There are a lot of fears and anxieties that can take over a writer’s life and shut down the process completely if we allow them. The fears and anxieties manifest themselves in little ways from perfectionism issues such as never finishing a draft to overworking a draft to never sending it out to critique partners, editors and agents for publication.
These fears show up as distractions–I suddenly need to clean and organize every inch of my garage or attic–never mind it’s been a mess for years. Now I need to clean it. Fears and anxieties show up as commitments and activities–I’m just so busy. I don’t have time to write, or send my story out on submissions. I have children, a house, pets, a job. I need to exercise. Run errands. Whatever it is that is not writing. And, I do not have time to write. I’ll get to it tomorrow.
Or I need to go to one more conference, take one more class, read one more craft book–then I’ll start writing.
And yes, as writers, we have things which we do need to do to keep our lives running. The only time I write every day is when I’m either fast drafting or working on shaping the second draft of a story. Most of my heavy writing is done in our winter months of November-March simply because I live in the Pacific NW and our summers are one breathtakingly gorgeous time of the year and it becomes very hard to get much done so I try not to have blocks of time in the summer where I need to be intensively drafting a story–editing is fine. Teaching is fine. But not intensive drafting .
But I also have a life and I allow myself time to run that life whether that be exercise, taking the dog for a walk, beach time, or hanging out with friends.
However, when those things become constant excuses for why we are not writing that story or memoir, then we have to look a little deeper and understand all of this is just fear. And fear can be dealt with one tiny step at a time.
I have two places where I block with fear–one is when I am just starting a brand new draft of a story. It doesn’t matter if I have done all the character work, setting work and plotted out a tentative story. I still hit the wall of fear when I sit down to that blank page. I know none of my stories come out perfectly formed. It takes multiple drafts and revisions from editors before the story is ready for readers. But it doesn’t stop that fear at the first draft empty page syndrome.
The other place I block in fear is when I am writing too close to my “shadow” sides and revealing too much of “me.” The place this showed it’s head the most is in my memoir, Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention. I just did not want to go deep into that story and reveal my part of the story. I joked that March was the month I always wrote on that book. The reason? Our weather in Seattle is so horrible there isn’t much else you can do. The winter is over. The spring hasn’t arrived. And everything is just a soppy muddy rainy mess. So I set up shop on my dining room table and I drafted that story, diving deeper and deeper every March. Then, I’d put the story away and go happily on my way back to my romance and children’s stories.
So you ask..where is that story now? It’s finished. I finished it last March. In August, I pitched it at a conference and had an editor very interested. She emailed me after the conference to ask if I wanted to talk. I balked. I kept the email in my inbox for the last six months and skirted around the edges. I wasn’t ready for that next step. That’s the honest truth. I just wasn’t ready.
I wanted to push myself in another area–bringing out my new romance series under my own imprint. Now that the first book is out, I’m drafting the second and getting positive feedback and really enjoying being the commander in chief of that series with my imprint. It’s all given me a little more confidence and I’m getting ready to move forward on my memoir. I moved the editor’s email to my personal email box where I would see it every time I open my email. I added talk to her on my calendar for late Jan/early Feb. And guess what…March is just around the corner! What better time to take that story to the next step!
As writers it’s important to identify where those fears and anxieties crop up. What place in the process is the worst for us? Identifying it is half the battle. If we know why we are suddenly cleaning the attic instead of writing, then we can say…oh! I get it. I’m a little scared there won’t be anything for me to write when I sit down with that blank page. And sometimes it is okay to say we just aren’t ready to take that next step. Maybe we do need another class. Maybe something else needs to happen before we take the next step. Maybe we need to write something else. It is okay to say I’m just not quite ready to jump this hurdle yet. But then let it go. Move on. Write something else. Do something else. Keep the writing flow going. Don’t quit writing because you aren’t ready to take the next step on one project.
But it’s also important to sit down with the fears and move through them. Set a timer. Tell yourself you’re only going to write for twenty minutes today. That’s all. So what if it’s horrible. You did it. There are words on the page. Or, write fast and hard so your logical brain won’t override the creative. Don’t edit. Just get that story down that is in your head. And then stop. Stop before you want to. Stop when the going gets good. Stop early so you want to return the next day. I promise, you will not want to clean your attic if your story characters are chattering in your head about the mess you left them in the day before.
Send that query out. Email that editor or agent who was interested in your story. They may say no. They may never respond. But that’s not the point. The point is you moved through your fear and put your toe in the water.
And then celebrate–do something you want to do because you moved through that fear. Go for a big long walk. Bake chocolate chip cookies. Dance. Whatever it is that you need to do to celebrate you moved through the fear. And don’t worry..the fear will be back again to visit you.
But the next time, you’ll be a little more prepared for the visit of fear.