Fear & Doubt About Writing

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The author sketches out her fears on a whiteboard, in an effort to acknowledge them and move past them.

I’ve been struggling with a bit of a block lately.

When I last wrote a book – nearly 10 years ago now – I remember sitting at the writing table in my rather bare apartment and staring at the screen the way a child stares at a plate of broccoli: with cold, hard resentment.

I was completely blocked. Writing had stopped being fun. It had become a chore. I had a deadline looming, still months and months away, and I couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm. I was at the stage where you’re going back, attacking what doesn’t work, filling in the gaps, finally staring down the bits that you’ve struggled all along to actually write. Not the fun, juicy stuff, the sometimes boring but necessary connective tissue.

I’m not sure I ever really smoothed over those lumps and bumps, but I kept my butt in the chair while trying. I sat for hours trying to write. Not writing. Trying to write.

I no longer think that’s the way to go.

Full-time writing has a way of making you feel so guilty that you can’t get up and leave it alone. It feels like such a privilege to do this – write – without distraction, without people standing over you, without having to answer to anyone. But it can become a burden to do justice to that privilege. That’s a good problem to have, I know! But the pressure we put on ourselves to live up to that privilege can be paralyzing.

I’m no longer writing full time, but I’m lucky in the sense that I can devote a weekend to writing and not have a spouse or children complain of neglect. And yet, lately, I’ve felt unmotivated and downright uninspired.

Part of it was feeling overwhelmed. The last few months were a slog of work and writing, work and writing, work and writing. Like every other Canadian, as soon as the mercury crawls above 16 C, I just want to be outside! So I gave myself permission to put the writing down for a while (a month, at most) and rejoin life – get outside, meet friends for dinner, reconnect with things beyond writing, beyond work.

But then a month stretched to two. Eight weeks became 10. I was having a hard time finding the discipline to pick the writing back up again – and the longer I left it, the guiltier I felt and the harder it became!

While skimming through Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada, I read a piece about how fear can cripple our writing. It made me wonder if my problem wasn’t one of discipline, but one of doubt. I know enough now to know how hard it can be to write a novel, a short story or a screenplay. I know the long slog that’s involved in crafting and honing a piece into something worth sending to publishers or producers.

Luckily, the author offered several approaches for trying to overcome self-doubt, including sitting down with some paper and writing it all out. Let it out. What’s making you fearful? What’s causing your fear?

I tried it and the results are in the picture, above. I can’t say that it caused me to sit down and suddenly finish a manuscript, but I did finally put my bum in the chair and over the past three days, I’ve written nearly 4,000 words of an outline for a novel. I’m a long way from a completed work, clearly, but one of the big fears I’ve got to get over is putting too much pressure on getting to perfection.

Here’s the other thing I’ve discovered about a block. Sitting in a chair won’t fix it. But reading will help. Seeing a movie may trigger something. Even a long walk with a small dog can do wonders.

I’m discovering that the hardest part is the first draft – I want things to unfurl exactly as I see them in my head. While revisions feel good – I love editing and I quite enjoy rewriting – I first need to just get it on the page.

What about you? What fears or doubts do you just need to put out there and vanquish?


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