3 Tricks to Overcome Your Fear of Writing

by Jeff Elkins | 16 comments

I’ve found that the greatest threat to us writers is not the well of creativity running dry or time running out before we can finish our latest work or some other writer stealing our million dollar idea. The greatest threat to us lives within us. It is our own fear of writing.

3 Tricks for Overcoming Your Fear of Writing

My fourth novel is set to be released in one week, and fear has been working overtime in me.

It begins as a knot in the base of my throat then builds to discouragement in my heart. It is heavy on my chest, pushing me to step away from my work. It whispers in my ear that my words are no good, that I have nothing left to say, that no one will ever read what I pen, that my all my creative efforts are futile.

It tells me that I have nothing to offer, so I should quit now.

When fear of writing rushes us, it would have us believe that it will continue to build with no end until we are cowering in a corner in tears. It wants us to think that it is too strong and too large to be withstood, that if we do not give in to its demands, it will cripple us. It tells us that the only recourse is to do as it says and cease our work. In this way, fear is brilliant.

With a quick show of force, it positions it as our master, demanding we bow to its whims.

The truth is that fear is not a powerful master. It is the tide. It crashes into the shore with power and force. Its initial burst feels overwhelming as it washes over us, but once it has exhausted its momentum, it will recede.

If we can ride it out, we can move on with our work.

3 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Writing … and Write

We need not bow to fear of writing. If we can survive its initial surge, it will pass and we can get back to work unhindered. Here are three ways I survive the surge of fear:

1. Name It

I’m a father of five young kids and I work a full-time job. Thus, my writing time is at night after everyone has gone to bed.

When fear crushes down on me and tells me that my story is worthless and that I should stop writing, it helps to say out loud, “This is just anxiety, it is normal, and it will pass.”

Once I’ve said those words, I find that I am able to return to work. The fear isn’t gone, but its surge becomes bearable.

In order to strip fear of its power, we must name it. Saying out loud what it actually is reminds us that it is not our master. When it has a name and we understand it, we can reject it and move past it.

2. Lean Into It

When I was a child, my parents would take me and my siblings to the beach. One of our favorite games was to “jump waves.” This game consisted of wading out into the ocean until it was waist high. We would then wait for a wave to come hit.

As the wave hit us, we would lower our shoulders and jump into it like a football player making a tackle. Once the wave had passed, we would try to regain our footing without falling down.

I find myself now playing this game with my fear of writing. When that knot begins to build in my throat, I try to type faster. It doesn’t matter if what I’m writing is any good; the point is accelerating into fear’s wave until it passes. I can always go back and edit once I’m on the other side of my anxiety.

3. Meditate Through It

There are times when my anxiety is too great to lean into and naming it doesn’t help. At these moments, I resist the temptation to pick up my phone and check Facebook or read my email. To do so would be to stop working and admit defeat.

Instead, I close my eyes and wait for the wave to pass. Sometimes I will think about the feelings I’m having, recognizing that they will surge and leave; other times I will think through what I’m writing, taking the extra moments to review the coming paragraphs; and other times, I will simply pray.

The key is to take a mental breath, but not leave your work. When I do these things, I don’t let my fingers leave the keyboard. I hold them there, hovering, waiting for the wave of fear to finish so I can get back to work.

The Fear Is Not the End

Fear and anxiety may take a different shape for you than it does for me. My hope is that you find encouragement in this post. Fear does not have to be your master. It is not as strong as it wants you to believe it is. You are stronger and capable of overcoming it.

Are there other things you do to overcome your fear of writing? Share them with us in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write something that scares you. Maybe it's a scene you've been avoiding in your work in progress, maybe it's a story you've been nervous to start, or maybe it's a letter you're scared to write. As you work, if fear raises its head, try one of the techniques above to work through it.

Share your work with us in the comments as proof that you were able to overcome fear and finish your work.

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Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

16 Comments

  1. Jon Carl Lewis

    Thanks for this article. I find I do these three things, but I do them in my journal. I am also adding a prayer to my muse (the Holy Spirit). This seems to help.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      Awesome. Thanks.

