Do you wrestle with fear of writing?
Maanya posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hey! I was wondering how to get over the fear of writing. What I mean is that I have a great idea for a book, but I’m just terrified of writing it, let alone letting the world know. Are there any tips? Thank you for your time..
Randy sez: I’m surprised nobody has ever asked a question like this on my blog. (At least not that I can recall.) Because I’d bet this is a problem for a lot of writers. I’ve certainly had to face down my own fears many times in the past.
I wish I had a super simple answer, but I don’t. This question is above my pay grade. What I can do is give my first thoughts on this, and then I’ll throw it open to my readers to see what insights they can give.
First Question: What are You Actually Afraid of?
I don’t think Maanya is afraid of the actual act of writing. I suspect the fear is about something that goes along with writing. Here are a few things a writer might be afraid of:
- Maybe I’ll agree to a a deadline and then miss it.
- Maybe my writing will be awful.
- Maybe people will hate my writing.
- Maybe I’ll get really horrible reviews.
- Maybe my book won’t sell and I’ll wind up having wasted a lot of time.
- Maybe _______________ (fill in the blank with your own fears).
Second Question: Is it a Rational Fear or an Emotive Fear?
The second thing to ask is whether there’s actually a reason why you should be afraid.
If you live in a place where tigers roam around freely and if there’s a good chance you might actually run into a tiger, then you have good reason to be afraid of tigers. That’s a rational fear.
If there is essentially no chance that you’ll ever run into a tiger, and you still live in constant fear that you’ll be eaten by a tiger, that’s an emotive fear.
Let’s be clear that fear is real, no matter what’s causing it. Even if you know that your fear is not rational, it won’t just magically go away. It feels the same, either way. Fear is fear.
But it’s still useful to know if your fear is rational or emotive, because that gives you a clue on how to deal with it.
Dealing With Rational Fears
If your fear is rational, then you can deal with it rationally. You can ask yourself questions like these:
- How likely is it that the thing I fear will actually happen? Are the chances one in two? Or one in a million?
- Can I make a plan to make sure it won’t happen? Or at least make it much less likely to happen?
- If it does happen, will it really be so awful? Do other people live with it? Can I live with it?
I always procrastinate before blogging (or sending my e-zine or posting a new book to be published).
I’m afraid it won’t be my best work and people will hate it. And that’s a rational fear, because every writer has been slammed for something they wrote. I have in the past. I know I will in the future.
I deal with that by asking myself: “Is this the best work I can do today?” (I don’t ask if it’s the best work I’ve ever done in my life. By definition, that only happens once in my life. I ask if it’s the best I can do on this particular day.)
If the answer is no, then I rewrite it until it’s the best I can do today. And then I send it out. I remind myself that J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling and Stephen King all have received scathing reviews, and it didn’t kill them. I’m not in their league, so I’m guaranteed to get scathing reviews too, many times. I won’t enjoy them, but they won’t kill me. (And I won’t go out of my way to find them either. If somebody puts rat poison in your spaghetti, you don’t have to eat it.)
Dealing With Emotive Fears
I’m not an expert on this, but I don’t think you can deal with emotive fears by rational self-talk. I’ve had my share of those in the past, like everybody. I couldn’t solve them by myself.
To get specific, I used to have quite a lot of travel anxiety. And I had extreme, extreme, EXTREME fear of public speaking. Those are very inconvenient fears to have when you travel to lots of conferences where you then get up in public and teach. And it’s no picnic to go to an awards ceremony when you’re more afraid of winning than losing (because if you win, you have to go up front to accept your award).
I lived with those fears for several years and they didn’t get any better. They weren’t rational fears, so rational self-talk didn’t help. They were emotive fears.
Eventually, I found a good counsellor and we spent several weeks dealing with those fears.
And we kicked those fears to the curb. I won’t say they’re dead. They’re still out there, lurking, but they don’t have a home in my heart anymore. I’m very comfortable traveling now. I’m very comfortable speaking in public.
What Do My Loyal Blog Readers Think?
I’ve said all I can on this subject, so now it’s time to ask my Loyal Blog Readers. What do you think? What would you tell Maanya? How have you dealt with fear of writing in the past? Or other fears?
Got a Question for My Blog?
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.
Tiffany Dickinson says
Randy, I too think this is a great question and probably a common concern I often have fears that my writing won’t be good enough – so why bother. Another less obvious fear is fear of success. So, what if I finish this novel, It sells, and people expect more? What if I have no other good ideas? How do I move on past this one? It’s kind of like wanting your baby to grow up, but being afraid of the life after. As with so many things, we must just push through that fear and do it. Thanks for posting!
