Give Your Fear of Writing the Uppercut
By Lydia Davis, Student Contributor
See if the following scenario sounds familiar to you.
You sit down at your desk or other writing place of choice. You boot up your laptop, and open your preferred Word Processing software. A blank page sits before you, cursor blinking. Your fingers hover above the keyboard, waiting for your command, for your words. Then…
Two hours later, you’re still staring at a blank page.
And you might’ve opened Pinterest.
This happens to me a lot, but only recently have I been figuring out why. It’s because I’m terrified, plain and simple. Or maybe not so simple, because it’s not just that I’m terrified; I’m letting this terror dictate my creative process and suck the life out of my writing time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First off, it might seem odd to you that anyone could be afraid to write. There are scary things in this world: spiders, nuclear explosions, people who wear Crocs, etc. But writing? How is writing scary?
The act of creation attracts a surprising variety of fears. Part of this is because creativity refuses to be predictable. No matter how thoroughly you plot a novel, there’s inevitably some aspect that catches you off guard. Writing can be unknowable and unexpected. Sometimes, that’s what makes it exciting . . . but not all the time.
Writing is also a risk. There’s the risk that you might not accomplish what you intended to accomplish. There’s the risk that nobody but you will like what you’ve written. There’s the risk of exposure, and of judgement. Writing means sticking your neck out, and that can be daunting.
Acknowledging the ways in which creativity scares me has helped me figure out ways to get over those fears. Of course, I didn’t always realize that I was afraid of writing. When you’re convinced that you feel one way, it’s hard to recognize that you feel other ways, too. For many years, whenever anyone mentioned writing, I thought, “Oh yeah, writing! I love that.” I had convinced myself that writing was my purpose and my passion, that I loved it with every inch of my heart and its respective blood vessels. So when I sat down to write and couldn’t come up with anything, I had no idea why it was happening. I felt like a failure. After all, I loved writing, right?
But just because I love writing doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of it, too. I recognize that now. Sometimes my love of writing even amplifies the fears I experience. Since I love writing so much and it’s so important to me, the stakes are high—and there’s more room for fear to worm its way in.
Here are some signs you might be afraid of writing, too:
It might look like opening a blank Word document and staring at it for hours.
It might look like thinking up stories, but never starting them.
It might look like starting a story, but stopping halfway through.
It might look like typing something, then deleting it, then typing something, then deleting it, over and over and over again.
It could also take the form of two words we throw around in the writing community: procrastination and perfectionism. Saying that you’re procrastinating is a long-standing excuse among writers. I think part of the reason it’s become so popular is there’s solace and solidarity in finding out that other people are afraid of the same thing as you. Albeit, sometimes procrastination is pure laziness. There are times, though, where I’ll do anything but write: clean my room, clean the whole house, make a freaking gourmet Mexican-style omelet. Usually in that situation, I’m afraid of what will happen (or what won’t happen) when I finally sit down to write.
In addition to telling people I was procrastinating, I used say it was difficult for me to write because I was a perfectionist. But really, it was more than I liked my work to be perfect; I was afraid of it being imperfect. Often, I would wonder, “What if my writing isn’t good enough? What if I’m not good enough?”
Okay, so the first thing I’ve learned to give fear the uppercut: Don’t let what-ifs pass through your mind unchallenged. What-ifs are cancer to your writing. They start off small enough, as a single doubt. But if allowed to roam free in your head, they’ll wreak havoc. “What if it’s not good enough? What if I’m not good enough? What if it’s stupid? What if my ideas suck? What if I don’t have anything to say that matters? What if people laugh at me? What if what if what if…” If you want to get anywhere, you’ve got to police your mind. Whenever you catch yourself thinking a what-if, stop. These thoughts are ultimately detrimental to both you and your writing. If you listen to all the what-ifs that drift through your head, they’re paralyzing. They drain all your joy and confidence and leave you unproductive and miserable. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let fear be the one in charge. I’d hate to see any of your stories not come to fruition because of a few pesky, persistent what-ifs.
The second thing that’s helped me is routine. Once the unknown becomes known, it loses its scare factor. That’s why sequels to horror movies generally aren’t as scary as the originals (said Lydia, making a sweeping generalization.) Of course, creativity is a surprising and unknowable force, like I said, but there are aspects of your writing process that you can demystify. For example, you can determine a specific time to write, or only listen to specific music when you write, or always write in the same place. Adding routine to your creative process helps eliminate fear from the equation.
Last thing: If you’re a Christian and you’re afraid to write, pray. God’s got your back, and He’ll help you out. He hasn’t given you a spirit of fear. That’s not who He is.
Each of you has something so important to say. There’s honest-to-God no one else with your exact experiences or perspectives. I’m not trying to give you special snowflake syndrome or anything, but I want you to realize that your voice matters. If you don’t tell the stories in your head, no one else will. Don’t allow fear to keep you from sharing your stories with the world. If you realize you’re afraid to write, so what? Do it anyway. Do it afraid.
You got this.
What tactics have helped you overcome a fear of writing?
Lydia is a writer (since age ten) and an OYAN member (since 2012) who has a soft spot for speculative fiction. When she is not writing, she likes to spend her free time reading YA novels, playing ukulele/piano/other assorted instruments, driving fast on frontage roads, ordering tea at coffee shops, and attempting to catch rides from extraterrestrials. She lives in Arlington, Texas, and attends the University of Texas at Arlington pursuing a major in Visual Communication.
Wow, thank you for this.
The fear is definitely hard to overcome, as I know from personal experience.
I constantly revised my story, but finally said to myself ‘stop trying to perfect a page and just write the freaking story!’
I am now on CH. 5 (after two years) but at least it is now moving.
Thanks, Lydia! My own fear of thinking I’m wasting my time often creeps in. The routine of writing at least an hour a day and prayers and encouragement from other writers like you keep me going!