It’s Halloween here tomorrow. Wee ghouls and ghosties will wander the cold, dark streets in search of socially-distant treats.
Someone “clever” on social media will create and share the ubiquitous video post where some monster appears unexpectedly at the end and frightens the bejeezus out of me — I fall for some version of it every damn year and so now I can’t go on Twitter until November comes.
(Actually, speaking of fears, maybe this year it’s best to stay off Twitter until after November 3rd…)
Some fear can be fun, even healthy. I’m thinking of the thrill of the roller coaster ride: my daughter loves these, and all I can think about is engineering failure leading to death. I can override that fear with some repeated logic, such as the statistical fact that car crashes cause 100 deaths every day in the U.S. while only 8 people die via roller coaster every 1 million days.
See? Suddenly roller coasters look super safe. (Meanwhile, I think I’ll walk to the Post Office later, thanks.)
Other forms of fear are life-inhibiting: they stand between us and a fully lived life. We can tell ourselves we’re fine, but deep down we know that fear is eating away at our vitality.
Each week, I receive emails from writers who are afraid to write. They want to write — they may want to write very badly, in fact. They intend to write, and plan each week that this week absolutely, most definitely, will be the week they finally sit down and do so.
But they’re not writing. They’re afraid to write. And sometimes those fears keep them stuck for weeks, months or even years.
In the most tragic cases (and these do break my heart) fears around writing will keep some writers not writing for a lifetime.
I do believe that it's a great tragedy when someone feels called to write, or called to any kind of creative life, and isn’t able to act on it. I think it’s deeply sad for the individual, who may leave this life with their stories still inside them, and equally sad for the readers who may have needed that particular story in order to not feel quite so alone in their experience.
Why are so many writers so afraid to write?
We’re afraid of failure, of course. I’ve written before about some of the ways writers fail, and those have all been true for me at some point in my creative life.
But I think there are also deeper fears, less obvious ones. For instance…
Are you afraid to become the kind of person you’d have to become in order to finish your book, or to put your writing out into the world?
This is an important question, so stop and think about it for a second.
To finish your book, you’d have to write consistently enough to generate the pages you’ll need. To do that, you’d have to make certain choices in your life, some of them harder than others.
…Maybe you’ll have to give up something else you’re spending time on right now, something that you know is not as important to you as your writing, in order to make the time in your week to sit down and work on your book. (You might think that’s too hard, but hundreds of thousands of writers do it each year for NaNoWriMo when they dedicate themselves to writing 50,000 words in a month.)
…Maybe you’ll have to stay off social media for a while to give your brain a chance to rebuild its ability to focus for longer periods of time. (And hey, what if the stronger your AH HELL NAH response was to that sentence, the more urgent it is for you to do it? #sorrynotsorry)
…Maybe two fewer episodes of Netflix a week would mean you could finish your book this year. (I get it: you’re tired and Netflix is easy. But what if the real question is how badly you want it?)
…Maybe you’d have to have some potentially difficult conversations with the people in your life, to let them know that your writing is an essential part of who you are and you will be making time for it in your weekly life and you’ll need their support to do so. That might not seem hard on the surface of it, but if you’ve spent a lot of your time serving other people’s needs you might find that insisting on your own creative time will upset some long-standing family dynamics. (What if you put some careful thought into how to have those conversations? What if loved ones not supporting your creative dreams is waaayyy bigger an issue than just one book?)
…Maybe you’ll have to do some deeper work on yourself to become someone who really doesn’t much care what other people think, so you can write your hybrid-science-fiction-fantasy-memoir with three alternating timelines and to heck with the critics who think it can’t be done. (What if the nastiest critic turns out to be you?)
…Maybe you’ll have to steel yourself to put your work out in the world, by publishing your writing for others to read. Even if that means some people may not like it…even if some of *those* people might be your own loved ones. (What if the number of books beloved by everyone is actually zero?)
…Maybe you’ll have to give up the idea that only some kinds of writing, and some kinds of writers, really “count” in this world. (What if all your old ideas about self-publishing are just wrong?)
…Maybe you’ll have to stop punishing yourself for not turning out a perfect page or perfect poem every time you sit down to write. What if you can learn to stop being so damn mean to yourself, and just let yourself learn, grow and improve in your craft? (What if you treated yourself the way you’d treat a 12-year old who brought you their very first short story? If that kid can get better, why can’t you?)
I suspect there may be other things specific to your individual personality, life and circumstances that you might have to deal with or overcome in order to not be afraid of your writing, and to become someone who writes consistently.
Boo, honey! So tell me: what are you really afraid of?
If you’d like to move from a state of fear to a state of flow in your writing, AND be in community with a group of writers actively seeking the same thing in their lives, consider joining my monthly membership program The Writer’s Flow Studio when it opens next month. Sign up for the Waiting List here to receive an exclusive special offer when the time comes.