Joel D Canfield says
Steven Pressfield, in his seminal work The War of Art, identifies Resistance, the powerful negative emotion that arises any time we attempt something creative. His blog is a massive help: http://stevenpressfield.com
Rosanne Bane writes about the brain science behind Resistance, and offers practical steps to deal with the fear and get writing done. Her blog and book are at http://BaneOfYourResistance.com
I also recommend Mark McGuinness’s book Resilience which is about building ourselves up so when Resistance strikes we have tools to deal with it.
I also write about the fear of writing at my own blog. Read their blogs and books first, eh?
Peter Trott says
I can identify with you, Maanya. I finally got past the fear by deciding to write just for myself. If I someday find myself with a book that I think is good enough to publish, that will be frosting on the cake. But in the meantime, I’m just enjoying getting my ideas down on paper, and I’ll worry about how the reading public receives them when and if I ever get a story completed to my own satisfaction.
Summary: Write a book for you; the one you want to read.
David Kunin says
I also find it a great question. Randy, it’s possible you were never asked it before because 99% of the people drawn to your website already made it far enough past their fears to become interested in the “how-to” part of writing (like the snowflake method).
Anyway, my 2 cents is that it is most important to recognize all humans are fundamentally creative. At least that’s what I believe. Most people, given any kind of chance, will take great joy in creating something. It might be a short story or a novel, a painting, sculpture, etc- but it will be something. So when you have a fear of getting started, as Maanya described, first thing is to rest assured that under the fear is creativity just itching to be released. But, like a seed that must wait sometimes for the right conditions to germinate, our creativity often has to wait as well.
Many of the fears you listed, Randy, have to do with what comes after the writing is over. But the writing itself? I think for Maanya my most helpful advice is to separate out the writing from the showing it to anyone. Just sit down, put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and JUST WRITE. Set a timer for 10 min and don’t stop, even if it means writing “I don’t know what to write” over and over.
Eventually, you may get past the fear enough so you can write a story by telling yourself you will hide it afterwards and never show anyone. But then, at least you can write! Create away!! At some point you may want to face the fear of showing your writing, but that will be a another problem for another day.
Janet Ann Collins says
Years ago in a college drama class I learned that what the actor thinks is what the audience sees. That applies to public speaking because if you think about what you have to offer the audience rather than what they’ll think of you, you don’t get stage fright. And the same thing can apply to writing. Don’t worry about what readers or editors will like or not like. Instead think about the pleasure reading what you write will give them. Then you’ll be free just to enjoy creating your masterpiece.
One possible solution is to get a support system. In my case, whenever I think of doing something or doing something in a certain way, I check with my wife. She may talk me out of it, change the way of doing it, or say it sounds good. Getting a second opinion like that can make you more positive about charging ahead, less fearful of failure and rejection.
Judith Robl says
Not trying to sound hyper-religious or anything, but before you write, pray. Ask God if this is what you should be doing. If it is, just do it. If you have His approval, you don’t need anyone else’s approval. (Not even your own.)
Your only responsibility is obedience. The consequences and after-math are in His hand, not yours.
We forget that we are responsible only for what we do, not what other people think or say about what we do.
“no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord. ~~ Isaiah 54:17
I fight resistance all the time. Like allllll the time. I’m learning to do a couple of things. 1) I tell myself that today my goal is to write what Anne Lamott calls a sh*ty first draft. (If you haven’t seen it, her essay by that same name is hilarious) That takes some of the pressure off. My goal today is not to write a perfect scene, it’s to write a perfectly awful scene. 2) The next day, after I’ve written my perfectly awful scene, I tell myself that I do not have to fix that scene. All I have to do is read it. Of course, once I start reading, I find all kinds of things to fix.
Mind games? Yep. For sure. But it’s helped. My first novel will be out in a couple months. Yea!
Debbie Burke says
Many writers I’ve known have a fear of exposing themselves. B/c writing is intensely personal, revealing feelings, fears, and secrets, many people fear that leaves them open and vulnerable to attack by others.
As Peter and David suggest, start out writing what you want with the intention of never showing it to anyone. Lock it up if you need to. As you write more, eventually you’ll find you have something to say you do what to share with others. Find sympathetic readers to start with. Then as you gain confidence, find a critique group that wants to help you improve your writing and work with them.
You may discover you like to share your thoughts and writing with others. Or not. If you don’t want to share your writing, continue to do it for yourself in journals. The mere act of putting thoughts and feelings on paper helps you sort out confusions of life. So even if no one ever sees it, it still can help you.
What I’ve found is that I’m more afraid of writing when I’m not actually writing, than when I am writing. Writing is the best way (for me) to lessen that fear. A quote that helps me is one I read by Norman Vincent Peale: “Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow.”
Nancy Larson says
Randy, you’ve described something I’ve dealt with for years. Basically I suspect it comes down to being afraid what people think. More importantly, what will my closest friends and family members think? Will they be hurt, upset or disappointed in what I write. Simply telling myself there are 7 billion people on this planet who couldn’t care less about what I write isn’t enough. Thanks for a great blog post.