How To Face Your Fear and Write

    Do you want to face your fears and write?

    Here is what happened to me…

    I was petrified.

    I sat with my friends in a glass-bottomed gondola above a mountain in the Swiss Alps.

    Why would anyone would want to look down?

    After two years of saving money, we’d finally made it overseas, backpacking through Europe. And despite my fear of catastrophe, we also made it to the top of the mountain that day. We breathed the pure, clear air and took in the stunning view.

    How I feel about that long-ago gondola ride is the same way I feel about writing:  it terrifies me, but it is always, always worthwhile.

    Here is how to face your fear and write

    Here are 4 tips to help you move forward with your writing in the face of fear.

    1. Showing up and obeying quotas

    Writing each day isn’t easy. Yet if you just sit down in front of the post or essay you’re working on, you’ll win half the battle right then. (Sit down and click off Facebook, that is.)

    The other half of the fight is to keep writing until you reach (or exceed) your daily quota. As Anne Lamott notes in Bird by Bird, setting easy, doable quotas is invaluable for writers. Consistent practice is, perhaps, the most helpful tool for getting out of your own way.

    Quotas are your teachers – in obeying them, you learn to keep the faith. When you keep your quotas, you are essentially saying: Even though I am completely uninspired today, even though I’d actually rather be cleaning my bathroom – and oh yes, my bathroom does need cleaning, and I am never more aware of this fact than when it is time to write – I am still here. Because when I commit myself to the words, the ideas commit themselves to me.

    Yet, helpful as they are, quotas won’t dispel your fear entirely. You can train yourself to finish what you start, but that doesn’t mean you won’t shy away from the vulnerability and exposure that real writing brings.

    2. Getting the first true sentence out

    Writing is akin to having a difficult conversation. Sitting down to talk is one thing, but actually telling your truth is quite another. But as the self-help books say, if you can give voice to just one sentence that puts the conversation on track (“I really need to talk to you about … “), the rest will follow.

    When you sit down to write, your lackluster warm-up sentences may lead you to wonder: Should I even be doing this? Am I better off cleaning the bathroom after all? If this happens, remind yourself that you’re just one sentence away from real writing. If you just write one sentence that says what you really mean, you can walk away feeling that you have succeeded.

    Great writers are simply people who tell stories – one amazing sentence after another. As Leo Babauta recounts, James Joyce was once asked by a friend if he’d had a good day writing. Yes, Joyce replied happily. How much had he written? Three sentences, Joyce told him.

    Think small and focus on getting those first words out. Tell the truth, even when the self-protective voices inside your head are screaming at you to shut up.

    3. Giving and receiving

    It’s all too easy for writers to spend too much time alone. It’s tempting to buy into the myth of the lone wolf. But reaching out to other writers and artists is essential for growth.

    You may work alone, but you still need community. You need friends to read your drafts and provide constructive criticism. You need to read other people’s drafts and offer feedback. If you want to succeed, you must help others succeed. If you want to receive, you must give.

    Recently, a friend and fellow writer contacted me and asked if we could exchange drafts and offer feedback on each other’s work. I knew right away that I would say yes. I was afraid to receive criticism, but I was even more afraid not to. If I turned down the opportunity, I knew my writing would suffer.

    4. Focusing on possibilities

    As you begin to write, you may want to rush, to get to the end of your daily quota as soon as possible (so you can go back to reading whatever book you’re in the middle of, of course).

    But by the time you arrive at your stopping point, you’ll often find that you want to keep on working. Why? Because you want to stay inside the moment, the story, where everything is possible. When you sit down to begin writing, you’re all too aware of the strikes against your work. But once you’re in process, those worries fall away.

    That’s why we writers are happiest when working. When we’re mid-sentence, focused on the work, we get a break from fretting over our usual thoughts (why doesn’t Oprah call?). We get to think about something other than our own neuroses; we get to serve something greater than ourselves. And when we write – really write – the fear just falls away.

    Nowadays, when I look back on that gondola ride in the Swiss Alps, the fear isn’t what stands out in my memory. Instead, I remember sharing a delicious chocolate bar with my friends at the summit. When it melted in the sun, we just laughed and ate it with plastic spoons. It was a rich moment, a communion at the edge of the world.

    Fear may always be with me, and heights may never be my milieu. But words? Words are like true friends – they give me wings.   What helps you face your fears and write? Join the conversation in the comments!

    About the author

      Caroline McGraw

      Caroline McGraw is a would-be paleontologist who writes about choosing love, losing fear, and finding home at A Wish Come Clear. Get a complimentary copy of her ebook Your Creed of Care:  How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) here.

    • Minaz says:

      Thank you for the beautiful post. Really needed this one today 🙂

    • Haha I love it! Thank you Marilyn — that is so encouraging. And I really enjoyed your latest post — talk about a great grandma. 😉

    • Thank you Caroline for taking the time to–skip the washroom clean-up–write this blog post. I imagine you honed it till it did the magic till it spoke a true sentence– then another and another. Well done. Loved it. I felt, understood.

    • Carolina, congratulations! 🙂

    • Carolina says:

      Great article, thank you!! perfect for this moment when I’m just about to start my very 3rd blog post for my new born blog. 🙂

    • Wonderful article and well timed. I’ve been sitting back the past 2-3 weeks–book 2 on hold while I “figure it out”. That never works. We all know it. You have to write. Thanks for the impetus to get mnoving again.

