A few years ago, in order to break the writers’ block that had been plaguing me for years, I cracked open The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the very first chapter, I came face-to-face with what was preventing me from writing: the fear of people reading from I wrote.

I’ve always had this fear that if I write using characters and events from my life, people will read what I’ve written and laugh at me, second-guess me, or hate me. This is a real problem for me, since I like to write personal essays and memoirs based on my own experiences.

It stems from grade 6. I was writing a novel in my binder which was heavily influenced by what I was reading at the time. It was about a girl (me, really), her horse, and a boy (based on and stupidly named after the boy I had a crush on). The whole thing was a blatant plagiarization of the movie International Velvet, actually.

Close your eyes, it gets painful: I was dumb enough to let my best friend read this masterpiece-in-progress in class. Other people got curious about what I was letting her read, and soon the entire class read it, including boy-crush. Dumb and dumber, I was – I had even put in a kissing scene. I tell you, it was a sensation. People chanted “Horse! Horse!” at me. I tried changing the name of the main character, but the damage was done. I couldn’t even hide inside one of those giant tires that were so in vogue for school playgrounds back in the 80s.

The saving grace was that this all happened close to the end of the school year. I took my binders home, ripped out all the embarrassing loose-leaf pages and flushed them down the toilet. But my story refused to die. On the first day back to school, kids asked “Did you write any new stories over the summer?” snicker, snicker.

I’m 20 years older, but that old fear of writing personal stories still haunts me. And I’m probably thinking a lot about this right now because of a new writing project I want to start that involves telling the story of my first boyfriend. And I could just barely write that last sentence to tell you about it. Even though he’s not in my life and hasn’t been for a good long time, I’m scared of him reading it by chance (gulp. publication? dare I dream of it?) or of my husband reading what I write on the subject and wondering why I’m still thinking about shit from all those years ago.

Fear of what people think: it can keep you from writing. It can especially keep you from writing about the painful and awkward subjects which seem to make the best stories. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.