How to Overcome the Fear of Writing

    Does fear sometimes stop you from writing?

    You see, the problem is that writers need to improvise.

    And that can be terrifying.

    Because there is no map that can help us get our idea or story onto the page.

    Here’s how Charles Baxter described the process:

    Sitting in the dark of Gregory’s room, with a cigar in his hand and Glenn Miller playing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” softly beside him, Jerome began a bunny story. “Once upon a time, there was a bunny who lived with his mommy and daddy in a bunny hole at the edge of the great green wood.” All the other bunny stories started with that sentence. After it, Jerome was deep in the terror of fictional improvisation. ~Charles Baxter: Harmony of the World: Stories

    Most writers have to dive deep into the terror of fictional or factional improvisation each time they write. It’s like walking into a dark wood where there are not only mom and pop rabbits – but also dragons.

    What are your dragons?

    For most of us, the dragons of fear and self-doubt lurk out there in the darkness.

    Like in any dragon story, here’s the deal: you kill the dragon – or the dragon kills you. [Tweet this]

    Let’s take a look at how to find ease and joy when improvising. But first, let me ask you a question.

    Are you a brilliant writer?

    Writing continues to be a scary proposition for me, as I don’t see myself as particularly talented and I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to massage novels out of my meagre storehouse of gifts. From Elizabeth George: Write Away – One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life

    Well, I’m not a brilliant writer. And maybe you aren’t, either.

    That’s okay.

    You don’t need to be a brilliant writer. You just need to be a ‘good enough’ writer.

    And you must be willing to learn and practice. Because ninety percent of good writing is craft – and not innate talent.

    Let’s talk about improvising.

    The magic of the first thought

    I recently joined Toastmasters to hone my ability to speak in public.

    One of the exercises that I found most challenging is called Table Topics. It’s an improvisational exercise where you have to stand up and improvise on a random topic.

    This exercise taught me something important:

    The first thought is pure gold.

    But it’s sometimes off the wall. If we discount the first thought, our creativity dries up and we instantly become self-conscious.

    I found that if I let rip with my first thought and let it lead me –  something emerges that surprises everyone (myself included).

    It’s the same with writing.

    The first thought is precious. But it is often unexpected, or weird, or quirky.

    My suggestion is to follow your first thought and let it lead you.

    The magic of your first thought will lead you through the dark forest of mommy rabbits and dragons.

    It will be your guide through the terror of fictional improvisation.

    Trust it.

    Oh, and talking of dragons… What is YOUR dragon? (Please share in the comments).

    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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    • My dragon is perfectionism.

      I’ve been a voracious reader for years and have a keen eye for good writing, but that doesn’t serve me well in the drafting stage. I’ve just started my first novel but I expect my first draft to read like Lee Child’s published work.

      Idiocy, I know. Even Lee Child’s first draft doesn’t read like Lee Child’s published work. Well, maybe now that he’s written 13 novels it does. Experience has to be worth something.

      When I can ignore the editors in my head I can get in the flow and write – and it’s wonderful. The work is in getting to that place so the creative side of my brain can experience the scene.

    • Hello!
      My dragon is continuity. i write short stories and sometimes i’m able to write 300 words at a time or just a 100 words. There is no rhythm to my thoughts. They come randomly.

    • Frank says:

      As requested a cut/pasted comment with regards to ‘killing the dragon’:

      But the problem is, if you were born a Dragon the last thing you want to do is “…kill the dragon.” However, I do get your point regarding writing. I just believe you need to take a slightly different approach with some subjects, like Dragons. There is a difference between Eastern views and Western views and yes there are good and bad in both regions.
      Thank you for your words of wisdom.


    • Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Many thanks for providing this

    • “You don’t need to be a brilliant writer. You just need to be a ‘good enough’ writer.”

      This really saddens me. Mediocrity is what you get with ‘good enough.’ If a writer’s work is just passable as ‘good enough,’ he really should not be encouraged to add it to the pool of mediocre literature. I believe the consumer, the reader, deserves quality and brilliance and that it’s insulting to that reader to sell him something that the author knows is mediocre, or just ‘good enough.’ If any writer looks at his work and says, “Oh, it’s good enough,” he should go back to the drawing board and rewrite or, at least, not inflict his mediocre work on the public.