      • So true, Kylie! I’ve been there. So glad the post came at a good time for you. WIshing you all the best with your book!

      • So true, Kylie! As you say, we’ve all been there. So glad the post came at a good time for you. WIshing you all the best with your book!

    • Hi Mrs. McGraw!

      I wanted to tell you that when I read “the story, where everything is possible,” you struck a chord within me.

      Whenever I try to tell people why I write, I get stuck and can’t quite get it out.

      That’s why! In a story I decide the rules, but often I find the characters finding their own way out of it (but I know that I can stop them if I want, and turn it into a tragedy. But then I find myself crying and its just no fun)

      But I have a question, what do you do when you find yourself with too many options? Anything could happen, anything at all. I find myself with too many choices.

      Much thanks for the wonderful post!
      -Teddy Sauyet

      • Teddy, I’m glad to hear that the post resonated with you! And I do know what you mean … the infinite possibilities can be overwhelming at times.

        I think writing is like life in that there are always possibilities we don’t pursue and roads we don’t take. And it seems the best we can do is make the best choices we can, knowing that they’ll never be perfect and that we always might have chosen differently. Cheryl Strayed wrote a beautiful essay on this topic, entitled “The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us,” at: http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

    • Maranna says:

      Hello Caroline – thanks so much for this encouraging article. Right now I have not one bathroom, but a whole neglected house that demands attention. What to do?

      Thankyou for the general absolution. I feel so much better now…….Writing calls!

      • You’re most welcome, Maranna! And I know what you mean — my husband and I actually spent the last year renovating our home. 😉 I think it’s just what you say — receiving absolution for not doing it all, and then keeping your commitment to write. And I find that, once I DO write, I often have more energy to tackle other tasks. Good luck with your house and your work!

    • Thank you for these encouraging words, Caroline.
      You asked: What helps you face your fears?
      Having faith in myself.
      Because I have faith I can give myself permission to throw muck on the page. And from this muck prose can blossom.
      Wisdom gained from experience.
      Because I’ve been there, done that I know I can be successful again.

      • What a great response! Thank you, Leanne — I like the idea of giving oneself permission to throw muck! 😉

    • “Quotas are your teachers”

      Quotas are useful, but your writing output will vary. If you simply allot time every day and don’t worry about word count, you’ll eventually accomplish your goal. Of course if you’re working on a deadline, ignore the time approach, drop everything else, and WRITE.

      • Kathy, that’s a good point — output definitely varies. I have days where I barely hit my quota, and days when I exceed it easily. 😉

    • eleanor says:

      This post was so timely for me. I am smiling as I am writing this comment because I love how things come together when allowed to, step out of the fear, listen to the article and reply, Oh my that is me, laugh.
      I needed this so much and appreciate your work.
      take care

      • I appreciate that, Eleanor! Thrilled to hear that the post came at a good time for you in your work.

    • I am so blessedly encouraged, week after week, by the articles that are sent forth to the Write to Done readership!

      Caroline, you’re words are like a healing balm to my fevered fears!

      I am only 4 months into a weekly posting of mused thought. Each Sunday, upon hitting the word “publish” I feel a satisfying rush of, “And Zella saw that it was good,” which is soon followed by an insecure rush of “And Zella will soon be quitting because she has no more ideas.”

      How I face this fear is by remembering that I write to quench, not to accomplish. Each accomplished post is a by-product of the quenching.

      It is good.

      Zella Mai

      • Zella, thank you … I can definitely relate to the feeling you describe after publishing a post! The fear never goes away, but then, neither does the satisfaction. All the best to you in your new venture!

    • Faseeha says:

      My greatest fear is the chapter 6. All the novels I’ve written stop midways in chapter 6. It’s as if the story is entering the bermuda triangle. Everything’s lost, never to be seen again. I freeze and cuddle up, thinking of another story idea for rescue. My friends say that Chapter 6 might be jinxed for me. This post arrived in my mail at the right time because I was just starting my chapter 6. What a coincidence! I had put off writing this chapter for three days now. And this gave me enough guts to carry on and forget my chapter 6 phobia for a while. Thanks a lot Caroline! I feel as if this post was meant for me 🙂

      • Faseeha, that’s fascinating … so glad the post arrived at the ‘appropriate’ time! 😉 It means so much to hear that the post has helped you to move forward — thank you.

    • Mary Quine says:

      It’s good to know that others experience a fear of writing, that I am not alone. The tips given in the article to overcome this fear are very practical and helpful. What stood out for me was “think small and get those first words out..” Every journey starts with a small step. To even aim for just the first few steps, in my head would banish some of the fear. Thank you

      • So true, Mary! I have to remind myself of that constantly. 🙂 Thank you for sharing from your own experience!

    • Hi Caroline,

      Thank you for sharing your experience, and tying it so nicely to the process – and fear – of writing. I especially liked how you were able to summarize it into only 4 points. It made the article more succinct.

      Good luck on future journeys!

      • Hi Richard,

        You’re most welcome! So glad to hear that you liked the piece. All the best to you too!

    • Puspa says:

      Thank you,now I really have to face my fears and start to write again 🙂

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