Learn how to master fear then put it to work. Seems so simple. Scratch that. Fear? It’s terrifying! Humans live in a world soaked in fear, always have and always will. Fear is valid, necessary and keeps us alive. Yet, fear is a double-edged blade that can harm us or take out our darkest demons.
The trick (and the treat) is making sure we’re in charge. Face fear then train that junkyard dog to be a sled dog that powers us to go the LONG distance.
We might be writers, but it doesn’t mean we’re hermetically sealed in front of a keyboard and immune from being scared sh…..witless. Life throws a lot at us. Family, bills, bad health, accidents, crises and on and on. Life is tough and no one gets out alive 😉 . Yet, while life can be tough, we can learn to be tougher.
Humans are wired for faith. We have faith in cars (that they won’t turn on us and murder us), that when we flip on a switch, lights come on instead of death by electrocution. We have faith in our 401Ks, our friends, our insurance companies. Faith is all around us and we use it so much we don’t notice. Ah, but here’s the kicker…
Fear is faith in the wrong things.
The first step to mastering fear is to redirect faith to the RIGHT things, then over time this helps develop mental toughness.
Fear is ALL Mind Over Matter
Mastering fear is fundamentally deciding what matters. Notice I used deciding. It is active. We are not flotsam, whisked along powerlessly. WE are the master of our thoughts, not the other way around. Every thought can become a choice with enough training.
Training mental toughness involves admitting we’re afraid to begin with. We can’t conquer what we deny even exists. This often requires brutal honesty with ourselves, which can hurt like hell. Yet, when we avoid our fear, it’s akin to leaving a bullet inside us and only treating the bloody, festering hole with bandages, Bactine and kale.
The bullet of fear must faced to be removed for any healing to happen. When we leave fear alone because we know it will hurt digging it out, it drains us, makes us sick, and slowly kills us.
And no, I hadn’t thought about writing inspirational greeting cards, but now that you mention it… 😀 .
Today I want to talk about fears common to writers. We might wrestle with one or all of them at any given point. But the point of this post is you are not alone. The odd thing about fear is it likes to weak masks and, since today is Halloween, what better day to discuss fear and the masks it wears?
The Procrastination Mask
First, the BIGGIE! Many of us struggle with procrastination, and we often have a good reason for why we can’t finish the book. Someday later and down the road. We tell ourselves we can write when we finish X.
X is a mask for fear which can often look like laundry, dishes, or the day job. Procrastination often is not the problem at all, only a guise for what we believe we can’t bear to face.
Fear might resemble our “aching need” to watch cartoons with the kids instead of revising the WIP (work in progress). We want to be a good parent. Wouldn’t want our kids growing up then using a chainsaw on us in our sleep because they believed we abandoned them?
Hmmm, better stop and make cookies for the whole class and volunteer to coach the soccer team, too. I can bring my writing to the soccer game! Genius!
Fear in this form gives all kinds of excellent reasons the writing can wait and wait and why everyone and everything else is a priority. It’s a lie. Procrastination is fear. We might be terrified we really don’t know how to write, that maybe we really don’t have a plot, that maybe we have no clue what we are doing.
Maybe we totally suck.
We might be afraid of finishing because we’re terrified of rejection. Or maybe we are afraid of success.
What if my mother thinks she’s the demon who feasts on dreams of children in my book? I mean she IS, but will she figure it out? Can she sue me? Better switch genres.
It’s easier to be a maybe-one-day-super-star than to finish and face whatever music awaits.
The Perfection Guise
Next on our list? Perfection. This flawless fatale is an excellent disguise for fear. She is the perfect mask for fear because perfect is an illusion thus, by definition, unattainable. We fail before we start.
Unmask that sucker! There’s no such thing as a perfect novel, or a perfect anything.
Someone somewhere will not like what we write, cook, wear, how we parent and on and on so learn to embrace being flawed.
Perfect is the enemy of the good, the nemesis of the finished.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts tomorrow. Can you write 50,000 words in 30 days? Many writers will start NaNo and never finish because they’ll keep going back and polishing prose. They will get and likely remain STUCK.
Yet the GOAL of NaNoWriMo is solely to put 50K words ON THE PAGE…not perfect words. The point of NaNo is to train you to think like a pro. Pros get words on page and we polish later. We write no matter what is going on in life…including cooking for holidays.
The Indecision Disguise
We switch genres, start new projects, start a blog, stop blogging, start another. We are going to query, no self-publish, no indie. Wait. Maybe a pen name. That way no one will know if our book sucks. Maybe two pen names. Maybe witness protection would take us?
