Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Fighting the Fear


Or, Why Skiing is like Writing

In the morning, I wake with fear in my belly. Through breakfast, the nauseous feeling grows. Then I begin to dress, putting on the ski gear, the layers and layers that will keep me warm and protect me. I go downstairs to the ski room, squeeze my feet into unfamiliar and not entirely comfortable ski boots, grab my skis and poles and those of any child who is accompanying me, and start the descent from the chalet down the icy road to the car park below where I will meet my instructor. Every step is tenuous; there is a chance I will fall. Before I even meet my instructor, I’m already sweating.

I force a smile when I greet him, but I would rather cry. I consign my children to their instructor, kiss them goodbye and pick up my poles and skis. I crunch over the ice behind him to the lifts, where I try to stay as close to him as possible despite the crowds. On the lift, I stare straight ahead at the snow, never up or down, because that signals how high we are. At the top of the mountain, we tighten our boots, slide them into the skis and snap them down. Bending over to do this, I can taste my breakfast. I stand at the top of the slope. Unfortunately, because it is sunny, I can see how far it is to the bottom. And how steep. Voices in my head compete. One says, “You can do this. Just take it one turn at a time.” The other says, “It’s too hard, too steep, too scary.” My instructor says, “Just follow me. You’ll be fine.”

I push off with my poles. I am skiing, making turns. On the axis of each turn, I am looking and then skiing directly downwards and that frightens me, but I shift my balance and ski across the slope. Sometimes I stop to catch my breath. Sometimes I fall and get up again. Sometimes I make it all the way to the bottom of the slope without stopping or falling. Sometimes, just sometimes, I get what skiiing is all about: that amazing flying feeling, as my body controls my skis and my descent and not the other way around. In that moment, it’s just me and the mountain.

I get the bottom of the slope and say, “That was wonderful.” I have fought the fear. I have skiied. Not well, or beautifully, but smoothly, evenly and good enough for me. There were a few moments of flying. I rest on the lift up again, ready to fight the fear at the top of the mountain all over again.


I have been hovering at the start of Chapter Three of my novel for a couple of weeks. I am nauseous, feeling the fear of beginning again. There are competing voices in my head. One says, “What you have written already is good. What you will write will also be good.” The other voice says, “You can’t do it. You can’t think of anything new to say. Your story is no good.” Another voice says, “Just take it step-by-step. Make a start.”

I ready myself, having thought about it enough. I arm myself with pen and notebook, find a cafe where there is no laundry to be done, no meals to be cooked, no kisses to be delivered. I slip off the edge and I write, making turns and edging cautiously downward. The words flow. Sometimes I stumble, but I pick myself up again. Sometimes I rest, have a sip of coffee, and then pick up the pen again. I write evenly, smoothly, not always beautifully, but well enough for me. I make progress. There are even moments when I fly. In that moment, it’s just me and the story, in unison. When it’s time to go, I think, “That was good.” I walk out of the cafe on a high.

Now it’s time for me to strap myself in again, bat away the fear and just slide.

I hope to fly.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

22 thoughts on “Fighting the Fear

  1. Charlotte, that is such a good analogy. I admire you for conquering your fear and skiing, but even more so for the writing. Keep going!

  2. You just 100% described my experience in learning to ski… wow. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

  3. y’ know, the first several times i went snowboarding, i was completely miserable. everyone else was having fun, and i was totally faking it, waiting for it to be time to go home and drink cocoa.

    but this time, the thing i learned was you have to stop *thinking* about that split second when you’re headed straight down the slopes, and instead put your trust in your ability to steer yourself, put your weight forward, and just feel the topography of the mountain as it unfurls beneath you. fix your gaze at where you want to end up, think less, and go more.

    and it’s actually easier to steer yourself when you pick up some speed that’s a little bit scary.

    courage gets easier with practice apparently. 😉

  4. Aaaagh! I don’t think you’d get me up in the ski lift – if it’s that scary even when you can actually do it. I’d be the one at the bottom of the slopes pottering about on a sledge or making a snowman … must be why I’m blogging rather than writing a book!

