The Fears That Bind Us (aka You’re Gonna Die)

A wise friend of mine once observed:
Every action we take or don’t take is driven by one of two things:
Fear or Love.

I’ve been sifting through this idea for a few years now, wondering if this were actually true (being the “inward bound” workshop/personal development/human potential geek-junkie that I am – and yes, I am the kind of person satirized on shows like Portlandia). But I’ve discovered that whenever I break my actions or inactions down to the basic essence, my wise friend is right. I just have to be brave enough to tell the truth about it once in a while, especially when it comes to the fear end of things. I’m quite good at justifying my fears.

by Gizem Vural

by Gizem Vural

I also think that there are levels of fear, and I can always tell when I get to the fear behind the fear behind the fear (to that essence), because it just goes THUNK when it finally gets to that simple statement of belief I hold. You know, the one that isn’t really serving me.

For example: Even though I say I love to write and share and talk story and writing practice is INVALUABLE, I haven’t blogged for almost two months. I could easily tell myself I just haven’t had time. And I could list all the stuff that’s been going on in my life to enroll everyone in that story.

However, I didn’t really have to watch 3 episodes of Scott and Bailey in a row and then stay up until 2 AM playing Angry Birds feeling guilty and telling myself, Pulitzer Prize author Michael Chabon doesn’t stay up all night playing Angry Birds. (Although I certainly invite him to tell me otherwise.) He’s a real writer. He writes.

And I didn’t have to start at least 8 posts when an idea inspired me, only to finish none of them.

I know procrastination when I see it. And I know procrastination stems from fear. So when I finally broke it down, it went like this:

Why didn’t you finish those posts?
I was afraid I’d lost my momentum on the ideas and they wouldn’t be as good as I thought when I was inspired to start them. (first level of fear, logical enough that I could just brush it away)

But so what if they’re “not as good” as you thought they would be?
I’m afraid that if they’re not very good people will figure out that I’m really a fraud and I’ll lose readers.

First, you’re not a fraud. Second, so what if you lose readers?
I’m afraid if I lose readers I’ll look stupid and people will judge me for that.

Then no one will like me. (I am now 9 years old)


Completely unannounced, Byron Katie’s voice barged in on my thought process and asked me: And WHO would you BE without that? 

Who would I be without the fear of people not liking me? If that fear were simply gone from my life, what could I accomplish?

And what is the price to myself if I hold myself back because of this fear?

by Michael V. Manalo

by Michael V. Manalo

A few years ago at a SCBWI conference, author Laurie Halse Anderson said that one time when she’d been whining and complaining about some niggling thing to do with her writing, her husband told her: “You know what? You’re gonna die.”

He didn’t say it to be mean. She got it. The things that were holding her back weren’t worth paying attention to in this limited time on the planet we all have. Her fear of not doing those things became greater than her fear of doing them. And sometimes, that’s the place I also need to go to get my motivation back.

On the flip side, the love I feel for what I do when I’m actually doing it, and not trying to be too perfect or precious about it, is also life-fulfilling motivation. And even though fear (and anger) can be incredibly useful procrastination busters, I think “doing” from a space of love is where I’d much rather be.


What is the fear (big or small) that holds your protagonist back? If you look deep enough, what is the essence of the fear? How does she justify her actions/inactions around this fear?

What price to herself for inaction? What will she lose if she does not act? Her freedom? A friendship? A position? A lover? Her self-worth?

And is there a moment when her fear of not having/doing something becomes greater than her fear of doing/having this thing?

Set your timer for 5 -10 minutes per start line

When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.
(just do it!)

Start lines:

The excuse my character gives him/herself looks like . . .
The fear behind all of my character’s fears tells her . . .
The price of my character’s inaction is . . .
The scene where my character breaks the bonds of this fear happens when . . .


Now write your next scene . . . 🙂



  1. Derald Breneman
    Apr 4, 2015

    Yeah we’re gonna die. But what really sucks is if we don’t die soon enough we’re going to get old.

    I haven’t looked at it really well but off the top I think I fear old age more than I do death, I’m really active and the thought of not being to get out and do things…aaahhh! Either one is a good enough reason to just do it now.

    I like your exercise. I’m doing right after I take the big shaggy dog to get ten million hairs clipped.

    • Danika
      Apr 5, 2015

      I hear you there. I want to stay as active as possible for as long as possible, but I certainly can’t do some of the things I used to. But I probably fear my mind going over my physical body. In either case, I’m working on living in the now, doing now, celebrating now. And we don’t know what the future holds… I’ve already outlived several friends.

  2. Derald Breneman
    Apr 4, 2015

    Okay, did the exercise.I immediately discovered I had to change the question. In my new novel my protagonists fear(s) drive him to action rather than inaction. So I had to ask the question: what is the fear that makes Hayworth do what he does? It worked very well, particularly since I’m currently faced with a scene where this guy has to confront what he’s done. His insights, or lack of them, will decide what happens next. Thanks, Danika.

    • Danika
      Apr 5, 2015

      Super! I’m glad someone does the exercises besides me. 🙂 Maybe I’ll go back and change it a bit to incorporate “action” via fear as well as “inaction.” In either case, the fear will get in the way from what the character really needs. I’m glad it worked for you!

      I’ve discovered whenever I’m stuck, if I just start doing a spontaneous writing exercise, no matter what my start line, I can get unstuck.

  3. Kate Johnston
    Apr 9, 2015

    I’m so glad to see you blogging again. You’re one of the few bloggers I follow who is helpful to me in my writing quest. I love your writing workouts, and I love how you tie your personal life experiences into the workout.

    I like you. 🙂

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Apr 20, 2015

      Oh, Kate, thank you so much! 🙂 That means a lot, it really does. I’ve found your blog such a lovely place to visit as well. It’s authentic and generous and shows your vulnerability along the journey, which I appreciate.

      And now we adjourn the meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society!

  4. Yvette
    Apr 19, 2015

    Thanks for this post Danika 🙂 You are of course right – I love it 🙂 Fear can be so paralyzing if we choose to let it but it can also be a magnificent motivating force if we harness the fear and use it to surge forward. One of my acting coaches always says, “Feel the fear and do it anyways. Is the character afraid? Well then great if you’re afraid and the character is afraid… what better creative connection could there be?” Harness the fear, hang on… it might be a wild ride but you can move through it if you are courageous enough to embrace it! xo

    • Danika
      Apr 20, 2015

      I love it. Yes, Feel the fear and do it anyway – for your character as much as yourself. 🙂 I’ve used that line before, but hadn’t actually thought of it as a way to connect with my characters! Brilliant!


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