The Four Faces of Writing Fears

Halloween is a time to look at our writing fears head on—you don’t have to write horror stories for writing to be scary.

The Four Faces of Writing Fears

But you don’t feel scared, you might say. You feel a lot of things when it comes to your writing, but scared isn’t generally one of them.

Well, that’s just the thing. Fear dresses up as a lot of different feelings, hiding itself in disguises so that you won’t recognize it for what it is.

But it’s important that we learn to look behind theses masks and face the fear itself.

How to Face Your Writing Fears

Here are the four faces of writing fears, and what do to about them:

1. Procrastination

You’ve got an awesome story idea in your head that gets you excited, and you know it could be an excellent novel.

But there always seems to be something else to do. The dishes. The laundry. The list never ends. There’s always something keeping you from getting to the writing

What’s really going on here? It’s unlikely it’s really that urgent to get those dishes out of the sink.

The truth is, there’s a fear behind your procrastination that makes you put off getting started. Afraid of what? Likely, that it will be harder than you expect, that the idea you’ve come to love so much won’t pan out, and ultimately, that you won’t be able to finish.

How to take the fear down down:

Never forget—the one thing that will truly hold you back from finishing your manuscript is never starting it. Acknowledge that yes, it will be hard at times. But that’s okay. It’s part of the process.

Then, make a plan to set aside time on a regular basis to write. When 7-8 a.m. every morning is blocked out for writing, the dishes get done at 6:50 or 8:10. And the world goes right on spinning.

2. Writer’s Block

There you are. Just you and the computer screen, stuck in a gridlock. You write a word. You delete a word. Nothing you write is quite right.

Writer’s block. It’s one of the writer’s greatest nemeses, and a prime thief of creativity. But did you know that it’s rooted in fear?

It’s that little doubting voice inside of you latching onto your insecurity and using it like a megaphone.

How to take the fear down:

Recognize writer’s block for what it is—a fear of not being perfect. Then, remember that it’s okay not to be perfect. In fact, it’s okay to be terrible. But it’s not okay to stop writing!

Ignore the critical voice telling you to stop and just let those awful sentences out onto the page. You’ll go back and edit them later anyway. At some point, it will stop feeling so awful and you’ll hit a flow.

3. Jealousy

Your friend from writer’s group just scored a choice byline or publishing deal. You plaster on a smile and say congrats, but deep down it’s eating away at you. Why her? Where’s your opportunity? Jealously is a particularly ugly monster.

But it’s no secret that jealousy isn’t about the other person, or even that person’s good fortune. It’s about you, what you feel you’re due, and the fear that you won’t get it.

When it comes to writing, that tends to be a fear that you won’t get published, or reach a certain level of success.

How to take the fear down:

When you feel that green-eyed monster creeping up on you, it’s time to ask the hard questions. What is it about your friend’s success that has you so bent out of shape?

Owning up to your fear will help separate those feelings from your friend’s success. And even better, once you understand your fear, you can come up with a plan to make sure you reach your own goals.

4. Frenzied Inspiration

It’s 3 a.m. Your eyes sting and your head aches, and you’d do anything to conk out in bed … anything but stop writing, because you’ve gotten a wave of inspiration and you can’t stop until you’ve gotten it all out.

This may be stereotype for creatives, and for some, a badge of honor. But underneath the impulse of inspiration, the reason you torture yourself like this is rooted in fear. Fear that if you don’t let the muse have its way with you, it won’t come back.

How to take it down:

Stop letting your muse boss you around, and train it to work with you instead of against you. The best way to do this is to write on a regular schedule, which teaches your muse to show up on schedule, too.

And for those eureka moments, keep a notebook on you and take down your ideas. That way you can refer back to it in your next scheduled writing session.

Fears Have Many Faces

Just as we dress up in costumes at Halloween, our fears often disguise themselves, too.

It’s natural to have fears when it comes to your writing.

After all, writers make a business of pouring our heart out onto the page and sharing it with the world.

But don’t let these fears hold you back! When you encounter one of the four faces of writing fears, rip its mask away and face it head-on. Then, take it down and get back to the writing.

What about you? What is your greatest writing fear? How can you face it head-on so that it doesn’t sabotage your writing? Let me know in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes and write a story about recognizing and tackling fears. Then, share in the comments!

About Emily Wenstrom

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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  • Wow. This is me. I have procrastination and jealousy and I also struggle with perfectionism. It’s good, at least, to identify these things so that I can know what they are when they pop up. The Write Practice has been very helpful in overcoming them.

    • Rufus

      I understand completely .

  • Susan Smith-Grier

    This is me also. I’m always *busy* doing something. Even when it comes to the writing I really need to do (freelance work) I manage to put it off until the last minute, like now, I’ve got 4 blog posts to get out of the way! Thanks Emily. Good post.