  5. Sometimes I think thinking gets us into trouble more than we realize. I’m glad you’re giving flying a try.

  6. I feel the same way about skiing, AND about Chapter Three (been stuck there for a while).

  7. Rooting for you this side, Charlotte!

    Starting this day with the sight of my office broken into, glass everywhere, and a couple of missing computers ~ clearly the work of a large gang ~ produced a different kind of fear … but all fear is there to be conquered, right?

    And most definitely we fight this fear as well. As long as it serves a good purpose, it is welcome in our lives. If it becomes paralyzing, then it needs action. Keep on writing, keep on skiing … it is the action that brings the cure!

    And happy Valentine’s Day!

  8. Nice analogy! Don’t break a leg. 🙂

  9. I dealt with the same fears by sticking with the writing but switching to cross country skiing…

  10. After reading the first two chapters, I can only say, “Listen to the encouraging voice”. There’s a good and interesting story there. Maybe you just have to get used to the fact that in skiing and writing, the whole ride is determined more by the difficulty of slope, weather conditions, and the crowds, than it is by your skills, expectations, or fears. Tackle that third chapter, then the fourth, and on and on and be assured that it will be brilliant.

  11. I never really managed to get off my backside when skiing – I like writing so much better as the falls hurt less! You made the analogy beautifully, though, Charlotte!

  12. Nope, I feel none of this while skiing or writing. But I certainly do when I have to pick up the phone and call someone — anyone really. I do not know where this originates from. I just know that my grandfather fears the phone too. And when I can get over my apprehension and finally make the call, I am generally glad I did. Next time, I’ll imagine the phone call is a red run waiting to be skied, and it will be much easier — and you can do vice-versa when you ski.

  13. Hi Ms Musings, thanks for the boost. I am working on that keeping going.

    Lynda, yes, do it anyway, despite the fear. That’s the way forward.

    Jen, yes, I’m actually looking forward to going back and skiing less mindfully. I had moments of it and it was lovely, but sometime I was still trying to control everything with my brain, which didn’t work. I need to go back and learn to flow more.

    Kit, I am living proof that any scaredy cat can learn to ski. Living proof! You COULD do it.

    Henitserk, you’ve got it. Less thinking, more doing.

    YogaMum, it’s good to know we are on the same page, as it were.

    Pippa, happy Valentine’s Day to you too, and sorry about the break-in. That must have been very distressing for you. I think the idea I am learning, only now, is how to use the fear creatively. To acknowledge it, and use it in a way that is beneficial for me.

    Thanks LK, I’m trying hard not to!

    Anna, I have a sneaking suspicion that cross-country might be my sport … but I’m sticking with the downhill lark for a bit longer just to see if I actually can make it flow.

    Lia, you are a wonderful cheerleader! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Litlove, thank you. What I don’t want to find out is if the falls in writing really do hurt less.

    Mandarine, you’ve come up with a fresh viewpoint, which is what we expect of you. From now on, I shall think of skiing as picking up the phone, which DOES come easily to me.

  14. You will soar…I just know it!

  15. I feel this way when skiing, not when writing — and when I am going to sleep and I know I have a bunch of places I have to be the next day. Especially the morning. I get so anxious about it… I’m sure it’s from years of wrangling with babysitters…, or taking the kiddies with me and dealing with all that drama… falling behind with the laundry/cooking because I’m away… ahh the stress.

    Such an interesting post. Were these words swirling around in your mind as your were skiing?

  16. Such a fabulous analogy! And I’m so familiar with those feelings (well, not skiing, but you can substitute “scuba diving” for “skiing”).

  17. I love description of skiing…I experience a little more terror than you describe…but the same sense of accomplishment when I get down the mountain…and the same feeling again when I write something I am happy with…
    great post.

  18. LOL – that’s exactly my feeling about skiing, every single morning that I do it. And when I get home from the holiday I pine for that feeling of stomach-churning fear, crisp air, snowy trees and complete exhilaration even on the baby slopes.

    Evidently I’m somewhat conflicted!

    Way to go on the book – Chapter Three!! You are a legend. Keep at it 🙂

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