After linking Carmen Maria Machado’s guide to MFA applying in my post on deciding which MFA programs to apply to, I binge-read her blog for the next hour or so and came across an interesting post in which she outlines a writing exercise on fear.
Machado had students in her horror/mystery class write a list of at least 100 fears–it could also include revulsions, discomforts, worries, and anxieties. She made her own list, and had this to say about it:
The length of the list is critical because it pushes them beyond the most obvious entries, forcing them to really dig deep. When I was doing this exercise myself, I became stressfully aware of everything that scares me on a day-to-day basis. Terrors that normally just flashed across my brain were caught, noted, and catalogued. It was simultaneously empowering and unnerving, and also helped me sort out a story I was working on.
Last night, I created my own “100 Fears” list. It was an interesting experience. About half-way through I stopped as I became self-conscious about my fears being too weird–most of them fall under the worries and anxiety category. Some are clearly beliefs that depressed or paranoid people hold. I had to remind myself that they are my fears, not my actual beliefs.
I pushed through and kept writing, and by the time I got to 100, I was having fun again instead of feeling bad. Searching for more fears that I carry felt like a treasure hunt, of sorts, and I ended up coming up with 16 extra because I was on a roll.
After completing the list, I reflected on how the exercise could help my writing. I instantly came up with two short story ideas based on fears I’d written. I also realized that writing a similar, but much smaller, fears list for the major characters in my novel could help me better develop them. I’ve written so much about what my characters want and what motivates them, but never the top 5 or 10 things they fear, which I plan on doing tonight.
Without further ado, here are the raw, uncensored, sometimes self-obsessed, neurotic, and paranoid thoughts that came to mind when I brainstormed 100 fears that I hold.
Fear #1: I’ll never finish the novel I’ve been working on for 3.5 years.
Fear #2: I’ll finish the novel and it’ll be good, but no one will publish it.
Fear #3: I’ll finish the novel and someone will publish it, but it’ll be bad and get universally horrible reviews. No one will ever want to publish me again.
Fear #4: Everything I’ve written so far in my life is terrible and everyone but me has realized it.
Fear #5: I’ll never write anything compelling because I don’t have it in me.
Fear #6: I have it in me to write something compelling, but I’ll die before I do it.
Fear #7: I’ll die young.
Fear #8: I’ll die before publishing a book.
Fear #9: I’ll die before falling in love again.
Fear #10: I’ll never truly fall in love again and it’ll be because I’ll continue to only fall for guys who can’t possibly love me back.
Fear #11: I am too judgmental and critical to fall in love again–I will always find something wrong with the guy and that’ll cut me off from the possibility of love.
Fear #12: I’m not too judgmental and critical, I just don’t have access to the high-quality men I could love because those guys think I’m not in their league.
Fear #13: If I never get married, I’ll miss out on the joys of a love and bond deeper than I’ve ever known.
Fear #14: If I do get married, I’ll feel claustrophobic and as if I’ve attached myself to someone who brings me down.
Fear #15: I will never meet a guy I find attractive who is interested in exploring Tantra with me.
Fear #16: None of the guys I find interesting or could love would want or be capable of monogamy with me.
Fear #17: If I fell in love with a loyal guy who wanted monogamy, I’d feel bored and trapped sexually.
Fear #18: The best sex of my life is already behind me.
Fear #19: I’m too old to learn to do the splits or become significantly more flexible.
Fear #20: My face is only going to get uglier and more wrinkled and I’ll like looking in the mirror less and less as time goes on.
Fear #21: My friends are only going to become more boring with time.
Fear #22: I’m going to die in a really dumb way, like by tripping and hitting my head the wrong way on the corner of a coffee table.
Fear #23: My genitals are getting grosser with each passing year, but I don’t notice any difference between I see them every day.
Fear #24: My breath is bad and brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash doesn’t help because the smell comes from the grossness deep inside of me escaping.
Fear #25: Guys who have kissed me and not contacted me again did so because my breath was bad.
Fear #26: Guys who messed around with me and did not contact me again did so because they thought my genitals looked gross, smelled gross, or both.
Fear #27: The best physical shape I’ve ever been in is behind me.
Fear #28: I will never meet a man who tells me the truth instead of what he thinks he has to say in order to get what he wants from me.
