Let’s face it, guys, writing can actually be pretty scary.
It seems so deceptively easy- sit down, maybe with a nice cup of something warm, and then proceed to pour your words onto the page. Simple. When you’re talking with those non-writerly friends, they constantly say “Oh, writing a book? That’s not so bad! All you have to do is type some words, right?”.
Wrong. (And please resist trying to throw that cup of something hot at them, though I’m sure you’re tempted to.)
Writing comes with its own set of fears and anxieties. Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, today, I’m here to help you conquer that little voice in your head that’s preventing you from writing, whether it be a small blog post or an entire novel.
1.) Go back to why you started it at all.
When you’re midway of a 100,000 thousand word manuscript (I’m there right now, actually), it can be tough to remember why you decided to do originally. You sit down for the umpteenth time, with a blinking cursor in front of you and you can’t help but feel totally overwhelmed. There’s so much for you to improve, so much left to do, and wow, suddenly you feel like you’ll never be able to write again.
The best thing to do with this panicky-kind of fear is to just take a step back. Close the laptop, close your eyes, and just sit for a few seconds. Or if you’re not into the whole zen thing (I get it, it’s kind of weird when you’re trying to chill and your sister bursts into the room questioning your sanity), grab some good ol’ fashioned pen and paper. Spend a few minutes just thinking about why you decided to embark on this writing adventure in the beginning. What compelled you to choose this story, this writing thing, when you could have chosen one of the many other ideas floating around in your mind or let your writing journal collect dust in the corner while you were out bowling? (Don’t doubt bowling, guys, people are pretty serious about this stuff, as I found out the last time I went bowling.)
Maybe it was the story that was jumping out to you. Maybe you wanted to start a blog to chronicle your love of books (hey, I do that!). Maybe you want to connect with readers, to change their lives with only the words on a printed page (wow this is suspiciously starting to sound like my reasons for writing…. Must be a coincidence). Maybe you want to learn to communicate with people more, empathize with them on a deeper level. Maybe you just want to leave a legacy.
Whatever it is, hone down onto it. Write it down, and stick it onto your writing space or on a sticky note on your computer. Make sure you look at it whenever you’re down. Writing sure as heck may be scary, and you may have no clue what you’re going to write to get yourself out of this terrible plot conundrum you’ve written yourself into, but hey, you’re doing this for a reason.
And that alone is incredibly, powerfully motivating. You have to get over the fear to reach that beautiful goal of yours. Use that reason, and keep going.
2.) Focus on just one thing at a time.
Novels can be particularly overwhelming, simply because writing a complete novel has so many steps. The drafting, the revising, the sending to beta-readers, the editing; it can all add up to be pretty scary, especially if you’re sitting down to write page 1 and can’t help but think about all the steps it’s going to take to finish this thing.
This kind of fear can stop you from even starting (I’m quite the over-thinker myself). And that, my dear readers, is no good for us writers.
So instead of continuously thinking about the enormity of a project, I want you to break it down. Write down every little thing that you’ll have to complete in order to finish the project. For writing a novel, this could include anything from researching a certain type of plant that would fit into your fantasy world to actually breaking your novel down into manegable chapters to finding the perfect beta-readers.
After you dump everything from your brain onto the paper (not literally, please… that would be hard to clean up, I’m sure), organize your list in order. Then grab a sticky note (can you tell I’m a fan of these?) or open a Note on your phone and write ONE thing down from that list. One. That’s going to be what you’re working on right now. Throw the rest of the list into the corner of your room, or if you insist upon being neat and organized, into a drawer or place that you aren’t going to be able to easily look at it.
Now you have your sole focus for the day, or next few days. All you need to worry about is finishing that one thing. Allowing your focus to funnel down to one thing takes away so much of the stress and fear of starting a project. Not only do you now have a roadmap of what exactly you need to do to finish your project, but you’re also focusing on one thing, which isn’t so bad, huh?
3.) Talk to your friends.
