Fear of writing? The pathology is the cure

Compared to waiting for the next bombing raid, or walking two hundred kilometres to the next village hoping to god they have food for your children, writing a book or starting a blog doesn’t seem like a particularly terrifying way to spend your time – #firstworldproblem right? But many people are terrified – of starting, of failing, even of succeeding, at their writing. But what if the source of the fear is the source of the cure?

Who’s afraid of the big, bad … ?

The reason creative types have such a great time with fear is because we have really good imaginations. Pathologically good. If you have a good imagination, you can create a character and the plot of a novel from a news item the size of a postage stamp. (Or from a few words – this kicked off a whole short story in my brain.) You can also render in vivid detail what you might say in interviews about your fresh-voiced blog or novel … or how badly your family will hate you, your friends will out you, and you will fail, in epic or – worse – mediocre proportions. You know how great your life would have worked out if you’d have won the Vogel instead of waiting until you were 47 to finally start writing seriously. ‘It’s too late!’ your sniper-quick inner critic told you when you read about The Lumineries.

But it isn’t too late, and you don’t actually know how things might have turned out, or will turn out — it’s a fantasy; these are only the imaginings of a great fabulist. Forget them, and use your powers for good.

Dear writer, you have the power to heal yourself

Using your imagination is something you do well, without trying, so it’s likely you’ll find it difficult to switch it off. So, don’t. Instead, give it long reign but with a focus that better matches the life you’d like to have, where the words are already written.

1. Good at horribilising and catastrophising? Great! When you’re in that mood, set yourself time goals and a purpose – e.g. ten minutes; scene; protagonist makes the worst bad choice that unravels their life as they knew it. (This can shake up your plot, or give it more guts so you’re re-inspired.)

2. Neurotic capacity for analysis? Use your love of detail to imagine what ‘having written’ looks like in the doing part – when and how long do you write for? What smells and sounds and textures are around you? Do you have a ritual? How does it feel when you’re typing/writing in the flow? (See what happens if you actually do this every day, embellishing with more detail.)

3. Fear of the the writer’s block that won’t shift? Write about the block – turn it into a character. Give it a name; what does it wear? How does it smell, taste, feel to the touch? Is it human?

4. Always running your life twelve steps ahead? Go with it! Write about embarking on your next project, after this current one – the next blog, the next novel – how does it feel? What did you learn from the first go that you can employ here? What mistakes did you make? What did you do well, but now requires a different approach? What excites you about this new opportunity?

5. Like picking things apart? Investigate your fears – write them down (this may take a while if you’re really good at fear; just go with the flow, even if it’s seems nuts ‘I’m scared my cat will die’ – fine; put it down). Find three cases of proof for (e.g. I’ll never finish my novel > I didn’t finish my Masters when I was 26 might be one) and three cases against (> I am now older and have learned a lot about how I work best; I can do this).

These are just some of the things I’ve tried with clients, and used myself, over the years. Let me know if they work for you.