  • Great post. Thank you.. Here’s my thoughts….
    *looks in the mirror* “yep that’s you. You can’t hide from it anymore, its Fear that keeps you in its grasp, so what are you going to do about it?” “Your a writer who has many props at your disposal, now to just use them…. in star wars they had their light swords, in “Bewitched” she had her twitching nose , in “I dream of Jeanie” she had her arm crossing blinks. So what do you have at your disposal?”

    “You have your 5 magic fingers (only type with one hand) and a key board as well as your magic pen and notebooks. I’ve seen them, and even spent the weekend rearranging and cleaning your home so you don’t have any more excuses not to write, the dishes are done an the surfaces are cleaned. Your desks are arranged the way you want that gets your creativity flowing. So there’s no reason not to write. Fear, I ain’t scared of you…. I’m going to go get ready for Nanowrimo – a place where fear is a rude intruder.. so it doesn’t exist ….

  • Yes, I see myself here too. Procrastination? I have a Master’s degerr in it. Jealousy, oh, too right. How come I can’t get the breaks other authors talk, blog and tweet about? Writer’s block? An old friend. Where does my protagonist go from here? I’m sure this bit is realy boring, and I know my writing isn’t good enough for anyone to want to read. And Frenzied Inspiration? Yes, I’ve lain awake at night with all those stories running round my head, and had several novels on the go all at once.
    Thank you for this post. I’ll try the solutions you suggest. As Debra says, Nano is great for focusing

    • Yes, NaNo can be great for forcing focus and quieting that inner critic. Best of luck!

  • Lyss

    “You have to finish that project for work,” I tell myself. “Those dishes are getting stacked up,” I remind myself after the project is finished. I sigh at my procrastination with a theory as to why I so often refer to it. I know that not everyone will think I’m good enough to be a principal dancer, but the fear of rejection fills my mind as it follows my shadow. Over and over, it tells me I can schedule an audition another day and I listen. Today, that changes. The dishes can pile up and that stupid desk job can fire me. I ‘m going to audition to be a principal ballet dancer and no one and nothing will change that.

    This is it. I’m finally going to find out if I can really be a professional ballet dancer. I took a deep breath as I stared at myself in the mirror. My high cheek bones are a slight pink from blush, my lips are a pale angelic pink, and in my eyes I see a darkness filled with the doubts of fear before I clear it out with a centered look of concentration.

    Three weeks pass and I race out the door when I hear the mail truck. My heart’s thumping like the steps of a giant and my hand shakes like an unstable table. My breath quickens as I pick the envelope out of the stack and rip it open. I read the first sentence of the letter, “Dear Ms. Drewson, We regret to inform you that your submission video was lost, so all the judges had to go off was your live performance.’ I read on even though it was hopeless, before stopping at the last part of the second sentence ‘The judges were so stunned by your performance that no submission video was needed to tell that you belong in the ballet company. Congratulations!’. I did it. I got in.

  • LaCresha Lawson

    I agree and glad we can face them.

  • Tillie Bright

    I am plagued by the, it’s not good enough. I read good authors and I know I’m not as good as they are. Drives me nuts. I have to just plug on through it and hope that after a few edits it will at least be adequate.

    • Don’t worry about others, Tillie, just keep working to do your own best. I don’t believe in “better than/worse than” for art — there’s just finding your own voice and putting the work in to make it the best you’ve got.

  • nancy

    Other than the obvious, “I’m not good enough,” my current fear is publishing. It’s so much harder than finishing a novel. Knowing the best way to approach an agent or, like today, knowing the best cover size for a self-published novel. The internet is full of opinions on technology, and half of them are hard to understand. I almost feel like I should go through the motions, make a lot of expensive mistakes, and then go–oh, that’s what I should have done. Is there any other way to get to the other side?

    • Nancy – I’d recommend finding a few online voices that you trust, rather than trying to seek out everyone’s. And then … yes, don’t be afraid to learn along the way, too. We all have to learn by trial and error what works best for ourselves, to some degree. Best of luck!

  • LilianGardner

    Procrastination is my weakness where writing is concerned. I get any physical task done in a jiffy without wavering. It makes me feel ‘normal’ to read that other writers say they procrastinate. I don’t have jealousy. In fact, I participate in members progress, rewards, etc:
    I do wish I could be consistent. I wish I’d stick to one project and not attempt six or seven at the same time. I’m often lazy to carry on with my stories. Heck! I have too many faults.

    Thanks for your super post, Emily.

    • Thanks Lilian … we’re all in the same boat, procrastination can be an especially hard one to beat! Keep at it 🙂

  • Bangalorekar Ranganath

    That shows what Emily Wenstrom is. Mindsets of every author on earth appears to be transparent in front of her. Writers who go through this post are sure to raise with new enthusiasm, to resume scribbling and fine-tuning! I’ve shared it with my friends on Facebook and Twitter the moment I’ve gone through it!!!

