Few things in life fill me with as much fear as writing (and I’ve gone skydiving, held an alligator, and entrusted my heart to another human being, so that’s saying a lot!). Ironically, or maybe not, there are even fewer things that bring me as much joy.
There are magical days when I sit down to write and the words just flow. (Ah, those days.) More common are the days when writing feels like a battle. When I lock horns with my story and must wrestle every word onto the page. Whether the writing flows or fights, I’ve come to realize, is determined by the presence or absence of fear.
The days that fear shows up for work, it sits beside me and points at every sentence, scoffing, “What is [insert name] going to think when s/he reads THAT?!” Before I know it, I’m deleting sentences and watering down my words until everything feels nice and safe (read: boring).
Having been at this writing thing for over 15 years now, I can look back and see the damage caused by these epic battles with fear—story ideas gagged and handcuffed to chairs, scorched earth where first drafts used to be. Today I’ve decided to push past my own fear and explore this destructive force, not because I’ve mastered it but because I believe that for any of us to “unbox” our true potential and access our best, most authentic writing, we must find a way to overcome it.
To help me take on this formidable opponent, I reached out to the Writer Unboxed Facebook community and asked our fellow writers to share their fears and doubts as well as their strategies for fighting back. With their insights and courage, I’ve assembled some battle-worthy advice to help us win the war against fear and get back to doing what we love.
- Put a face to your fear.
A natural part of being a writer is fearing the reactions of other people—be they anonymous readers, critics, friends, family members, or, in the case of fellow WUer Starry Neilclan, “the professionals” (who might be anyone from agents to editors to more-experienced writers).
Fear is scariest when it looms large and faceless in our dark fantasies of rejection and public humiliation. But just as the frightening Wizard of Oz turned out to be a little old man with a fancy microphone, your fear is likely not what it seems.
When I started writing The Indie Way column here at Writer Unboxed, I was paralyzed with fear that “the professionals” would leave critical messages in the comments section. When I peeked behind the curtain, I realized “the professionals” were my fellow contributors. My fear of their reaction was making it hard for me to show up for my column in an authentic way because it kept browbeating me, insisting I needed to be more. Better. Wiser. More accomplished. More widely read. “Hit a best sellers list or something!” it would implore.
Once I put a face to my fear, I could begin taking away its power. It turns out, the question “Why?” is like kryptonite to fear. I asked myself why I was afraid that my fellow contributors would publicly humiliate me. They aren’t bullies who go around trashing other writers (I’ve met many of them in person, and they’re lovely people who actively help other writers). The answer was rooted in admiration and insecurity—I realized that I admire their work and contributions here at Writer Unboxed, and, frankly, I felt out my league in their company. I was grappling with a self-doubt that fellow WUer Laura Jane Swanson also contends with—Am I qualified for this?
Once I understood the source of my fear, I gained the upper hand and reasoned it into submission. I acknowledged that no one here expects me to offer the same kind of advice as any of our other fine contributors because (spoiler alert!) I am not them. I’ve not walked in their shoes; I’ve not typed at their keyboards. I can’t be them any more than they could be me.
Once I realized that the only expectation is for me to show up as me, I freed myself from the grip of fear and got back to work.
Try it: Peek behind the curtain of your fear and put a face to the person or people you find there. Challenge your fear by asking “why?” until you uncover its source. [Read more…]