The writer vs. fear

by Kristin on April 23, 2012

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Tobyotter

At the writers’ conference, surrounded by hundreds who boldly claim the title “Writer,” it’s easy to feel both more and less like a Real Writer.

Making my way from one session to the next, I’m struck by the wonder and audacity of it all. So many lovers of words in one place. So many book ideas and manuscripts, so many stories, each unique yet carrying strong genetic ties to The Story of what it means to be human—of beginnings and ends, of dreams and failure, of hope.

Of course, there are writers and there are Writers. I sit and listen to Ann Voskamp, Jonathan Safran Foer, Marilynne Robinson, drinking in their words with gulps and gasps, as if to keep from drowning. I recognize that my sense of awe also has another, shadowed side, one that wonders “Who am I to put thoughts into words, and put them out into the world?”

After all, too often I feel empty, blank. Too often I am full of fear, diluting or avoiding the story that needs to be told. Too often I rush my words, squeezing them in to small crevices of time where they sit cramped and cold, without room to breathe and bloom.

But these writers speaking to me in session after session at the conference? These accomplished, prolific writers of gorgeous prose and provoking thoughts? They tell me they have been there too. They speak into my spaces of doubt.

“Maybe creativity is this,” author Ann Voskamp begins, “being comfortable not knowing; taking the posture of prayer; waiting.” An auditorium full of writers, all on the edges of our seats, leans into her quiet, careful words. “When you feel empty, that’s the right creative space.”

I breathe—more deeply than I have in months. It’s as if she has dug all of my doubts and fears out of the jumbled junk drawer of my mind, and carefully laid them out to examine them one by one, speaking directly to each in calm, measured tones rather than addressing the tangle as a whole. Lately I have wanted to yell at the jumble, or to simply run away, but the random junk doesn’t look so threatening laid out like that. It almost makes me smile, as I gaze at each random curiosity I’ve acquired and held onto, even though I’ve known it is of no use to me. Together they fill an entire compartment of fear, but on their own they are small, harmless, easier to dispense of.

“Expect to bury something if you want to create. You’ll either bury your fear in faith, or your talents in fear.” Voskamp’s voice speaks of wrenching decisions, but it is soothing and I know her words are true.

I know I need to slow down my life—to stop “blurring moments into one unholy smear.” I know I need to clear out the fears and make room for poetry, and vision, and encounters with God. “Without vision, the people parish,” Voskamp reminds us, quoting Proverbs 29:18.

I have become parched and brittle, but now I know what I need to do to emerge and move forward, paying attention to the moments and doing my small part in what Voskamp believes to be the calling of writers: “…speaking a language of amazement into a culture that feels it has been abandoned.”

Similar Posts:


  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Twitter
  • Jennifer@GDWJ

    I found you through the writing festival’s Twitter feed. So glad to have crossed paths with you. I’ve been struggling these past few weeks with that “not knowing” and emptiness that Ann spoke of.

    I had so hoped to attend the conference this year, so the posts of people like you and others who attended the festival have been a gift.

    Keep writing, Kristin. Your words matter.

  • ed cyzewski

    Such beautiful words from Ann. She really speaks straight to the soul. I’m also glad I was present while you chose to bury that fear. Looking forward to the good things to come from you!

  • The Modern Gal

    This is great. Thank you for sharing.

  • Addie Zierman

    Lovely rendering, my friend. So glad I got to be right next to you during this. :)

  • Positively Alene

    Sounds like I missed something wonderful. Beautiful recap and words here make me realize I do have more fears I need to bury. It was a blessing to hop by here today!

  • Pingback: Links and Quotes from Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing 2012 |

  • Jen

    My friend. This is extraordinary, and while I am sad to have missed such a stellar lineup offering such delightful nuggets of necessary truth, we had a fantastic time with the Smuckers, whom you will adore. All of them.

    Nice to know we all walk that line, even the Big Names. Even better to know that we walk it together.

