Your heart races. You stare into the void. A thousand ideas meld into a story, but your fingers won’t move. Goals don’t work. Walks don’t work. Even a day-long shower does nothing. This is more than writer’s block. This is fear. And it’s trying to stop you. So, what do you do?
Fear of Opinion
There’s a reason so many people use pseudonyms. People are scary, and they have a lot of nasty things to say. This is doubly true if you’re afraid of close family, friends, and authority figure’s views of your work. LGBTQ+ authors often fear outing themselves. Others forced to live two lives due to their family’s religious or social views risk losing their loved ones once they’re totally honest.
Fear of others’ judgement goes beyond people you actually know. Trolls and vicious reviewers who don’t like your use of the Oxford comma can shred your soul. If you achieve your wildest dreams and become a best-selling author, you’re exposed to everything millions of people have to say about you – a stranger they’ve never met.
These kinds of social fears often tie to anxieties you deal with regularly. You may not be able to banish them entirely, but you can snip the chains holding your back. First, seriously consider a pseudonym if you don’t have one. If you don’t want to share your work with your family, don’t. Even if they know you’re writing a book, you have no obligation to share the finished product with them.
Next, take at look at all your absolute worst fears concerning other people’s opinions. Is it possible some people will really hate your book? Well, there are billions of people in the world, so probably, yeah. That may be a good thing. Do you want racist Uncle Ted to be comfortable immersing himself in your world? Keep in mind, trolls and a lot of negative reviewers are actively looking for a fight and/or something to dislike. You could write a ballad praising their life stories, and they’d still find a reason to hate it. You’ve done something the vast majority of them cannot and never will accomplish: you actually wrote a book and published it for the world to see. They are not on your level.
Fear of Imperfection
This is a big one, and it’s killed millions of amazing stories the world wanted to read. If you sit down to work and just… don’t… then this is you. Fear of imperfection looks like procrastination, smells like laziness, and sounds like an excuse. It really isn’t. There’s a reason you’re struggling.
The good news (and the bad news) is it’s all in your head. That isn’t terribly helpful information, but it is a start. The answers lie there, too, after all.
You worry your story will never live up to what you see in your head. That’s totally valid. It may take years of hard work and increasing skill to get it to shine. You’ll probably benefit from a developmental editor, too. But you can’t do that if you don’t start. Expect your first several drafts to messy, hard to read, and lacking the full scope of your vision. Tell yourself you’re going to write badly. If your first draft turns out like everyone else’s (absolutely awful) then you’re on the right track. If you manage to exceed your expectations, that’s great, but it’s just a bonus. The real win is that you have a draft at all. Then you can take that terrible, awful, no good, very bad draft and start the real work.
Fear of Content
Really great writers scare themselves sometimes. If you’re writing a villain, you may be shocked by how well you empathize with them, or how close some of there thoughts sound to your own. Maybe you’re just making uncomfortable discoveries about your view of the world. Are you more pessimistic than you realized? Maybe you’re having a crisis of conscience as you work with characters who reflect current societal issues.
Bad news first: this probably isn’t going to go away. Writing forces you to explore all kinds of strange, bizarre, and scary things about not only the outside world, but also your inner life.
Good news: this is what makes great writing. Stephen King struggled with depression and fear while writing some of his greatest works. Sticking with scary projects can lead to your masterpiece. Forcing yourself to continue may also help you come to a better understanding of yourself, which may improve mental health.
It’s a big world and there’s a lot of scary things out there. How do you cope with fear and anxiety as you write? Do these restrictions fuel stronger projects, or are they only a hindrance?