So Many Fears!

So Many Fears!


So Many Fears!


I taught college composition for years (and loved it, by the way). Students would come to the first class either excited (because this was their first quarter of college and everything was exciting) or, more often, anxiety-ridden over having to take yet another writing class. I mean, seriously? They’d been learning writing for next to forever, for six, seven, eight years; what more was there to learn?

And not only did they already know everything there was to know about writing, what if they didn’t know? What if they were really awful at it but no one had told them? What if I, the instructor, was the typical (in their minds) red-pen-wielding, creativity-crushing nit picker, who would devote extraordinary amounts of time and energy ridiculing and humiliating them when, really, they already knew all there was to know?

I’d introduce myself, make sure everyone was in the right place, and then, before anything else—before students introduced themselves, before I even passed out the syllabus—I’d ask them to pair up with someone else in the class, move their chairs (which were arranged in a circle) so that they were face to face with their partner. Then I assigned a four-minute exercise.


The Exercise: Fears

Choose who will be “A” and who will be “B.”

“A” begins. For two minutes, tell “B” all of your fears about this class and anything that has to do with this class. Tell your fears one by one. (Remember, this was a writing class, so the fears all had to do with writing.)

After each one, “B” responds with one word: “OK.”

There is no discussion, only acknowledgment.

At the end of the two minutes, I will call time, and “B” will tell fears to “A” for two minutes.


The Results

At the end of the four minutes, the room always felt different. The anxiety had lifted. The energy had ramped up. I asked students how they felt, and most all of them said good or great or relieved, mostly relieved.

Each of them had been allowed to express their fears (and the fears, of course, were universally associated with failure, which looked different to each of them) and have those fears heard without discussion or judgment.

This is not to say, of course, that fear didn’t emerge for the rest of the term, that it didn’t tighten its grip around students’ throats at some point or another, usually when they were beginning a project.

But then they could do this fears process again.


Your Turn

Give it a try.

List your fears about writing—writing in general or a project that you’ve begun and are struggling with or have tabled.

Don’t try to talk yourself out of your fears. Just list them. Two minutes. No stopping.

Then read them aloud, and after each item on your list, say “OK.”

Don’t beat yourself up over your fears. Just acknowledge them.


How do you feel now?



Pam Sourelis writes short stories and personal essays. She assists other writers as a developmental editor, writing instructor, and writing coach/mentor.; also on Facebook



2 Replies to “So Many Fears!”

  1. Hi Pam —
    I love this sort of exercise. Thanks for sharing it.
    Even as an experienced writer and composition instructor, the fears that plague me still . . . plague me. Like my students, I compare my writing to others’ pieces and inevitably find that my voice is not theirs, my words are not theirs, and my story is not theirs. Without a unique voice, without distinct word choice, and without her own story, a writer has little to offer, and yet, how many times did I try to nudge my paper into the middle of the stack, hoping that there, it could slide through with a passing grade and little notice?

    1. Months later, I found your comment! Oh, my. Word Press didn’t notify me. I’m so sorry.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You know, I’m thinking that the fears may even get bigger the more experienced we get. They’re different fears, of course. The good news is that we can face them down.

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