I read an interview the other day with a novelist who has the following advice: write about what scares you the most. I feel scared just thinking about it, but also strangely liberated. Could I really do it? Should I? Could I even try?
Once apon a time what scared me the most might have been the dark. Or ET hiding in my closet (true, aged 6). Or being turned into a robot in my sleep by mad scientists (disturbing, but still true, aged 10). In my teens and early 20s I did some adventuring, and worried about things like avalanches, hurricanes and sharks. Then when I was 23 I was diagnosed with cancer, and for the next 7 years my darkest fears all related to it coming back. Not just to dying but to the gruesome hospital treatment that would surely precede my untimely end. I didn't think things could get any more scary than that.
Until, that is, I became a mother.
Now I know what real fear looks like. Because there isn't a single thing I can imagine happening to me that could be worse than something happening to my son.
Write about what scares you the most.
To do that I would have to imagine someone taking my child away from me, losing him, him getting sick, choking, dying. Or for untold horrors to happen to him and he have to live through the experience. At the bottom of all these things? The fear that I can't protect him.
I'm one of those people who thinks about these things, you see. They torture me as realtime daymares, or sometimes nightmares. I try and shake them but they always edge their way back in. Old superstitions I don't even believe rap at the door telling me I'm tempting fate to even think it, and I try and push it all down under the carpet somewhere. But back it all comes, as surely as daybreak. How much worse could it be then to engage with my fears fully? I always worried that to do so would feed the monster, but maybe it's actually the only way to tame the monster.
I've never really considered writing anything really dark before because I didn't want to have to live it in order to write it. But in the same way therapists tell you to write down your worries to get them out of your head (they all say this, trust me, I've seen them all - and I've just saved you a few thousand pounds by passing this gem on) maybe writing out your darkest nightmares is also a way to face your fears.
I'm not sure I'm brave enough to ever try. But I might you know, I just might.
Write what scares you most.