How to Write When … You’re Afraid
This post is part of my ongoing “How to Write When…” series.
Do you ever feel afraid to sit down and write? On the surface, fear may seem like an odd emotion to associate with writing – after all, there can’t be many activities less dangerous than sitting at a computer and typing! But fears about writing are really common and very understandable.
You might have fears around:
- How other people will respond to your writing. You might be worried they’ll be negative and critical about your writing … or you might be afraid that your work, which matters so much to you, will be met with total indifference.
- Whether you can do justice to your idea or your material. Maybe you’re writing about something that’s really important or an idea that you’ve had bubbling away for years … and you want your writing to be good enough.
- Whether you can make money from writing. I strongly believe that writing is worthwhile whether or not you’re making any money (and we’ll be tackling this issue in another instalment in the how to write when series, next month).
- Wasting your time. Perhaps you enjoy writing but you enjoy lots of other things, too: you’re afraid that you’ll devote time to writing but not achieve what you’re hoping for. Or maybe you’re afraid you’ll work on the wrong thing and that you should be writing something different instead.
All these fears are very understandable. You may also have writing fears that are tricky to pin down, or fears that may not seem logical to someone else, but that really resonate with you.
How to Write When You’re Afraid
It can be tough to write when you’re feeling bored, distractible, tired, or discouraged. But it can be particularly difficult to write if you’re feeling afraid. You might feel as though your words are drying up before they ever get close to the page.
Here are some simple, supportive things you can do to move towards writing, even when there’s a sense of fear associated with it.
#1: Be Kind and Gentle With Yourself
With almost anything you want to achieve in life, I think it’s a good idea to be kind to yourself! Most of us don’t feel at all motivated by being criticised – whether that’s by someone else or by our own mind. And, more importantly, you don’t deserve to be berated or shamed.
It’s okay if you haven’t written for a long time. It’s okay if you find writing hard or daunting. Lots of writers do. Feeling afraid, or having any kind of struggle about writing, doesn’t say anything about your ability to actually write.
If it would help, take a deliberate break from writing. Tell yourself you’re going to have a couple of weeks (or a month, or whatever you feel is right for you) completely off from writing. That way, you’ll hopefully be able to relax and ditch any sense of guilt or the idea you “should” be writing.
#2: Look for Small Steps That Feel Manageable
Maybe you’d secretly love to write a novel, but the idea scares you. There’s all the time you’d have to put in – hours upon hours – and the thought of other people someday reading it, and worries about their reaction. You might be afraid you’ll start it and never finish, especially if that’s been a pattern for you with previous writing projects. Or perhaps you’re not even sure how to begin.
Instead of thinking about the whole of your writing project (or writing career), focus on small steps that feel manageable right now. That might mean coming up with a character outline for one of your characters. Or it could simply mean trying a 5-minute writing exercise, just for fun.
#3: Write at Your Best Time of Day
It’s always a good idea to write at the time of day when you’re feeling at your most focused and motivated … but if you’re fighting fear, I think this is even more important. You may not be able to always use your best time of day (perhaps your day job or parenting responsibilities get in the way), but even if you can find 10 minutes, that could be all you need.
For me, my best time is in the morning – before other demands of the day intrude on me, and when my time feels like my own to enjoy. You might find the same. Or perhaps your best time is in the evening, when it’s dark outside, daily responsibilities are over, and everything feels quiet and cosy.
#4: Create a Safe and Supportive Writing Environment
What helps you to feel safe when you’re writing? This might seem like a strange question (again, writing isn’t exactly an activity where you need safety gear…) but there are probably things that help you relax into your writing.
For me, one thing is essential: I have to write in a position where no-one can see my screen. Objectively, I realise this is a little ridiculous – my husband and kids aren’t ever trying to see what I’m writing, and even if they did, it’s not like I’m writing anything scandalous. But something about the possibility of someone seeing my first draft material makes me freeze up!
I also like to write in a room of my own, with music on (less essential, but it really helps me focus). Blocking out the external world helps me to focus on my writing and it also avoids me feeling self-conscious about how extraordinarily loud my typing seems to be.
For you, maybe “safe” looks a little different. It might mean writing when everyone else is out of the house, or writing with pen and paper, or dimming the lights – whatever helps you feel ready to be creative.
#5: Write About Your Fears
If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance you’ll process things well by writing about them. And if you feel up to it, you might find it’s really helpful to write about your fears.
If you feel a sense of fear or dread about writing, or even if it’s not quite at that level but you feel rather daunted or overwhelmed, then open up a blank document or grab a spare notebook and journal about how you’re feeling.
Fears that can seem rather nebulous or all-encompassing in your mind will likely become a lot more concrete as you write about them. When you’ve pinned down a fear on the page, it’s easier to start thinking of ways you might be able to move through or around that fear.
Writing – even wanting to write – can bring up a lot of emotions. You may well feel a mix of things when you think about writing: perhaps there’s a sense of joy and excitement there, along with some trepidation! If you’re struggling with fears about writing, above all, please be kind and gentle with yourself. Look for small ways to make progress, but don’t guilt-trip yourself for not writing. I hope you’ll be able to recover some writing confidence and gradually move forward.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
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My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
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