    Fear. Something about writing our fears, in our fears SOUNDs so small and ridiculous, but those who haven’t tried it can’t know how big it feels. I have a thought on this, but I’ll save it for private talk with you. I hope this means you’re continuing to work on that bookie poo.

  • Ray Hollenbach

    Thanks so much for ruining my day. I was just recovering from my choice not to go to the FFW, and then you share these gems with us. On the other hand, how would I have these gems if you had not shared them. Got any more?

  • HopefulLeigh

    Oh, this is lovely and hard and true. I saw Ann speak last July and remember well how we her audience breathed again after she spoke, as if our souls had been wakened. And when we are awake to the possibilities, well, only time will tell what happens next. Excited to see where this takes you, friend!

  • Charity Singleton

    Kristin – Isn’t it freeing to move beyond the barriers we put up ourselves between “us” and “them” for all kinds of reasons. I went to the Festival fighting so hard against that, yet couldn’t help but feel it too. And what a delight to find many more accomplished writers humbly saying, “yes, I’ve been there.” And this theme of writing from empty, painful, fearful places: I heard that over and over this weekend. It does give one a sense of where to go next.

    I was processing some lessons on the Festival at my blog today, also, so I linked over to here so that anyone who reads at my place can love these words of yours as much I do. It was so great meeting you and making this great new connection from the Festival.

  • Sandra Heska King

    Here, Kristin, from Charity’s.

    I was there, too, and came home so very, very full. I tried to espress some thoughts today, too–wanting to stay immersed in the ocean of creativity there but needing to come home, where my stories are. Ann, especially, rediced me to tears. And this idea of needing to slow things down, to prevent this unholy smear of time so resonates.

  • Ann Kroeker

    I sort of smeared everything into one big, messy post today, not unlike the fire-hose effect of the conference itself.

    Your reflective approach is much finer. Thanks for slowing things down.

  • Megan Willome

    Came over from Charity’s. Your last sentence (of Ann’s?) about a culture that feels abandoned resonated with me after spending a week on a press trip with fellow writers. They were all travel writers; I’m not. A few of them seemed to have few tethers at all in this world. They seemed abandoned of their own choosing. It was interesting to behold.

  • Jim Mitchem

    Oh hell yeah. Thanks for posting.

  • Micha Boyett

    Ahhhhh! Those words…

    I sighed reading this post and I was there! Thanks for bringing it back.

  • Sarah@ From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell

    Such truth. When did we believe that in order to be creative, to write that we have to be filled with ideas? I find my most creative times come when I am exhausted, empty from daily tasks, and I simply let myself have a bit of fun. Oddly, it works. Then, I forget, and the cycles starts again.

  • WritingJoy

    “…speaking a language of amazement into a culture that feels it has been abandoned.” WOW. That really speaks to me.

  • eloranicole

    i breathed deep reading these words…thanks for reflecting in this space so we could join you.

  • Dorie

    love this post and the idea that out of fear and emptiness come the beautiful things.

  • Lisa Colón DeLay

    I’m with Ray. I really enjoyed reading this. You capture the feelings well. I’m glad they are not just my own. Thank you.

    I’m tackling this “empty/weary” issue in a big way in a few days. I did a little (not publicly released) youtube intro here:

  • Angie Mabry-Nauta

    Amen, Kristin! :)

  • Caris Adel

    I am loving reading everyone’s notes and experiences from the festival. As someone who is just getting started, it was so inspiring to be around all these people who are magicians with words and stories. Going to the festival was one of the most thrilling things I’ve done in a verrrry long time!

  • Angela

    Thank you for sharing this, Kristen! I missed Ann’s talk and really appreciate your reflections on it. Such wonderful words & a reminder to not blur “…moments into one unholy smear…” Thank you!

  • Kristin T.