We need to think on this more.
Indecision is where most dreams get stuck then die. Forgotten remnants of ideas, dreams, stories stored in catacombs of computer files. Buried in unmarked graves, no one to mourn their loss other than us. We’re guilty and ashamed we left them, but didn’t know what to do, how to make it right, how to fix things so we did…nothing.
No decision is STILL a decision.
Be the BIG BOSS
Remember that final line from Labyrinth, when Sarah finally figures out why she’s been losing? How she shatters the Goblin King’s plan? One line.
You have no power over me.
Truth is, maybe your book does stink. Maybe you have no plot or any idea how the heck to have a blog or where to begin? How to keep going? Guess what?
I’ve been there! My first novel is duct taped in a box in the garage because we can’t potty train it and it bites.
I had to learn and find mentors and brace for tough truth, cry, have some chocolate and try again. I didn’t know how to write or plot. Okay, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn. I also didn’t know how to blog or the hidden mysteries of SEO and social media. I had to figure it out.
I am still figuring all of this out. Getting better each and every day by making sure I AM THE BIG BOSS. Fear? SIT! Heel!
Growing is Painful
Facing we’re inadequate hurts. Yet, we cannot learn a craft, how to be an artisan, a master by relying on theory. We need classes, we need training, but we also learn by DOING. This means, we do it afraid. We step out, fail, try again, learn, fail some more. Do it enough and fear dissipates because confidence cannot be purchased, it must be bought in blood and tears.
REMEMBER! We ALL start somewhere. It is OKAY to be new.
Regular people seem to believe writing is easy and anyone can do what we do. Don’t believe me? Seriously they are cute that they think our skills are so simple! BWA HA HA HA HA! Nope.
Hmmm. Maybe those cutbacks on actual journalists and good editors was a bad plan after all.
We are all in the same boat and, in my experience, the only writers who believe their writing is perfect are unteachable hacks. Writers plagued by self-doubt, riddled with insecurity? First get over it. But this doubt is also a really good sign you’re probably not as bad as you believe. Or, if you are? You’re teachable. No biggie. Let’s just fix it! #Duh
Now that we’ve been through the major fears and how to beat these “monsters” I’d like to finish with a treat. First, it IS Halloween (even though it’s pretty much Halloween all year in our house). If you want some AMAZING dark reads?
The Mortician’s Daughter–One Foot in the Grave, a dark paranormal Young Adult by C.C. Hunter OUT TODAY! I could NOT put this book down. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. OMG! I’ve listened to this one at least 20 times on Audible. Brilliant, layered and Hill makes me question my own ability to write *sobs*. Finally, a staple literary horror The Prisoner of Hell Gate by Dana L. Wolff, another story best experienced on audio (though I have paper and audio for both).
What are your thoughts? Are you afraid? Did you see yourself in any of my examples? Pen names, switching genres, unable to finish, stuck in perfectionism? Welcome to being a REAL WRITER!
Share your thoughts!
I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!
What do you WIN? For the month of OCTOBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
*****Saturday’s blog had a special contest for a free class, but I need time to go through the comments so will announce BOTH winners next post!
For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up…
BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 9th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!
PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!
And there it is. In black and white.
I’ve had a book finished for six months. I’ve been trying to learn everything I can about launching it as it is more niche market. Reading blogs about it. Books written about it.
Yet, I haven’t taken the first step. Have not even formatted it yet because I don’t “really” know what I’m doing.
Perhaps there’s more the skills at issue here. Might be a perfectionist sprinkled with doubt peeping over my shoulder.
Your blogs keep hitting the mark: me.
This makes so much sense. Thank you.
Lately, I have found that my fears are not about writing anymore, but about marketing those books. It’s closely related to the fear of not writing because of the fear of rejection. I mean, I can say, “I’m not afraid. See, I wrote the book.”
However, once the book is written, edited, formatted and published I haven’t done much else. Instead, I write the next book and the next and the next. My books aren’t selling, and not because they aren’t good. It is because I have not developed my platform to the point where people see my “babies”. There lies my perfectionism under the guise of not having enough time to market those books that I have written.
I’m afraid of both success and failure, but worse, now, not finishing. That is my fear, that I can’t finish what I started. Because I get too… “Squirrel” for the next shiny object.
I just finished reading a Jerry Jenkins article about writer’s block, and then received an email with the link to this article. I think someone is trying to tell me something!
I should have known without being told that fear is actually the cause of writer’s block. I’ve been afraid. Again and again. I’ve been paralyzed with the fear that if I finish my novel it won’t be any good.
