You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.
Dale Carnegie American author (1888-1955)
Fear is a powerful word. It is a powerful emotion. It can well-up inside of you and cause you to shut down or run away from life. Or it can motivate you to overcome the obstacle before you. Much stronger than its younger cousin, “worry”, “fear” has the ability to redefine who you are. Me – I am afraid of tornadoes; hurricanes and floods are right up there with them. I fear war and plagues. But I haven’t, until recently, feared anything related to writing.
Sure I’ve had obstacles in my writing life. I’ve had, and continue to have, plenty of things that I worry about with regards to my writing: deadlines, criticisms, misunderstandings. But writing had always been so easy and natural for me that nothing ever warranted anything more than a trifle of worry or a bit of angst. Now, though, as I sit here on a rainy Sunday evening nursing a now-cold cup of peppermint tea, I can’t really say that I’m not fearful at times in my writing life. No, I don’t suddenly fear deadlines or criticism. It’s just—different—now.
I scrawled a list of thirteen writing-related things I worry about on a napkin at Starbucks the other day, but I can essentially boil them all down to a small handful of items, some of which I have conquered, some of which I’m working through and one of which I haven’t a clue as to how to get past:
I have had more than my fair share of criticism over the years. As with all areas of life, there will be people who like what I write and people who don’t. Similarly, I used to worry whether people would understand what I’m really writing about in any given piece. But I’m past this now. At this stage of my writing career I feel like if I write a good, enjoyable story and people appreciate it as a good, enjoyable story, it doesn’t matter if they understand that the near-empty coffee cup was meant to symbolize my own recognition of my age and “time running out”. For now, for me, a story is a story first and a maze of hidden symbolism second (or third or thirteenth). My strategies for helping to get past these worries has been:
- Request, and accept, feedback. Both negative and positive. I’ve written about the importance of beta readers in the past and I stand by my opinion that requesting, accepting and giving feedback is critical to growth as a writer. I also believe that the more feedback an author receives, the better at accepting it the author becomes. Clearly, it is difficult to hear negative feedback, but if you never get any you will never know where you need to improve.
- Write for the readers’ enjoyment, but put in the personal things you want as well. I believe that our body of writing is, at some level, a testament to who we are, no matter how thickly we hide the personal bits amongst the fictions. For me, though, I choose not to worry about whether anyone else recognizes the personal bits – those are for me and anyone else who “gets” them will have that as an added bonus.
I feel like I have this fear mostly managed now. This doesn’t mean I don’t still work at it or that hearing negative reviews doesn’t sting – it just means I’m not afraid of it or ruled by it.
I am not afraid of deadlines. Sure, I might dread them and push them to their ultimate limits, but I’m certainly not afraid of them. One of the few things that is “right” with the school system is that there is so much emphasis on getting work done “on time” that deadlines are ingrained in us from a very early age. But even so, deadlines aren’t easy. There are ways to make them easier, though. Some things I’ve done:
- Whenever possible, spread deadlines out over multiple weeks. Having a deadline every day, or worse—more than one on a single day—can wreak havoc on one’s psyche. If it can be done, schedule the time you need and spread the deadlines out.
- Set realistic milestones for your projects so that each deadline can be viewed at a more granular level.
- Tell someone you trust what your deadlines are. Ask them to check in with you at certain points (milestones). Whether by guilt or by commiseration, I’ve found deadlines to be far less traumatic when I don’t also feel isolated and alone in my battle with them.
Deadlines do bring me a lot of dread these days, but this is mostly because I have so many of them in my life – deadlines for writing, deadlines for the day job, schedules for the kids. This issue is a work-in-progress for me.
This is the area I fear the most about writing and it is the area I’ve yet to conquer. I fear the dry spells. I didn’t previously fear them, mainly because I didn’t have them. But now, mired within one, I fear that the blank page will remain blank and the stories will not show up. Taking a deep look within, I’ve always worried that someday the words would stop flowing. Even though the worries spelled out in the other two boxes are real and valid, they didn’t bother me too much because, ultimately, if I was fighting deadlines or getting bad reviews I was, at least, writing. But the dry spells… I haven’t figured out how to combat them. Things I’ve tried or am trying include:
- Schedule time specifically for writing, preferably with a partner.
- Just write anything, even gibberish, to try to get words flowing.
- Try a different technique—use a planning method instead of writing by the seat of my pants, start with a character sheet, write in a new genre—anything to just try to jump start the process
- Take a break from writing and use the extra free time to drink more coffee
Thus far, none of these have worked. The ideas are there. The desire is there. It is all right there, inside my head. And yet, the words don’t show up on the page when I sit down to write. The longer this goes on, the more fear-inducing it is becoming, so I’m actively working on it.
Investigating things that worry us as writers may ultimately be healthy, but facing up to them and conquering them takes effort. I’m sure I’m not alone in fighting through some of these issues. What are your writing fears and how are you dealing with them? We should be able to put our minds together to get over these fears.