The Trick to Overcoming “Writer’s Fear”

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. Not anymore. I used to use it as an excuse. “I can’t write today,” I’d say. “I’m creatively constipated. I need to wait for the writing gods to bless me with ~*inspiration*~.”

Funny, that. I only ever suffered “Writer’s Block” when I didn’t have a deadline. Got an assignment due next week for a Creative Writing course? I could crank out two or three short stories and pick my favorite, then save the leftovers for the next assignment.

But when I was on winter break or summer vacation? When I promised myself I would work a little bit on a novel in my free time? Oh, too bad. I’d suddenly get sick with “Writer’s Block.”

It was an excuse.

Look, we all get burned out once in a while and need to take a day or two to recoup. Writing is exhausting.

Sorry to break it to you though: If you’re “blocked” it’s not because you’ve “lost your muse.” Rather, it’s likely one of three problems:

  1. You don’t really want to be a writer. (In which case, just stop lying to yourself. If you want to be a writer, you’ll write. If not, you’ll keep making excuses. To put it simply, shit or get off the pot.)
  2. You’ve hit a dead end in your story/poem/novel/whatever and don’t know where to take it next. (In which case you need to step away from your story and look at it from a different perspective. I’ll write a post on this in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for it!)
  3. You’re afraid. (In which case… well, see below.)

Yep. That’s right. I’m callin’ you a coward.

There is no such thing as Writer’s Block. There is only Writer’s Fear.

Don’t worry, I’ve been there. There are a lot of very valid, contributing factors. Depression, anxiety.* Lack of encouragement — maybe even downright discouragement — from those around you.

But I know people who are perfectly happy, who have very supportive families or groups of friends, and who *still* claim to have Writer’s Block.

Even when I’m feeling great about myself, I’m tempted to give up and blame it on the Block. It starts the second I open up the document. Look, man, I get it. The blank page is intimidating. So is the completed rough draft. So is the query letter, and the synopsis, and the elevator speech. Writing, like just about everything else in this world, can be pretty frickin’ terrifying. It comes with a lot of “what ifs”. What if no one likes my book? What if I never get an agent? What if every publishing company ever rejects this work that I poured my whole heart into? What if I publish only one good book and then everything else after the first one sucks?

Then there are the more ridiculous “what ifs”: What if I never live to see my works become classics because they don’t get discovered until years and years after my death? What if I publish the book and THEN realize what I could’ve changed to make the story better but it’s too late to take it back? What if someone I know gets mad at me because they think my villain is based on them? What if Donald Trump starts burning books and targeting authors? What if the world ends tomorrow, because climate change, and my book never sees the light of day?

And of course there are the other concerns too: How can I ever organize this entire rough draft into something publishable? How much longer is this [writing/editing/waiting for an answer from a publisher or agent] going to take? Is this even possible?

The solution to conquering “Writer’s Fear” is no big, magical secret that will make all of your fears vanish forevermore. Nothing can do that. You will always harbor these insecurities. It’s just the nature of the creator.

I’m not going to tell you to “just get over it” either, because it’s not exactly that simple. You can’t just pretend everything is fine. Ignoring it isn’t the solution, because you will eventually have a breakdown. Trust me. Been there too. It isn’t very psychologically or professionally healthy. Eventually you’ll get to a point where you’re saying, “Everything is fine!” as you rock back and forth in the corner of your writing room and giggling to yourself.

Right, maybe it won’t go that far. It’d be more like, “Everything is fine,” as you go about your daily business and pretend you’ll write tomorrow. And then the cycle will go on and on and on and you’ll never write a damn book.

What you need to do first is acknowledge your fears. Look them in their (figurative) eyes and say, “Okay. I don’t want to write right now because I’m scared of ______.” If you want, talk to your writer friends about your feelings. Or better yet, write about them. Keep a journal. Track your fears. Hunt them down and kill them. Um, I mean, yeah, admitting you have a problem is the first step and all that.

Once you admit you’re scared, you can do something about it.

Unfortunately, all you can really do is step all over those fears, crumple them down into a little ball, tuck them away in your gut, and write anyway.*

That’s it. You just gotta be badass and say, “I’m afraid but I’m gonna write anyway.”

You’re gonna get a rush of energy from saying it.

But maybe that rush isn’t enough. Maybe you need a liiiiittle bit more motivation. What works for me is envisioning myself as a successful author. You might try making a vision board on Pinterest or something. Try to create some motivation, make your own inspiration. Set yourself a deadline, whether it be a month or two or three months from now.

Honestly, you can find motivation everywhere. In yourself. In your shitty part-time job(s) that you want to quit someday. In dream-casting your characters and imagining that your book will be made into a movie. Heck, that big Nor’easter snow storm we suffered was all the motivation I needed; someday, I can be a full-time author and work from home and never have to drive in a mess like that again. I’ve been writing furiously ever since the snow hit.

Once you’ve pumped yourself up, you need to write.

Recognize that you’re not writing because you’re afraid. Validating your writerly fears helps immensely in overcoming them. When you do it once, the next time that fear strikes out at you, you can target the core of it and say, “Not today, motherfucker. Today I am going to write.”

So get to it.

Happy writing!

* Please note: If you believe that your fear of writing stems from something such as depression or anxiety, you can seek help from medical professionals. In such a situation, overcoming “Writer’s Fear” probably will not be as easy as just acknowledging that you’re afraid to fail and moving on. If you believe you have depression or anxiety, to the point that it interferes with your life, your writing, and/or your ability to find motivation, please don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor.

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