After reading these articles, I opened a file on my computer for novel notes that I’ve labeled, What I Know About This Story. I read through everything, and then without meaning to began writing. I ended up with six new pages. Not a humungous amount, but it beats nothing any day!
I have to agree with this so much. You have to make time to write. I started waking up at 4:45am to get 2 hours of writing done before heading to work. I didn’t do it all in one day and it took maybe a month for the habit to fully form but since then I’m about 29/30 with getting those 2 hours in.
Thanks for my first laugh of the day with Exhibit A. To be perfectly honest, I’m guilty of all four of those masks that you mentioned. I really appreciate that kick in the pants that I need. Your posts lately have certainly given me something to think about! More procrastination? 😉
Thanks also Kristen for those book recommendations. I’ll be sure to add those to my reading list.
First, thank you Kristen for mentioning my book, The Mortician’s Daughter. Second, I love this blog. It hits on something I deal with, and I think most writers deal with. My grandmother used to say a little fear in the belly is good for you. And I know what she means, but that monster can also stop me dead in my tracks. I’m getting better at fighting it, but it still can twist my guts up and make it hard to breathe. I just keep looking back at the times I was afraid and did the thing that scared me in spite of the fear. One of those things changed my life, and my career. But I still haven’t mastered that beast completely.
Thank you for lighting a little fire under my butt.
Getting it wrong and not being able to fix it is the fear that stalks me at the moment. It’s easy enough to just go for it when it’s a first draft, but when it comes to the actual publishing, the stakes seem to have upped.
At moments like this I think of a poem which goes,
“I am the lion in his lair;
I am the fear that frightens me;
I am the desert of despair
And the nights of agony.
Night or day, whate’er befall,
I must walk that desert land,
Until I dare my fear and call
The lion out to lick my hand.”
Here, kitty kitty kitty…
You hit all my bugaboos with this post. I even recently thought about using a pen name. Registered a URL for it and everything.
Running away is so much easier than facing your fears. Time to put on my big girl panties, though. Nano is the perfect time to bust through some of those barriers I’ve erected for myself. Thank you, Kristen.
“Are you afraid? Did you see yourself in any of my examples? Pen names, switching genres, unable to finish, stuck in perfectionism?”
Right. I think you need to come out of my basement, Kristen, and just admit you’ve been living in my house. I won’t shoot you. Though, I may look at you funny.
Dammit, dammit, dammit. I hate being a chicken. And I admit, getting a bloody and whimpering manuscript back from a contest has thrown me for a major loop. What was I thinking???
I shoved that thing into a (metaphorical) box, and slammed the lid. Poor, poor book. (Yes, it’s the same first 40 pages… the one you liked. Should have just listened to you. (Yeah, I said it. Heh.)) I need to work this thing through, see if any of those judge’s comments really have value, and get on with it. (But. But. But… So much pain! So much blood!)
And never enter another contest again. Probably should have let the normal people (aka: readers) be the judges.
So this month I resolve to: clean up the blood, finish the manuscript, find a cover artist, and learn how to format for e-pub. Also… join RWA. And try to behave more like a writer and less like a baby.
Hopefully, the book hasn’t turned into a zombie in the time that I’ve been avoiding it, buried there in its box. It might come back and bite me in the ass. No, wait. Zombies don’t bite asses, do they?
I’ll never read or write horror, so will have to ask my daughter, the gaming-pro… (before I do anything else! LOL 😉 )
Used the wrong email address for my WordPress account when I made this comment. c4c to get notifications on the thread.
Should add to my resolution… Learn which email address I’ve used where! Grr.
Ah, I can relate to so many issues in this post. Thank you, Kristen!
Hey Kristen, loved this blog – I laughed right out loud more than once! Mostly because you have a great way of getting your point across, but more so because you have walked in my shoes, and we have to laugh at ourselves, or we’ll be in tears. Thanks for the reality check on trying to be perfect, and the fear that we never will be that keeps us from even trying. But the older I get and the more time that slips past, I realize my time is short, and the last thing I want is to die with regrets – regrets that I was too afraid to see how great I could have been. I’ve challenged myself to see fear as road barricades with blinking warning lights: “Danger! -Comfort zone coming to an end!” And then in my mind’s eye, I see myself plowing through those road blocks and driving over my fears like road pizza, coming out victorious on the other side! And I’m also going to start to use the quote you wrote: You have no power over me. Now that’s a powerful statement. Thanks again for all your encouragement!