Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Fear of Writing

We like to call people who flaunt fear and defy death daredevils, like those old barnstormers who flew their rickety biplanes upside down to the delight of the crowds below. But how can what writers do be compared to that?

For me, it's not too far a stretch to think of writers as daredevils. I would argue that for many writers, even established ones, fear is the emotion most readily associated with our work. To get anything meaningful accomplished, we have to dig deep, don our daredevil armor and vanquish fear, much as the haints that terrorize us on All Hallow's Eve are conquered by the rising of the Saints on November 1st.

Talk with any group of writers and you’ll find they fear the same things... that somehow their work won't be good enough or will never cross the finish line. Or if they do manage to get something written, edited and submitted to a publisher, it will never be bought. Or if their work is miraculously bought, once published, no reader will buy it. Or if people actually buy their books, they will never read them. Or if they do read them, no one will like them. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum. 

No matter how we approach it, the writer's path is full of artfully placed stones, each waiting to trip us up and keep us from reaching our destinations. The list of fears associated with the act of writing goes on and on, a dreadful tangle of crippling thoughts that threaten to hogtie our minds with every word we commit to the page. Too many aspiring writers spend their lives constrained by these knots that exist nowhere but within their own minds. Fear crowds out any impulse to write and smothers every creative idea that sparks before it can burst into a roaring fire that cannot be extinguished. The sad truth is we stop ourselves from succeeding as writers when we let our "what if" fears control our thinking.

It's just plain awful.

Speaking from personal experience, here is what I do when my fear of writing threatens to swallow me up and extinguish any nascent creative sparks that may be sputtering about in my brain.

1. While I dislike that old adage about how you eat an elephant—namely one bite at a time—it's useful when it comes to writing.

How do you write a book? One sentence at a time. How do you write one sentence at a time? Make a plan. Pick a time of day that's most convenient for you, and every day at that time, sit down in the same place, choose the same tools (pad and pencil, tablet, computer, typewriter, etc.) and write one sentence. Make no judgment about that sentence. Just write it and then congratulate yourself and get up and leave it. You're done for the day. Go take an antacid to help you digest that bit of elephant if you need it, or do yoga or walk or eat ice cream.

2. After a full month of writing one sentence a day, set aside 30 minutes to read all your sentences at once. It doesn't matter if they go together or not, or whether they make sense or are even part of the same story. What you're trying to do is develop your writing muscles, get them used to the habit of writing every single day. If among the 30 sentences you find some that seem to go together, that’s good, but at this point, merely incidental.

3. For the next month, pick a topic and write two sentences a day about that topic. This time, the goal is to make them work together, to seem part of the same whole. By the end of the month, you'll have enough sentences strung together to create a short article such as a book or movie review, or even a blog post. But even if you don’t, celebrate the fact that you wrote two sentences a day for 30 days. That’s a real accomplishment, and by now, you should start to feel more comfortable with the physical act of writing.

4. For the third month, you will write a full paragraph every day. All the paragraphs you write should be focused on the same topic or story.
5. By the fifth month, select a topic and start writing with the goal of finishing a short story or article by the end of the month. The goal is to get your idea down on paper, not to create a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of literary or journalistic art. If fear raises its ugly head, go back to writing one sentence a day until you have it managed again.
I believe most fear of writing arises from the unrealistic demands we place upon ourselves. Let’s face it. Not every one of us is going to grow up to be a Margaret Atwood or Richard Powers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write. If you truly want to be a writer, then you must write. And in order to write, you have to conquer all the fears you associate with writing. Only then will your Muse feel free enough to come out and play, and when that happens, the real fun begins.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.

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