    Jennifer@GDWJ, thank you for your kind encouragement. I’m so glad we crossed paths, even if you couldn’t be at the conference! (How smart of you to “attend” virutally!) I’m beginning to think that all of life is about struggling with this fear of emptiness, paired with the realization that we cannot fill it, no matter how hard we try. Making peace with the emptiness and waiting for God to fill it will be a lifelong pursuit, I’m sure.

    ed, yes—you are a witness to the fear-burying! I’m so glad we could meet at the conference. I’ll need all the accountability and encouragement I can get (and I’ll gladly give you the same).

    The Modern Gal, it’s a privilege to be able to spread and share some of the inspiration from the conference. I’m glad you could glean some good thoughts for yourself.

    Addie, I’m glad you were right there, too. Thanks for saving me a seat! (Yes, we are 13…) I’m looking forward to reading your FFW reflections later this afternoon!

    Positively Alene, it was one of those sessions that made me feel like I would never be quite the same. I hope writing this post and sharing in conversation with all of you will help drive Ann Voskamp’s words even deeper into me.

    Jen, a big YES to this: “Nice to know we all walk that line, even the Big Names. Even better to know that we walk it together.” You have walked it alongside me longer than just about anyone. I’m looking forward to talking soon and hearing more of your thoughts.

  • Marilyn

    THIS was wonderful! I’m sure I need to go bury something and it’s long overdue.

  • suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    mmhmmm. there is that–the feeling less and more. but each of us images him so uniquely, and you with such tender wisdom. to leaning into fear and making art!

    so thankful for our time this weekend. a blessing i won’t soon forget.

  • Kristin T.

    Ray, it’s tough to talk about a great conference experience without feeling like you’re rubbing it in the faces of those who couldn’t be there! I do apologize for ruining your day. :) Just know that we would have loved for you to join us—perhaps in 2014? (And yes, I have many gems from the conference that will make their way into my posts for a good while, I’m sure.)

    HopefulLeigh, I love how you put this: “I saw Ann speak last July and remember well how we her audience breathed again after she spoke, as if our souls had been wakened.” Yes. It was exactly like that.

    Charity, yes, it’s so freeing to remove those “us-them” barriers. I also felt a rhythm of recurring themes at the conference—perhaps I was simply gravitating toward the sessions I most needed to hear, but the message traveled home with me, loud and clear. Thanks so much for sharing my post with the readers of your blog. I’ll definitely head over there to read your reflections and continue building our friendship.

    Sandra, welcome to Halfway to Normal! I’m sorry we didn’t meet at the conference, but I’m so glad you were there, immersed in all those inspiring perspectives. Many blessings as you move forward in your writing and life in new ways.

    Ann, you should have seen me pouring over my conference notes Monday, trying to decide what on earth to share. I felt as if my head was boiling over—I wanted to share it all! Now we get to let it all steep and see how it plays out in our stories. Exciting. (I’m so glad we were able to meet, btw!)

  • Christie

    Thank you for this. You shared some of my absolute favorites from Ann’s talk.
    I found your blog today through Michelle DeRusha (Graceful). I’m looking forward to keeping up with your stories here.

  • Kristin T.

    Megan, that’s so interesting—”…abandoned of their own choosing…” There is definitely a scariness as well as a strange security in choosing to not tether yourself.

    Jim, you’re welcome—thanks for stopping by!

    Micha, I know. I could listen to Ann speak those words, again and again, every day. So glad you were there to share the experience with me.

    Sarah, the image of being “full” and having something to spill out is so appealing, mostly because it’s so easy. Sometimes I write posts that feel like that, but they don’t have the same depth as those that come out of struggling with emptiness.

    WritingJoy, it’s a powerful way of thinking about it, isn’t it? And it’s exactly what YOU do.

    Eloranicole, it really is a privilege to hear such inspiring words—to not share them would be wrong! I’m glad you have been refreshed by them.

    Dorie, yes! She also talked about how women were created with this innate ability to create out of emptiness—our wombs are empty spaces, open to being filled. That metaphor really resonated with me.

    Lisa, I’m so glad I’m not alone! Thanks for pondering these things with me (and for sharing the link to your thoughts).

    Angie, let it be so! :)

  • Pingback: Ambitious Enough - Charity Singleton Craig