Cycle 3.3 Fear Finds Choices


JAIL BREAK from Keys to Freedom site installation by Janet Riehl at Mad Art Gallery, St. Louis inside the old Soulard jail. From 2005 national exhibition, juried by Judy Chicago. “Contemporary Women Artists Exhibition XIII,” sponsored by Women’s Caucus for the Arts.

Column by Janet Grace Riehl with Stephanie Farrow

We’ve been talking about fear. What does it want? What does it need? What can it offer us? We’ve noted that when we take the bold step of dialoguing with fear, we can discover those answers and use them to help us achieve our writing goals.

Once we better understand our particular fears’ motivations, we’re ready answer a second set of questions.

1. Assessment. Where am I now?

2. Goal/aim. Where do I want to be?

3. Obstacles. Where do I get stuck? What gets in the way?

4. Action plan. How do I get there? What do I need to develop?
(See “Creative Catalyst” archives:

As we did in our last post (3.2), we’ll use the situation of “Helen”, a stay-at-home mom who wants to write more, to illustrate.

1. Assessment.
Helen fears that if she takes steps toward her goal of writing more her family will suffer.

2. Goal/aim. Helen wants to live a balanced life with the freedom to give to both her family and her writing practice.

3. Obstacles.
Helen gets stuck in several ways, some internal and some practical.
Emotionally, she is fearful and perhaps feeling guilty. Mentally, she is caught in either/or thinking; adding more weight to one side of the family/writing balance beam means upsetting the other side. Practically, there are a host of tasks to perform to keep the children well cared for, her husband happy, and the household running.

4. Action plan.
Helen needs to do further analysis of her situation and planning. This is what we’ll focus on in this post.

At a family meeting Helen tells her family what she wants to do (write more) and why. She also tells them up front that she’ll need their help. Together, the family members list what they perceive to be their needs. Even the youngest children participate.

Helen then analyzes the list. What do others expect? What is absolutely required? Everyone needs to eat, of course, and the kids need clean clothes for school, for example. What would be nice but isn’t necessary? Cooking a gourmet meal every night would be nice for the family but definitely not necessary, particularly with young ones at the table.

At this point Helen asks herself the key question, “What matters to me?” She puts Writing! up there at top of the page, before she starts listing family answers.

Finally, Helen engages in the process of identifying trade-offs and identifies other areas, which can do double-duty. For example, if she bikes with the kids, she’ll spend time with them, provide exercise for all of them, and save money on gas.

Once she takes the first steps, it begins to dawn that “We might have more choices than we think.” Helen continues to brainstorm ideas to expand the envelope of possibilities. She puts more structure into family life. Importantly, she continues to talk with her family, making them an integral part of the process.

Helen discovers that more flexible thinking sometimes yields unconventional shortcuts. Meal preparation, for example, is an area where she’d like to spend less time. What if there were ways to cut the number of food shopping trips? Could she simplify her menus? Could she roughly plan out her menus for the entire month and shop from that plan? She could try using more fresh produce toward the beginning of the month and more sturdy produce like cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and celery toward the end of the month. That would allow her to stack the refrigerator and larder to access the fresh produce first.

This approach may seem a little radical, but if it helps Helen reduce time on a family need and open up time for her writing, it makes sense. Writing keeps it place high on the list.

July’s post, third and last in this cycle considers: “Can we negotiate with fear?


Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog in the comment section below. If you’d like to see previous articles in this series, go to

1) Go to to sign up for a free download of a 10-minute
audio from “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.”




4 responses to “Cycle 3.3 Fear Finds Choices

  1. A thought-provoking post with answers we can all use—a way to turn disabling fear into constructive action.

  2. Great posting and wonderful ideas although the ‘solutions’ to finding time are probably too organised for me! My life is downright chaotic most of the time, and I have simply identified to myself that my biggest problem was myself, or rather my fear. Now I know what is causing that horribly cold feeling to creep up my body, causing my muscles to clench, my head to hurt and my throat to close. It is simply Fear. I simply acknowledge that it is here and just get on with the writing whenever the opportunity arises. Sometimes this means that dinner is served very late. There is always bread in the cupboard for kids who can’t wait, and so far anyway, noone has gone hungry. (Though I cannot promise that this will be the case every day !!!! 🙂
    My problem was/is probably no different from any other beginning writer, and my solution, while being pertinent and particular to my circumstances, is probably basically the same as anyone else’s…just do it!
    More and more each day I am finding that writing is my life blood. I have to do it, even if everything inside me is telling me how crap I am. Who cares? I have to write anyway!! And the family may as well just get used to it!

  3. Dear Edith and Janet, thanks for your comments.
    Janet, I read your recent post on Kid’s True Fiction about how you’ll successfully facing your fear of public speaking. BTW, that’s said to be the # 1 fear–above the fear of death, even.
    Edith, your comment is speaking truth to power. Yes, write on! You are a courageous creative.
    Janet Riehl

  4. Janet,
    I love your bold sentence: We may have more choices than we think. That is so true. It’s so easy to get locked into a box of limited thoughts and fear even more when one of our limited ideas doesn’t pan out the way we want it to. The point, is to open up the box and keep the lid off our thinking so the choices become clear.
    Susan Gallacher-Turner
    Susan’s Art & Words
    Voices of Living Creatively

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