Motherhood & Words

I always encourage my students to write towards vulnerability and explore the things they’re too afraid to say out loud. And always—always—I’m blown away by what emerges when they really do that, when they craft something beautiful from digging deep and confronting the things that scare them most.

I love what one of my former students has said about writing her fears:

Writing my fears helps to “deflate” them; I get them out of me and onto the paper, where they have less dimension. I can read them and reread them, and because I am reading them now with the eyes of a writer instead of a scared mother, they have less power. I can reshape them, edit them, or even delete them. It doesn’t make them really go away, but it helps me feel like I have power over them, even if it’s just metaphorical power.

 Writing our fear changes us, and it changes other people too. I’ve written here about facing my own fears, about being honest and real and how important that is not only as a writer, but as a mother. And as a mother to girls, I think about it a lot—in modeling how to speak my mind, own my truth, and walk bravely in the world am I raising Stella and Zoë to do the same? I certainly hope so.

I’m thinking about this today because of Heather Von St. James. In 2005, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given 15 months to live. A decade later, she’s going strong, and today she’s celebrating Lung Leavin’ Day, the anniversary of the day she had her lung removed. Every year, Heather gathers with family and friends and other survivors and they all write their fears on plates and smash these plates in a huge bonfire.

Lung Leavin’ Day is about sharing your fears, about not letting them control you. In solidarity with Heather, you can write your fears on a plate and smash them into your own bonfire (if you have a safe place to have a bonfire, of course). You can write them on an index card and burn it over your stove. Or like so many of my students, you can get them down on the page, dive into them, and by doing so, deflate them.

What are your fears? How do you face them, make sense of them, let them go? I’d love to hear. And if you have time, check out more about Heather and her journey.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Heidi Fish on February 2, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    I love this post. My work team’s name is “Team Fearless Journey.” We focus on eliminating fears that hold us back and focusing on the journey, rather than the destination. I love the plate smashing idea. Maybe we will have to do that as a team building exercise someday!

    I fear that I am inadequate. That even when I try my best, people are still going to think I wasn’t good enough. That I let them down. That I wasn’t what they hoped.

    • Kate on February 3, 2015 at 8:14 am

      Heidi, thank you so much for stopping by. I love that idea of focusing on the journey rather than the destination. And thank you for sharing your fear. I struggled (and still do sometimes) with that same fear. Smash it!

  2. James Moffitt on February 3, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Thank you for sharing this post. I love the “smashing our fears” title. It takes courage to face our fears and deal with them. I love it when people are transparent and real with people when they write. I attempt to do that when I write and I know that it is very therapeutic. I would like to feature (reblog) your post on if that is ok. Hugs

    • Kate on February 3, 2015 at 11:18 am

      James, thanks so much for stopping by. And yes, I’d be honored to have you reblog!

  3. […] received the following link in e-mail this morning and wanted to share it with you.  Smashing our Fears is something that reminds us of how important it is to deal with our fears.   I would encourage […]

  4. Autumn on February 3, 2015 at 3:51 pm


    I loved this post. Thank you. You are a fearless leader in helping mother writers write through their worst nightmares –smashing out all the fear and torment on the page.

    The only way I can make sense of all the anxieties and mother-fears that keep me up at night is by writing. It’s the only way I can take hold of all the angst that grips me–irrational and rational fears, both. Lately, it’s the rational fears that are debilitating me. Mostly, I’m afraid that I am never going to be good enough for all of them (kids and husband, combined). How the hell will I keep up once baby boy arrives in 6 weeks? Will M ever heal from all of her trauma? When will she be well and why isn’t all the love, consistency, therapy, support, etc… enough? How many more medication adjustments and hospitalizations will she/we have to endure on her journey toward mental and emotional wellness?

    One day, will I just give up?


    • Kate on February 4, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      You will NOT give up, my dear. You are amazing. A loving warrior. I know how hard things can get, but you ARE enough for all of them, and the new baby will fit it, too. I think about M a lot, though, always hoping that some switch is flipped, that she can feel safe and loved and healed. Sending you a huge hug!! xoxo

  5. Krista Christensen on February 4, 2015 at 8:33 am

    This resonates with me and what I’ve been writing about too, and also what I’ve discussed with you a little about my tattoo, which a commemoration of my birth traumas and hysterectomy. Many people don’t understand why I get tattooed, thinking it needlessly painful and maybe even a little trashy. This reminds me of the way people categorize memoir as “navel-gazing,” an equally demoralizing and patronizing. The process of taking one’s trauma’s “out” of oneself and commemorating them appropriately (bonfires are an excellent choice!) is so very healing, and when those are processed on the page for other readers, the healing becomes communal.

    Lovely thoughts, Kate. Thanks for posting.

    • Kate on February 4, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Yes, I love the way you put that, Krista: the healing becomes communal. Yes and yes! And I can’t wait to see your new tattoos this summer!

  6. Krista Christensen on February 5, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Oh, Kate, you’ll get to see the completed sleeve earlier than that. A few of us just made plans to go to AWP! We’ll see you there!

    • Kate on February 6, 2015 at 8:14 am

      Oh fabulous! I’m so glad you’ll be here for it!