Monday, January 31, 2011

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 you doubt your ability to do it justice? Or maybe you needed to think about it some more - just work out the details in your head?"

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, as 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 crops up 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 or even romance to science fiction. 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 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 wimp, 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 at writer’s block and hit those keys!


  1. Yes, I am struggling to get a second book underway. Yes, different genre/age. Yes, afraid it won't flow as organically as the previous book. Yes, I'm scared! Thanks for the article.