I recently wrote a post called Sometimes Our Fear Of Writing Is Telling Us Something Valuable. Several people agreed, but valued reader and fellow writer Jorge Kafkazar pushed back in comments, saying:
I don’t think it’s always as clear cut as that, Anne. Sometimes the fear is a feeling that the writer is not up to the demands of the project. This feeling can be true or it can be false. Though the writer doesn’t know which, the fear may be enough to keep her from trying all-out. If she’s tackling new material, it will require growing beyond her previous limits. Of course this is scary. Of course she feels stressed. Of course she feels discomfort. That’s how growth feels, being on the cutting edge of life.
I believe in making an all-out effort to complete a manuscript in a new field. If I fail, despite my best, most honest efforts, THEN I can call in a professional word-slinger in that field to help. But if I succeed, I’ll have gained more than a manuscript; I’ll have gained the valuable knowledge that I can overcome my fear and succeed. Calling for help too early lets that marvellous growth opportunity escape. Faint hear ne’er won diddley-squat.
Of course, he’s right, our fears, or at least our understanding of our fears is rarely clear cut. Jorge’s example of tackling a new subject is an excellent example, although I’ve also gotten stuck with familiar material.
So how can you tell if fear is a friend or foe?
I suppose there are people who know themselves well enough to be able to instantly, or almost that fast, tell if they should challenge the fear or let the project go. For me it takes a bit longer.
I’ve been writing long enough so it’s awfully easy for me to wave my arms and say “just push through the fear.” But I can remember being frozen over the keyboard daring nary a word. Obviously I found my way through much of it.
The truth is I don’t worry much about the fear any more, but I do remember it. I think mostly I’ve just pushed through it.
Here’s how I pushed through the fear, and how I still do when it comes up:
Put your contact info on the page. Just the act of putting my name and contact info on the upper left corner of my prospective manuscript may be enough to kick loose the fear so I can actually right.
Add a title. When I can write a title and center it neatly toward the top of the page I’m almost through the fear, most of the time.
Generate a 10 word or less purpose. This is my secret weapon. If I’m successful at creating a 10 word purpose statement I’m well and truly on my way. If, on the other hand, I simply can’t make it that short I have more work to do before writing, or I may realize the idea is only half realized or even half baked and let it go. But that’s not done from fear. Once I have a purpose the fear is pretty much gone.
Making a list of what must be included in the piece is one way I fake outlines. I do this either on the computer or with pencil and paper, sometimes both.
Bring some order to the list. If I’m still struggling with the fear, I’ll order the list and then I do have something very similar to an outline and can write to that.
Walk away from the project for awhile. Sometimes walking away from the project for a day or two works wonders, even a week if you can carve it out of any deadlines.
Get clarification from the client. If I’m writing for a client and it’s going badly, sometimes I need to pick up the phone and talk with the client. I’ve even been known to tell the client I’m stuck, although if it’s a new customer I’m a bit more discreet. Often it turns out I’ve misunderstood something or something got left out of the initial conversation.
Just sit down and write. Write anything, even that I’m stuck, or I hate the project or that I’m afraid… whatever. Sometimes the act of writing anything will kick loose my ability to write about whatever.
If after all this I still can’t get it written, obviously something’s wrong. It may be a fear I need to examine closely. Or it may be that I need to let that particular writing project go. I still haven’t deleted the detective novel I’ve been writing forever – I’m not quite willing to let it go even though I did discover awhile back that what I really wanted was to have written it, not to write it. Is that fear?
So what’s your take on fear – honor it? Push through it? Something else? Comments are open.
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