  2. Christine

    Thank you so much for these inspiring words. I want to do NanoWrimo, but the closer I get to the start, the fuzzier my goal seems to be. I want to write a story about two kids, a girl and her older brother, who spend the summer helping their widowed aunt with her market garden in a town far from their home.

    I can see them taking the train, and arriving, and a bit about the place she now calls home. I even have a few main characters in place, residents from the town. Even a bully — every town has one, right? —to hassle these siblings. But I’m trying to gather all my scenes/ducks together into nice rows, ready to start Nov 1st, and most of them haven’t even been hatched yet!

    Of course my biggest fear is that they won’t hatch at all, followed by, “They’ll never hatch in time! I’m afraid I’ll have to snail along trying to coax them out of their shells instead of sprinting through November like the energizer bunny. (And let’s face it: you’ve gotta sprint to get 50k words out.)

    Coupled with these normal anxieties, I’m remember all the other writing projects I’ve been wanting to do and wondering what insanity or indecision prompts me to tackle the one story I haven’t thoroughly worked out in my mind. All the other stories I’ve been dreaming up are, as I said in my blog post today, like mice dancing a jig in my mind so I’ll notice and write about them. But I can’t make up my mind which one to grab and eviscerate. 🙂

    Will I slowly crack up over this next week, chasing mice that won’t hold still and ducks that won’t line up? Or will I arrive at a decision and be totally relaxed by next Sunday? Will Nov 1st find me wringing my hands or sitting at the keyboard, fingers flying? The good news is: I timed myself and discovered that when I know what I want to say, I can do 1300 words in half an hour.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      Maybe all the mice will run together and become a mighty epic story with complex plots and interconnected characters! =)

    • Christine

      Oh, let it be! 😉

    • Debra johnson

      Could always use your mice thoughts as a story starter… Have your character decide or faced with something and are scared feeling like mice are running everywhere and they cant gather them in one place.

    • Christine

      Now that’s a thought! It could be the start of a lively tale sometime. 🙂

    • Debra johnson

      yep. could be a fun write and read.

  3. Frances Howard-Snyder

    Thanks Jeff. Good advice. I just watched the movie Rebel in the Rye, which is an excellent movie about J.D. Salinger. In the movie, he deals with something like this. His response does involve meditation, and of course, the permission to write crap.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      If I wasn’t willing to write crap, I’d never write at all. =)

  4. Antonia P. Wright

    Thank you Jeff
    Your newsletter is FANTASTIC!!!
    I’m a TRUTHseeker and I could not reconcile my writing voice with my worldview in a recent writing bubble of intense forced writing. I choked at the thought of my insincere writing just to make a deadline was compromising the integrity I desire when writing truth. Then the feedback from strangers, was not how I imagined my WIP being dissected when I had not been true to the original intention.
    I cancelled my subscription.
    Then I saw your writing post, I landed on a blog that spoke about writing fear within minutes of reading yours. I reconsidered a workshop I subscribe to (had also cancelled then asked to be a member again), got back on the saddle and decided to stay in the Winter Writing Contest. The compromise is only the platform I have decided to share my book to. It was fear without me realising it. I felt that I could not be speaker of TRUTH while writing a pile of lies, whether real or imagined.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      Glad it is encouraging.

  5. TerriblyTerrific

    Let’s not fear! Good writing is here!

    Reply
  6. George McNeese

    Thank you for such an inspiring post. For years, I’ve let fear overwhelm me and keep from writing what I want to write. And even when I do, it’s something I feel the most comfortable in writing. It’s hard for me to not let fear stop me. But I tried what would be the equivalent of leaning into the wave and I wrote something out of my comfort zone. Afterwards, I felt satisfied and excited that I wrote something that I wanted to write and not because it was something I “knew.” It was very freeing.

    Reply
  7. Priscilla King

    Thanks for the prompt…this week I’m putting off working on a booklet that should be published in e-book format by a church, hence the anxiety. Some religious material reads as if it’s dashed off in haste by someone who doesn’t take the religious beliefs seriously. I take mine very seriously and want to represent them well.

    Reply

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