      If I don’t thoroughly believe in the quality of my writing, I don’t put it out there. If I think it’s just okay, why would my readers think any better? And why would I disrespect them by putting out something I don’t feel is anything less than great?

      • Hi Delin, thanks for your comment. What I mean by “good enough” is our own judgement. So many writers – talented writers – stop writing because they don’t think their writing is outstanding, or marvellous, or exceptional.

        That’s why I say, it just has to be ‘good enough’ (in your own judgement). Then you can start improving and make your writing shine 🙂

    • Beth Havey says:

      Hi Mary,
      I had an idea years ago, an image of something that happened to me in my teen years. Now it’s the theme of a novel. We have to take what seems electric and run with it. That fights off the dragon. Beth

      • Hey Beth, great to see you here. I’m intrigued by your novel. Can’t wait to see it completed … !

    • Lisa says:

      My dragon at the moment is the index cards I’m using to revise. I can barely bring myself to look at them because what I wrote barely resembles what I want to write. I keep telling myself I need to see what I wrote so I can make the second draft WAY better. I’ll get there!

      • You’re in the most difficult phase or writing: the revision.

        Take a deeeep breath and keep going, Lisa!

    • HeatherT says:

      My dragon is fear of running out of ideas, or not being original enough. I have to remind myself that a new spin on a topic can be just as fresh

      • Maybe there aren’t any stories that have been spun or ideas that have been explored, Heather.

        In a way, everything is a rewrite. But that’s fine. Because each writer sees the world through his or her lens. And the lens is our life. When we use our life to bounce ideas an stories off, what we write is fresh.

    • LucyGuzz says:

      I have two major Dragons. The first is self doubt. I can never seem to feel good about my writing, and I always think that I don’t care enough about my work.
      The second Dragon is new ideas. I’ll be halfway into a short story, and I’ll get a new creative idea and start that. I can never seem to stick to one idea.

      • Self Doubt … hmmm. Maybe I should write a post about that. So many writers suffer from that.

        As to having a lot of ideas. I that’s a lot better than having none or few. However, it’s also important to finish what you start. When a wonderful idea attacks you, capture it in a notebook. Then, once your present story has finished, you can release it for the next one.

    • Carolynn Ross says:

      My biggest dragon is how to match up the topics I want to write about to my target audience. I have a bad habit of wanting too broad of a target which stems from the private conversation I have “this topic addresses young women, older women and middle aged women”. Pretty soon I lose sight of my narrowed target audience.

      • Yes, that can be quite difficult, Carolynn. It’s great that you recognize what you’re doing! That means you are already on the way to solving the difficulty.

    • Mihoub Hadjer says:

      Thank you for the precious article.
      In fact I’m just following my first thought, and it’s amazing
      about fear, I just say to myself that ‘I can do it’

      • Oh, good! I’m glad the ‘first thought’ is working for you, Mihoub!

    • St Tom Fish says:

      My dragon is fear that few or no one wants to read what I write.
      In a recent writing group, out of 17, nine were writing about zombies.
      My writing is original. Many people don’t understand it. I need to find a way to reach them.

      • Your writing is original? Well, that’s good!

        Even if your writing isn’t for the masses, so what? These days, with the Internet, your potential audience is huge. The way to reach them is to create a website, a blog, so that you have an online platform.

    • My dragon is motivation, Mary. I’m in a weekly writing group with four, amazing women; three of whom are published. I’m doing the work…I’ve written four full novels, but I sometimes think….what’s wrong with me? Am I not good enough?

      • Ah – you are talking about the ‘NotGoodEnough” dragon! When you next meet the NotGoodEnough dragon, here is what to do:

        In your mind shrink the dragon until it becomes a small green mini-dragon sitting on your left shoulder, whispering “You’re not good enough!” in your ear. Gently swipe it off your shoulder with your right hand, saying, “Not now!”

        Don’t ever believe what the little green monster says, Marcy! Every writer encounters this dragon regularly.

        • You’re so right, Megan. I’m lucky that I’m in a weekly writing group with four other fabulous women…they help me slay those “Not Good Enough” Dragons. Thanks for responding!

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