  • Jonathan Lenahan

    Procrastination is the worst! My least-favorite version of it comes in the form of work that LOOKS like it’s useful, but isn’t. Have a post to write? A chapter to finish? Might as well knock out Twitter first. And Facebook. And reconfigure my social media buttons. Etc. It’s so easy to do that.

    Well-chosen title, by the way. I like the theme.

    Jonathan

    • Well put, Jonathan … procrastination can be pretty sneaky.

  • Anastasia Sadovskaya

    I have writers block a lot. And procrastiation. But most writers block. I just hate being stuck and I can’t a word out.

    • So frustrating! But I usually find that if I make myself try for just 15 minutes, the words start coming eventually.

  • Catigraph

    ‘It’s impossible.’
    The words repeatedly rung in my head, slowly but surely managing to break apart what had become left of my motivation. There was nothing left to write for the chapter, all the creative inspiration that had flowed within me had packed up and left. My untouched keyboard only stared back at me, just as a blank canvas ready to become a masterpiece would. I had nothing left to occupy myself with, every single task from the dishes to the laundry had been completed, and then recompleted due to the Writers Block that never seemed to go away. I felt like I was finally ready to try though. It was time to send that Masters Degree in Procrastination back where it came from.

    As if my determination had materialized a small spark of imagination, I reached towards the keyboard as a mother would when grasping for her child, and placed my fingers upon it with care, feeling like the slightest touch would destroy the newfound brilliance that had evolved from a tiny spark into a roaring flame of art.

    Everything was set, and I could become one with the keys. I raised my hands, ready to slam down the fury that would escape, only to fall back in defeat and slowly feel the motivation seep out of me. It wasn’t right, it didn’t slot in with the previous sentences. I could feel my uneasiness swell up inside me, slowly churning into a ball of fear. Fear of rejection from the public. I honestly didn’t even know why I was trying, there was nothing special about me that the publishers could even bother with. I would be unaccepted into the writing world, all of the authors looking down on me as they sip on their expensive wine and laze on their thrones. My creation wasn’t of standard, simply a children’s book in comparison to some others.

    Deciding that I couldn’t finish the chapter once again, I slowly got up and headed off into the kitchen for snacks, ready to pick up a copy of some famous movie and then go and cry over it. The story was completely forgotten, as was my unpaid bills and worries. My focus simply gazed towards the main objective at the moment, finding nothing else that could be of equal importance right now.

  • Beth

    I struggle with writer’s block a lot of the time but I try and push away the voice telling me that every word has to be perfect, and I just get writing.
    It’s true, you can go back and edit when your mind is a bit clearer.

  • Reminds me of the war of art by Steven Pressfield. Thanks for a wonderful post.
    http://ahscribbles.com/

  • George McNeese

    I can totally relate to these fears. I have issues with procrastination and perfectionism. I feel stuck and unwilling to write anything. Recently, I wrote a blog post about being in a writing funk and suggestions on how to get out of it. I am still struggling with it, but I’m trying to not let it take over my writing life completely.

  • Emily,
    I read your story a few days ago, and keep thinking about what you said.
    The whole part about the dishes.
    My dishes get washed every day, but I don’t write every day. It never occurred to me I need to schedule time for writing.
    And if you hadn’t been as concrete with your example. I might not have got the message. The 6:50 or 8:10, made your point very clear.
    “When 7-8 a.m. every morning is blocked out for writing, the dishes get done at 6:50 or 8:10. And the world goes right on spinning.”

    Thank you!
    xo
    Pamela

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  • I think the one I have the most issues with would be writers block! When it comes to a very difficult scene about something I cannot relate to (one of my novels is based in China, and I struggled with that one most of all) is when it hits pretty hard. But yes, writing Nano has helped me because it made me realise that the first draft doesn’t have to focused and if it does end up being completely rubbish, that can all be cleaned up later…

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  • Zeen

    This ‘fear’ is what stops me.Its been two years now and I am not able to write anything .whenever I try to start something there is not that flow and ultimately I end up writing nothing discouraged. I have this feeling that I will never be able to write something good and creative It haunts me.

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  • Jennifer

    I first started writing when I was 15 years old, I actually had a friend get jealous over my story and she stole my notebook I’d been writing in from me and later returned it ripped to shreds. I stopped writing after that because I felt like I was losing people over dedicating my time to writing. I just started writing again when I was 35 and now, I’m finding it hard to continue writing because I’ve been jotting down notes for another section of the story and I’m forgetting the story line that I’m already working on to build it up to the point where I want it to be and nothing seems to be good enough for me.