Write What You Fear (Not What You Know)

I will never forget when my fear of dolls started. It was a snowy day, a day that happened to be my seventh birthday. My Mom and I were about to run to the grocery store. We had a little television set in the kitchen and it was on, filling the room with its usual background noise. As my mom went to turn it off, my eyes locked with the image on the screen. It was a doll with flaming red hair, a pinched smile, and sinister eyes. It was alive and in an instant, I knew it was a monster.

My mom turned the television off, not noticing what had appeared on the screen or not thinking much of it. I’ll admit, at first I didn’t think much of it either. It wasn’t until a week later, at my Halloween themed birthday party (I’ve always been drawn to the holiday, go figure!) that the situation escalated. My friend told me the doll’s name was “Chucky” and what I had seen was the movie “Child’s Play” about a killer doll. At first I thought the concept was funny. A killer doll? Dolls aren’t scary! But fear has a habit of appearing when the lights go out.

Every night of my young life was laced with dread. I slept with my bedroom door open, the hall night light glowing in such a way that I always thought sinister shadows were tip toeing into my room. I would wake up, shaking myself free from dreams where dolls clouded hundreds of television screens, smiling at me, waiting to get me.

Luckily, with age comes wisdom and as I grew older, I learned to turn my fear into fuel. It started simple, a monster or villain would unintentionally encapsulate my fear. The more I wrote, the more I inserted my inner demons. In high school I wrote a short story, casting one of the biggest baddies in my mind as the villain: my obsessive compulsive disorder. It was within that story that I realized I could control my fear.

It’s no wonder that I grew up to be a predominantly horror author. My fears have become lambs I slaughter in the name of my muse. Even my pieces that aren’t horror tend to creep ever so gently into something wicked. “Write what you know” is a staple of writing advice; however, in my personal experience it’s safe. Writing what I fear is an opportunity to find answers to why some topics go bump in the night.

How do I start my process? It’s simple, I turn my imagination loose. Not that rainbow side where all the butterflies swirl and the unicorns frolic. No, I’m referring to that decaying house at the corner of my mind, where bats fly out broken windows and there always seems to be a clap of thunder sounding as I reach for the door knocker. I go inside and poke what I see with a stick. At times I see now comical things much like dolls. I laugh right in its face, knowing that it can’t hurt me. But what if it could? I give those fears jagged claws and gnarled teeth and see what it can do. This process has jump started my writing on multiple occasions, freeing me from the cobwebs of writers block. I now take those webs and spin each strand to do my bidding. My current work in progress is the result of me cobbling together several of my fears and shifting it into a patchwork quilt of hope and possibility.

This process isn’t for everyone, but for me it has become my standard. My mental health is grateful for this ritual too. Every time I recognize a fear, I take to the page like a soldier into battle. I cannot wait to see what spooky adventure is waiting for me next.

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