Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Top 5 Writing Fears to Overcome

We all have fears about writing. Some of us stop in our tracks because of them. If you're going to be a successful writer, you've got to overcome your fears, plain and simple.

1. I'm not as talented as I think I am

Let's get something straight...I’ve never met a writer that thought his shit didn’t stink (maybe I just haven’t met enough writers). Sure, there might be a few who had a sense of entitlement because of how much they had read or studied or how more time they’ve spent on the process, but most writer folk I know are also some of the most self-deprecating! We pour our hearts out (or at least we should) onto the paper for the world to see and hope they like it. We expose everything, warts and all, in the hope that there’s someone else out there who finds what we write just as exciting or emotional. We’re all out for the same thing: acceptance. For me, I believe in my writing talent because, when compared to my other talents, this one outshines the rest (impersonating Kermit the Frog is a talent, right?). It's a classic fear, though, and, like most fears, relates to more than just writing. It’s a fear of failure. Well, take a look out there. A simple scan of the Internet proves that there’s some really bad writing out there. So, chin up…you can’t finish last in a race you don’t run. And, even if you do, at least you can say you ran and finished.

2. My story idea isn’t interesting enough

Your writing is only as interesting to others as it is to you. If you have passion about what you write, it could be the story of a man who sits alone in a cave and talks to himself and people will read it. Not everyone will write an epic saga. But, take a look through the book store. The Fantasy/SciFi section aside, there aren’t a whole lot of epic sagas going around. Write what makes you emotional and that will come out in your writing, regardless of the subject matter.

3. I'm writing the same story that So-And-So wrote

Impossible! Unless, of course, you're copying word for word, or paraphrasing. Otherwise, there is no way you are writing the same story. Give 100 people the same writing prompt and you may find many similarities, but you will also find 100 completely distinct stories. We are not mindless clones. We are individuals with our own unique sense of what’s right and wrong. Be fearless. Write your space opera about a young man whose father is an evil cyborg with a phallic laser sword. Ok, maybe not that similar (George Lucas tends to get grumpy about even the slightest copyright infringements). They say that there's no such thing as a truly original story anymore. That they're all just modifications of the same general plots and themes. This may be true, but times changes and so do the stories. How many rehashed of Shakespearean tales do you think have been written? Yeah…exactly. Go for it.

4. My mother will read this and be very, very disappointed

There's just something about mothers and not wanting to drop an eff-bomb in their presence…let alone one they can read. Trouble is...if you're writing about real's full of eff-bombs...both literal and physical. So, drop 'em. Get 'em out of your system. Write a whole scene about a couple of effs cussing one another out with the dirtiest, most filthy language you can imagine…then let them have sex and describe it in full, gory detail. Then delete it...and wash your hands with soap, you dirty bird. But seriously...don't limit yourself to what you think others will approve of. Writing can only be a complete experience if you remove all boundaries first. So, do yourself a favor and take down the effing firewall. Obviously, there are certain types of writing that accommodate colorful language and behaviors and others that don't. Your young adult (YA) fantasy novel won't go far if your main character acts like James Bond and sounds like Cartman from South Park (eff, effity, eff, eff, Miss Moneypenny!).

5. If I don't write every day, I'm not really a writer

I’ve read a lot of complaints about this one lately. Personally, I've gotten over it, but it has taken years. I write more often now than I have ever done in the past. This is more a result of sheer will power and desire than a fear of living up to someone else’s definition. In doing so, I've come to realize that it's not so much about writing every chance I get, but thinking about the work in progress in a constructive way at least once a day. On the days when I know I may not have a chance to write, I dedicate some mental time to my writing (I drive an hour each way to work, so I usually have at least 2 hours a day to think about my plot). I focus entirely on the chapter I'm working on. I mentally go back over what I've written and consider revisions and things that may affect what I've written in previous chapters. Then, when I finally do get the chance to write, it’s like I never really stopped working on it. This works for me because I am a visual writer. Some writers hear a narrative in their head. Others see a story played out like on a TV. I'm the latter. So, do I have to write every day? No. Do I still try? Yes. Does it bother me when I don't? Hmmm...ok...sometimes...but I'm not afraid of it like I used to be. (Oh no! I didn't write today! I have to turn in my card! What card?) Writing is an at-will position. You only get what you put in.

It’s a universal truth that we are often our own worst enemies. Writing is no different. We all have our own set of fears. That’s ok…it’s normal. The trick is to acknowledge the fear, look it in the face, recognize it for what it is (a self-created blockage), and move past it. We can only lose when we let fear stop us. And, as writers, we lose when we stop writing for reasons that make no sense.


  1. If you would let me rephrase the title for more accuracy sir, I would call those top 5 "fears of writing" to overcome. As much as I got all these fears when I started writing "Solace", I had to throw them out of the way before even hitting the keyboard. If you start writing with those in mind, it's not going to take long before you tear your manuscript apart. It's strange to say for me, but you have to take yourself seriously if you want to be a writer.

    Then come the actual writing fears...flat pace, mundane sentences mechanics, the infuriating feeling of not finding the right words to express the image you have in mind.

    Then the editing fears...

    Writing is a hard hard business. We're not just beret-wearing dreamers. Interesting stuff nonetheless. Looking forward to hear more.

  2. Thanks, Ben. You are very much correct about the title, sir. That's what I get for finishing this around 12:00 AM. Writing is a hard business, but I would argue that not all writing has to be done with the business in mind. That sense of having to write for publication is probably what stops a lot of people from trying.

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this post, Scott. Well done my friend!

  4. Hi! I'm just snooping around because you commented on my blog and I thought, "Who's this Scott character?" Now I know.
    I go through these fears all the time, in cycles. Does the fact that I keep going make me stupidly naive or a kung fu master/superhero? I thought so.

  5. @Pam - Thanks!

    @FF - Snooping is very much allowed. :)