I’m afraid to write. And I’m a writer. Crazy, huh? This is Susy Flory. I’ve written four nonfiction books so far and yet, every time I sit down to write, I am afraid. I have a very hard time getting started. Have you ever felt that way? If so, you are not alone. Many, many, many successful and multi-published writers tremble each time they pick up a pencil (or a keyboard). “Writing and fear go together,” wrote Ralph Keyes. “If you’re not scared, you’re not writing.”
Whew. It’s okay to be afraid. In fact, it’s quite normal. And fear can even be quite beneficial. “A blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me…” said E.B. White. “It holds all the hope there is, all fear.” Fear can be used as an energy source. Creative people quite often harness their fears and use the tension, excitement, and adrenaline to superpower their work. Fear can concentrate your mind, heighten your awareness, sharpen your intensity, and bring a strong sense of relief and reward when you are done, sort of like the feeling I once got skiing down The Wall, a double-black diamond run off a cliff at Kirkwood in the Sierras (Note: I only did this once, however!)
But fear needs to be managed so it doesn’t result in paralysis. Here are 10 practical things I do to help myself manage my fear of writing (besides prayer, which is always the first step for me):
- Dress the part. Thomas Wolfe wears a white three-piece suit. John Cheever wrote in
his underwear. Some people wear lucky slippers. Whatever you choose, put on your uniform.
- Indulge yourself in some weird, ritualistic habits. Try drinking a favorite soda, sharpening pencils, using your favorite purple pen, or playing a song on the piano. I sometimes also put on a pink and black striped stocking cap; this serves a dual purpose. When I’m wearing it, my kids know I’m writing.
- Write bad prose. Really. Your first draft will be bad. Just get it down. Don’t be a slave to perfectionism.
- Pursue face to face community with other writers. If you’re already an introvert, like many writers, sitting home alone with the computer can make you even more lonely. Find other writers. Buy them coffee. They are scared, too.
- Read about successful writers, paying attention to their (myriad) fears and how they managed them. (Try Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write, and Marlene Bagnull’s Write His Answer.)
- When your work is critiqued, take your time reading it (sometimes I wait weeks). Negative critique is not always helpful; get feedback from those you trust. Ask for the specific type of critique you need; early stage writing probably doesn’t need to be nitpicked by an English teacher friend with an overeager red pen.
- Identify your censor-in-chief and mentally rehearse how to deal with that person. Know how to shut down that critical voice in your head that tells you that you have no business writing. Anne Lamott was plagued by imaginary criticism from an elderly female relative. She visualized shrinking her down to the size of a mouse, then putting her in a glass jar and screwing on the lid, silencing her. It worked.
- Put your worry and fear on a schedule. If you have a particular fear that nags at you needlessly, schedule time from 10:30 – 11 a.m. each day to worry about it. Every time the worry comes back, if it’s not the scheduled time, banish the thought. Most of the time your scheduled worry time will come and go because you will have forgotten. This technique is amazing and works well for nagging fears.
- Create a prayer team. If Randy Alcorn needs a prayer team, then so do you. Send email updates to your prayer team and thank them with acknowledgments and signed copies of your books.
- Find a balcony person. Everyone needs a writing cheerleader to spur them on when times are tough. If you can find someone who is excited about cheering you on from the balcony, treat them like gold.
How do you cope with the fear of writing? Any tips to share?