wait for your release parties. *grin*

    • liz talley says:

      LOL! Exactly right, Jillian!

  18. Hi, Abigail, and welcome.

    My biggest fear (at this moment)is dropping one of the many balls I have hanging in the air. You see, they all bear the names of people I love. Dropping is not an option. So, “me” things have taken a back seat yet again.

    I wish I could say I’m all good with that, but I’m not that unselfish. It bugs me, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I hear ya, Gwynlyn. Real life is tossing me more balls than I want to handle right now. But they’re important balls, bearing the names of loved ones with urgent problems, so you find a way to juggle more than you thought you could.

      Looking for a silver lining though, I’m finding it easier than I thought it would be to write at a hospital. I feel fortunate that I’ve pretty much trained myself to write the minute I boot up, pour a cup of coffee and slap on the headset.

      My writing fears (primarily exposure and judgment) feel like luxuries at the moment.

      • Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? Headphones. Gotta get me some. I found working in the hospital nigh impossible. No music, though, just the kind that filter noise. Then to train myself not to be so nosy . . . hmmm.

        Hang tight, doll. You’re stronger than most folks I know. And we’re here if you need us.

  19. Dianne says:

    Great post, Abigail. You’ve inspired me. I don’t have a problem with meatloaf, but I hate bridges. I think I’ll intentionally cross one this weekend.

  20. Jane Sevier says:

    Meatloaf? Is it fear of meatloaf, Abigail, or an antipathy toward? I think phobia means fear of or antipathy toward. Is there a scientific term for meatloaf phobia?

    I was such a timid child that I was out of college before I could go into a store by myself and ask for something. Going into a room full of strangers still raises my heart rate, but thank goodness I can call on my Southern Hostess self to get past it because you know Southerners tend to feel that they should be sure that everyone else is comfortable and happy.

    The only almost unmanageable fear I still have is off the telephone. I’ve always hated it and put off talking on it as long as I can. It’s that business of not being able to see the person I’m talking to and read his body language. But when I was a magazine writer, I had to call people and interview them over the phone a lot. I did it because I had to. Believe me, no one is happier about the invention of email than I.

    Just do it is right. I guess a large part of dealing with fear is keeping your eyes on the prize. If I want to be published, I have to send out queries. If I want to see the Great Pyramid or visit the Eiffel Tower, I have to deal with different cultures and languages. If I want to find out if the drug store has my prescription ready, I have to call them.

    Not sure what’s still out there that I’m afraid of that I haven’t done, but I’ll see what I can come up with.

    • Hi, Jane!

      I don’t know what it is about the meatloaf, but every time I even think about making it, I get almost nauseated. I can’t even look at meatloaf pictures on menus.

      It’s good to see you’ve gotten over so much already. Let me know if you find anything to conquer this week. 🙂

  21. Kenneth Zak says:

    Well done Abigail!

    I think there are two great motivators in life: fear and love. We have to choose which one we want to drive our life. To guess which one I’ve chosen just take a gander at my website! As to my own personal fears, I recently returned from Greece to have my San Diego neighbor tell me that great white sharks were spotted off my favorite swim and surf spots. There was even a video of two great whites taken by a paddleboarder (google San Onofre sharks and you’ll probably find it). Well, I surfed that spot yesterday morning with my regular surf crew because while I may fear sharks I love the water and surfing and my surf buddies too much to be ruled by fear. Now, I admit that it certainly gave me pause for certain.

    Heights are also kind of freaky for lots of folks, but while in Greece we went cliff jumping and my son and girlfriend’s daughter both faced their fears by jumping! I wish I could share the exhilaration they felt by overcoming their fears. So while fear may sometimes disable us and seem insurmountable, it offers such a great opportunity for growth and joy and achievement (and fun), or at least I believe so.

    As for meatloaf, while I won’t admit to fearing the mystery meat, I just feel better when its not around -if you know what I mean. I’m just sayin . . .


  22. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks again, Abigail, for being here today!!

  23. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Sorry I’m late to the party. Tight spaces terrify me. I have severe claustrophobia. I’m okay with elevators as long as they’re not too crowded because it’s a short ride. However, don’t even think about asking me to slide into an MRI machine — even an open one (which they really aren’t).

    • Oy, Laurie, I’m NOT claustrophobic and I had to close my eyes in an MRI machine so I couldn’t see how boxed in I was. The headphones were helpful since I could focus on the music and not on what was happening.


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