I’m so lucky to have a support group of friends with whom I can dump basically anything onto. Bad day at school? Dump. A character giving me a lot of trouble? Frustrated DM = sent. Wanting to give up on writing for eternity? I send a quick text message along the lines of “I’m done with the world!!”
Even if these said friends don’t respond in .00281 seconds (I mean, it’s almost like they have lives- what is this??), just typing out your frustrations to someone else is incredibly cathartic, and can actually help you feel better in .00281 seconds.
Additionally, whenever your friend does get around to answering, he/she can provide the exact words of encouragement you need. Sometimes, a quick text saying “Hey, you can do this!” is exactly what you need to tackle those messy revisions. Plus, friends offering (virtual or real life) cookies is pretty much the best.
If you haven’t found your ‘people’ yet- fret not, I totally get it. Try following some writerly people on Twitter and just chatting it up with them. Soon enough, you’ll be Tweeting each other random gifs and your friendship will be truly solidified.
And hey, if all else fails, don’t even hesitate to send me an email or a quick DM. I am always here for you (and I’m totally serious about this, even if it feels a bit cheesy. Just gotta trust me on this one! ;)).
4.) Remember, revision is totally a thing.
The pain of writing a first draft (especially if you’re a bit of a perfectionist) can be pretty daunting. Fear of writing something terrible is totally a thing, because I think we all innately want to tell a story, but the fear of “I’m not good enough” or “it’s going to turn out terrible” can prevent you from finishing a draft or even getting started with it.
But here’s the thing that you need to remember: it’s not going to be perfect the first time around. Nothing ever is.
The books you see lining the shelves of a bookstore (or let’s be real, lining your own shelves, because aren’t we all book hoarders at heart?) have been revised thoroughly. They’ve been torn apart, broken down, and re-assembled into something much better than their original drafts. Every published author I’ve talked to has stared at me in horror every time I ask about their preliminary drafts. “I would never want anyone but my editor to see that!” they say, and with good reason.
First drafts are messy. They’re ugly. They’re certainly not meant to be perfect. So just remind yourself: you are allowed to write a terrible first draft, because you’re going to be able to fix it later. Actually, make yourself write down everything that comes to mind while you’re writing, even if it’s absolutely terrible. That’s going to help the words start to flow.
Besides, as I always like to say, you can’t edit what’s not already there. Remember, revision will happen. What you write now is not going to be etched in stone. Think of it as molding the story- the real sculpture carving will happen later (I took one year of art history and this is the best art metaphor I got).
5.) No one was born a writing god.
This is the thing I find myself forgetting most of the time.
It’s too easy to look to writers that are better than you and think “I can never be as good as them! They’re so so good! I am terrible!”. To which I say: a.) You’re not terrible and 2.) Those writers had to get to where they were somehow.
Writing is so much more than talent. In reality, it’s all about practicing, revising, listening. It’s about being aware of people, of being able to empathize with people (both in real life and in fiction) and about creating something beautiful. Does talent play a role in that? Sure. But what it really comes down to is practice.
You have to work on writing if you want to get better. Most writers aren’t known for their first work, the successes start to happen after they have numerous manuscripts in their belt. The most famous people have been writing, full-time, for decades.
So have no fear, friend. Your writing will improve if you sit down and work on it, not if you worry about not being good enough. The easiest way to battle this fear is to just acknowledge your fear, and tell yourself, “I’m still a work in progress.” By sitting down and writing, you’re telling yourself that you are a writer, gosh dang it, and that you’re going to improve. The very acts of writing and reading and being observant will make you better.
Simply put, to get over this fear, do. Create. Listen. Write. That’s what all of those legendary writers had to do, and so will you.
Don’t forget, there are no super humans.
If you ever get bogged down by writerly fears, there are a few things you can do. Go back to the beginning, give yourself some space, and give yourself permission to do things. Fear is really just a construct in your mind, and the more power you give it, the less free you will be to do whatever the heck it is you want to do.
So go out there. Write and conquer. Fear is a constant, but now you have a game plan of how to fight it.
Tell me: has fear ever stopped you from doing something? What are some of your best ways to overcome writerly fears? Are you going to start using any of these tips?