Writing through Fear by Caroline Donahue

Cover of a book entitled "Writing Through Fear: a story arcane guide" It has dark blue background with aqua and purple images: a pair of hands, moon, stars, moths. The title and border are a shade of pink.

Despite being on information and opinion overload the past couple of years, I asked to read an advanced review copy of Caroline Donahue‘s new book, Writing through Fear: a story arcana guide. I’m so glad I did!

Total aside, but I love the cover.

Cover of a book entitled "Writing Through Fear: a story arcane guide" It has dark blue background with aqua and purple images: a pair of hands, moon, stars, moths. The title and border are a shade of pink.

Fear is something I’m actively working on. When I saw the call for ARC readers in Donahue’s Footnotes newsletter it sparked my curiosity, but I initially ignored it. However, the book’s contents called (then shouted at me), and I had to answer. I appreciate Donahue’s insights, humor, and background in psychology (not to mention her 80’s pop trivia, lol). Add to that, tarot has always fascinated me with its symbolism and the ways in which it can help you understand more about yourself. I’m a firm believer that the more you understand about yourself, the more you understand your writing.

You do not need to know tarot to get value from this book.

Donahue provides enough information to understand the suits and the individual cards without getting too technical or going into information overload. Each tarot card’s simple interpretation shines extra light on the fear or situation presented. The minor arcana is the framework she hangs the various writing-related fears on.

You may not have all the fears she presents, but it’s still valuable information–for you and/or your characters. The book is about getting in touch with your emotions and learning how to manage or address your fears. Donahue moves through the suits (cups, wands, swords, pentacles) from Ace to ten. Each suit has its own characteristic that she guides you through.

It’s a tricky thing to write about fear to writers–not only do we carry around a lot of fear, we’re good at arguing for it (our own, that is). Donahue has a way of writing about fear without provoking it which is huge. Trust me, I’ve had an activated couple of years and I saw my reflection in some of what she was writing. She got to the heart of the matter in a way that helped me look at some of these fears in a fresh and less punitive way.

My Inner Critic is like a Sith Lord, y’all.

We’re talking upper echelons of mean society. Donahue delivers gems and practical advice shushing some of those fears for me with reason and reframes. She ends each chapter with Questions to Ponder, reinforcing the chapter content as well as getting the reader to step into their own agency through reflection and action.

This is a practical and easy book to read that I’ll return to (I might purchase a physical copy for easier reference). It has a conversational ease to it, as if you’re receiving advice from a compassionate friend. You’ll know what cards and fears resonate and you can return to them, taking another swipe at what’s holding you back or look at it once more with fresh eyes. Again, I really enjoyed the journey through the tarot because the cards build on each other; and Donahue does an excellent job of setting up the suit and the card, so you can explore and understand the fear, then get back to writing.

Donahue is a champion for the writer, believing everyone has a story worth telling. This book came about because she wondered why some people were able to see their books through and others weren’t. She examined the fears she found in her students through the lenses of tarot, psychology, and compassion.

I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the end. This isn’t a craft book and it doesn’t have the feel of a prescriptive self-help book, but it’s certainly helpful for writers. This is an exploration of fear, emotions, and our relationship to ourselves in many ways. I enjoyed this book so much that I’ve preordered the second edition of Donahue’s first book in this series, The Author’s Journey; a story arcana guide, which covers the major arcana in the tarot to gain insight into your writing process and project.

I would venture to say that even if you aren’t a writer this book would be helpful. It’s always helpful to self-reflect with someone who feels kind and compassionate, and shows you ways to be kind and compassionate to yourself.

This book is on pre-order right now. It goes live on May 23, 2024. Be sure to check it out!

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