Fear #29: I’ll never meet a man who views me as an equal partner and not someone who needs to be managed, lied to, manipulated, or evaded.
Fear #30: Men don’t fully understand that women are humans just as much as men are.
Fear #31: A man who asks for monogamy just wants to control my sexuality–he won’t stay loyal if a tempting opportunity comes along, and if he’s disloyal he won’t tell me.
Fear #32: My brother will die young and I’ll miss him and regret not being nicer to him.
Fear #33: My brother will never find true love either, and it’s somehow my fault. Maybe my personality rubbed off on him.
Fear #34: My mom will die first and my dad won’t know how to live without her. I won’t help take care of him much because I’m selfish and a bad daughter.
Fear #35: If I have a baby, I will kill it accidentally by leaving the wrong toy in its crib or something equally careless and dumb.
Fear #36: If I have a baby, it’ll be born with severe health issues or a developmental disorder. I will want to give it up for adoption instead of caring for it and everyone will think I’m an evil monster.
Fear #37: If I have a baby, it’ll grow up to have psychological problems because I won’t parent in a normal way.
Fear #38: I’m too cowardly to pursue my dreams 100% so I’ll never achieve true success.
Fear #39: I’ll be in debt for the rest of my life.
Fear #40: I’ll die before my parents do and they’ll inherit my debt, which will be a major burden.
Fear #41: Even though I think I’m intelligent, I’m not.
Fear #42: I am intelligent, but in a way that has little practical application and only makes my life more difficult.
Fear #43: My happiest moments are behind me.
Fear #44: No one understands me.
Fear #45: My family and friends pretend I’m normal, but they don’t really believe it.
Fear #46: There is someone out there right now who would like to murder me.
Fear #47: Some day I’ll dive, fall, or get pushed into a pool and either get paralyzed or die from hitting the bottom.
Fear #48: I once saw a TV program about people who purposely make themselves disabled because then they feel like everything they do is heroic. All of the pain and health problems I’ve dealt with have been fake and a mild version of this.
Fear #49: I am becoming dumber.
Fear #50: I’m lying to myself when I think I’m becoming fitter–I’ll only gain fat and lose muscle from here on out.
Fear #51: My waist is the smallest it’ll ever be and it’s not even very small.
Fear #52: I’ll accidentally kill my dog by letting him eat something poisonous.
Fear #53: Dogs don’t love humans. They’re just constantly hoping for food.
Fear #54: There is something that exists after life and it is much worse.
Fear #55: Old married couples don’t love each other any more, they just aren’t independent enough to leave.
Fear #56: A man can’t look at his wife the same way after seeing her give birth–his attraction will transfer to some other woman.
Fear #57: A mentally ill person will attack me some day.
Fear #58: When I tweet at people who have more followers than I do, I look like a wannabe or an ass-kissing idiot.
Fear #59: When I am being most open, honest, and vulnerable, people think I’m being a fraud.
Fear #60: No one can ever really know another person.
Fear #61: People can truly know each other, except for me, because there is something wrong with me that puts insurmountable distance between me and the people I want to be close with.
Fear #62: My butt is too flat and no matter what exercises I do it will not get round.
Fear #63: I’m pathetic for internalizing cultural beauty standards and I should become confident enough not to care, but I won’t.
Fear #64: My friends and I will never have as much fun together as we did in our teens and twenties.
Fear #65: My parents don’t love me as a person, they just act like they do because they believe parents are supposed to love their children.
Fear #66: My parents like my brother more than they like me.
Fear #67: My parents would’ve preferred to have a daughter with a personality opposite of mine.
Fear #68: Every time I think I’m being funny, other people think I’m being either mean or weird.
Fear #69: I’ll get into a car accident and have way more injuries than necessary as a result of tensing up all of my muscles on impact.
Fear #70: I’ll never again find new music I enjoy the way I used to when I was younger.
Fear #71: My love of hip-hop indicates some sort of hidden racism.
Fear #72: My attraction to black men indicates hidden racism.
Fear #73: It doesn’t matter how not-racist or not-sexist a person aims to be, some of the racism and sexism in society will stick no matter what.
Fear #74: I will experiment with mushrooms or LSD again someday and do irreparable damage to my mental health.
