Monday, November 29, 2010

Paralyzing Fear

Paralyzing fear, also known to those of us who scribble as a living as writer’s block. Most writers have experienced this at some point in their career. Traditionally, we define it as a time when the well runs dry in the middle of a project.

I have a different opinion. I’ve talked with (okay, occasionally ambushed) many writers over the years and find the conversation might go something like this.

Me: “Have you ever had to deal with writer’s block?”

Anonymous Writer: “No, never. Once I start a project I just keep going, no matter what I’m feeling.”

Me: “What about before you begin a project? Have you ever postponed it because of doubt in your ability to do it justice?”

At this point the person I’m speaking with usually takes a step back and begins to hem and haw. Most writers don’t include being afraid to start a project writer’s block. I would beg to differ – anything that keeps you paralyzed and unable to write is, by definition, writer’s block.

Funny thing is that the people who suffer most from writer’s block are writers who’ve had a modicum of success. Maybe they’ve won a contest or two, or written regularly. Far more often I find that they’re afraid they can’t live up to what’s gone before. I also find it when a writer is trying a new genre. They might be going from fiction to non-fiction, or from writing devotions to writing a column. Let’s face it, trying something new is always a daunting prospect.

Now that we’ve defined it, how do we combat it?

First, quit putting it off. Make a commitment to spend a certain amount of time in front of the computer – writing – and do it. Sound hard? Of course it is, otherwise everyone would be a writer!

Begin by writing what you’re afraid of. Fear of failure? Write why it matters. Fear of inadequacy? Define it. You’ll find that it looks small and actually a little silly when you actually write it down.

Next, remember how you got here. Recognition in the writing world comes (99.9% of the time) from putting in time. It comes from being willing to let others see your work and getting back at it after rejection. Give yourself some credit – you’re obviously not a sissy, or you wouldn’t be trying to become a writer.

Finally, give yourself permission to try and fail. Just because this one project doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. I would say the contrary is true. If everything you’ve tried, succeeded, maybe you’re not trying much.

So get out there, quit procrastinating under the guise of ‘I have to think this through before I start.’ Blow a raspberry a writer’s block and hit those keys!


  1. Thanks for the timely post, Edie! I hit a block on my NaNo project, but I may still try to push through the last 17,000 words with the clock ticking...

  2. How did you know I needed that? I have the worst writers block I have ever seen or heard about. Now, I'm going to get started and write today and every day until I get this finished. Thanks Edie.