How to Write When You’re Scared Spitless

It’s 7 a.m., and I’m in trouble.

I’ve got a guest post due for a popular blog in a few hours . . .  A new writing client expects an outline of a marketing piece first thing tomorrow . . . The pitch I submitted to a local magazine was a hit, and now the editor wants the article for the next issue.

You’d think such a sizzling stack of opportunities would have me salivating all over myself.

Instead, I’m scared spitless. My heart pounds, my stomach lurches, and fear has me pinned to the mat.

If you’ve been writing for more than 7.5 seconds, chances are you’ve spent some face-time with fear too.

Maybe you’ve experienced:

  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of writer’s block.
  • Fear of rejection.
  • Fear of success.
  • Fear of criticism.
  • Fear of financial ruin.

Whew!

With a list like that cheering us on, it’s a wonder we ever string more than two sentences together.

Still, the show must go on, and just as actors learn to work with stage fright, we writers must carry on with page fright.

For me, carrying on means experimenting with self-coaching techniques to find the ones that let my creativity flow despite an ever-present fear-factor. Through testing, tweaking, and combining these methods, I’ve created a simple process to help myself and other writers move from paralyzed to productive.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Recognize fear. Fear is a shape shifter. Although it’s easy to spot when it’s smacking us around in a full-frontal assault, sometimes it’s masked in behaviors like mindless eating or dawdling in the face of deadlines. These forms of fear may seem harmless, but they undermine our work and health and need to be seen for what they are.
  2. Return to reality. When I’m in the midst of a major fear-fest, my body is present, but my mind drifts to faraway lands where rejection lurks under every lamp post. To shrink fear and get back to reality where I can get some work done, I breathe deeply and slowly, touch objects in my physical environment, and stretch to release tension from my body.
  3. Stop struggling. Just like a snare tightens around a frightened, struggling rabbit, fear’s claws sink in deeper when we resist it. Fear is an instinctive, as well as a conditioned, response to the risk that’s part of living a creative life. When I remember that, I save my energy for writing instead of squandering it in an eternal wrestling match.
  4. Listen. Even though I don’t applaud its arrival, fear often delivers important messages. I’ve learned to sit quietly for a moment and ask myself what I’m really afraid of. This helps bring insecurities, triggers, and potential dangers to the surface where they can be addressed as needed.
  5. Recommit. Writing is a choice. We have the option to let our blogs sit dormant, turn down writing jobs, and break contracts. When we’re scared, we forget there’s a whole world of ways to be creative and make a living, and that we chose this one. Consciously recommitting to our work, if that’s truly what we wish to do, restores our sense of power.
  6. Get in the flow. Practicing the previous steps puts fear into perspective; moving into the creative process helps keep it there. The key is to work quickly, staying immersed in the writing process, without judging the work. For me, this means writing ‘fat and fast’ rough drafts without thought to sentence structure or punctuation. As my fingers move across the keys, words appear on the screen, and momentum builds. If my project is in later stages, I’ll work in quick sweeps, making easy changes without getting bogged down in the pursuit of perfection. My work will need fine tuning soon, but right now, it’s all about building up that momentum.
  7. Take a breather. I’ve learned the hard way that fear sneaks up on me when I let my batteries run low. Even though taking breaks is the last thing my creative spirit wants to do when it’s on a roll, I step away for a few minutes here and there to refresh and recharge.
  8. Sculpt and polish. Words like ‘revise’ and ‘edit’ make me twitchy, so I use softer language like ‘sculpt’ or ‘whittle’ to describe the home stretch activities. At this stage doubts can pop up fast, and doubts are to fear what gasoline is to a flame . . . . Whooosh! If you feel that big fiery rush of fear come over you as you polish your work, acknowledge it, take some deep breaths, and keep working if you’re able. If not, repeat the above steps as needed to complete your project.

I’d love to tell you that practicing this process will eliminate your writing fears forever, but that’s not true. Odds are, fear will be waiting at your desk in some form the next time you start a new project, work with a new editor, or shift writing gears. Perhaps, it’s already there.

That’s okay though. We’re all fraidy-cat writers sometimes, and there’s no shame in that. No, the only real shame would be if we let our fears hold us back from experiencing the wild adventure of this writing life.

Your turn: How do you deal with your writing fears?

About the Author:
Jean Berg-Sarauer is a writer and blogger living in beautiful northwestern Wisconsin.

 

About the author

Jean Berg-Sarauer

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