Fear #75: I won’t experiment with mushrooms or LSD ever again and will miss out on a major mind-expanding personal growth opportunity, which will make me a more uptight, close-minded person.
Fear #76: No one in my family tree has done anything remarkable.
Fear #77: I’ll never do anything remarkable.
Fear #78: I will get in a bar fight some day on purpose, just for the experience of it, and end up getting killed or paralyzed.
Fear #79: Any time a guy says he likes my writing all it means is that he’d like to have sex with me.
Fear #80: I share too much on the internet and it disgusts and embarrasses people in my life.
Fear #81: My writing makes it clear that I’m a try-hard.
Fear #82: I will live to an old age, but waste all of those years by not doing anything meaningful or substantial.
Fear #83: A better life would involve less time online, but I don’t have the willpower.
Fear #84: My neck is fat.
Fear #85: I have bad skin and will have acne until the day I die.
Fear #86: I’m addicted to the internet and letting real life pass me by as a result.
Fear #87: People I’ve sent letters or emails to will make those communications public and when viewed out of context I will look like an idiot and be humiliated.
Fear #88: My value system reflects that I’ve become less mature over time.
Fear #89: There’s no hope for humanity and the best case scenario is that we die out.
Fear #90: My extended family would be ashamed if they knew the true me.
Fear #91: If I ever publish a successful book, my extended family will be horrified by the contents and gossip about me instead of being proud and happy.
Fear #92: I’m going to waste my sexual prime being celibate because I’m too judgmental of and picky about men.
Fear #93: I’m going to waste my sexual prime being celibate because I’m afraid of intimacy.
Fear #94: Having a boyfriend would ruin my chance at becoming a successful writer.
Fear #95: Most of my fears list items are just anxieties, which shows that my life is easy and my problems aren’t real. If I ever complain about anything I’m being self-centered and insufferable.
Fear #96: My inability to remember book titles and author names means I’ll never be able to have discussions with intelligent people about books, even books I’ve read.
Fear #97: I’m operating at maybe 50% of my potential and living a mediocre life as a result.
Fear #98: I’m a follower trying to be a leader and failing.
Fear #99: I’ll never own a car made in the past five years.
Fear #100: If I post these fears on my blog, people will think they are my actual beliefs and think bad things about me, like I’m really messed up and self-obsessed and should be embarrassed of myself.
Fear #101: I’m so weird that even my fears are abnormal.
Fear #102: That I’ve never been raped is a fluke. My time will come, and the experience will break me.
Fear #103: I’m deathly allergic to bees, but don’t know it yet because I’ve never been stung.
Fear #104: I’ll never be able to shake the resentment I hold toward Christianity and the church, even though I think it’s pointless and a waste of emotional energy.
Fear #105: I make a huge deal out of things most people just take in stride.
Fear #106: My clothes are unflattering and ill-fitting and everyone knows it except for me.
Fear #107: I look like I’m poor.
Fear #108: I’ll have lower back pain for the rest of my life.
Fear #109: Most times I get upset, I’m overreacting.
Fear #110: Most times I get upset I’m not overreacting, I just doubt myself because ex-boyfriends gaslighted me. I’ll never stop doubting whether or not my reactions are valid.
Fear #111: Carmen Machado will read this and think, “Oh God, this was not what I intended with my exercise. Why did she do this? How sad and embarrassing.”
Fear #112: I’ll get pregnant and have a miscarriage or still birth.
Fear #113: I’ll get pregnant and have a miscarriage or still birth and be more upset that my stomach was stretched out for nothing than about losing the baby, proving that I’m vain, selfish, and heartless.
Fear #114: When I move to Florida I’ll have sweaty armpit stains constantly because of the humidity and people will think of me as “that girl who always has armpit stains.”
Fear #115: When I move to Florida every building will have the air conditioning on so high that I’ll constantly feel freezing cold and be unable to concentrate or enjoy myself.
Fear #116: Present moment awareness isn’t the key to transcendence after all–it just makes people more aware of negative and unpleasant things they would’ve been better off ignoring.
And…that is it! My list of fears. Wow, what an experience. I teared up a few times while writing this, I’ll admit. Some of the fears were expected, as they are things that pass through my mind regularly, but most surprised me. It’s yet another reminder that writing is an excellent form of self-discovery.