Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: fear and creativity

self-sabotage, how writers self-sabotage, writing and productivity, writing tips, how to get published, write more books, Kristen Lamb, procrastination, writers and procrastination, fear and creativity

There are SO many reasons why being a professional author is TOUGH. Much of what authors do is counter to human nature. It is NOT natural to sit still and write a 100,000 words. It’s human nature to avoid stress, pain, and trauma, while an author’s job is to inflict as much suffering as possible.

Good writers are death dealers, anguish agents, and pain peddlers (which probably is why we freak ‘normal’ people out). Yet, we know torment is necessary for the greater good. A ‘story’ without seemingly unbeatable odds, terrifying stakes, and white-knuckled tension isn’t a story.

It’s self-indulgent tripe.

The ultimate objective of any author worth their ink cartridges is to create so much pressure we might just give our readers the bends.

Yet, this is not ‘natural.’ It is also not simple. There is nothing about being an author that is easy, and thing is?

Most of us fear we don’t have what it takes.

We’re also terrified to admit this. So what do we do? We become our own worst enemies and self-sabotage. And, since writers generally are smart, we self-sabotage in ways that appear to be REAL work to the untrained eye.

Thus, today, we’re going to discuss some of the clever ways writers self-sabotage. Since I’ve been guilty of ALL of these (because I’m a ridiculous overachiever), I can speak from experience. When it comes to self-sabotage, I would have been top of the class…but didn’t study for the final until the night before.

Self-Sabotage—Give Me Liberty OR Give Me DEATH!

self-sabotage, how writers self-sabotage, writing and productivity, writing tips, how to get published, write more books, Kristen Lamb, procrastination, writers and procrastination, fear and creativity

This writer longs to be completely FREE! No boundaries, restrictions, or rules. Total liberty. They throw caution to the wind and GO!

In the writing world, we refer to folks who write by the seat of their pants as ‘pantsers.’ Many new writers start out as a pantser, because we are dying to WRITE. We love ALL THE WORDS and want to get them down and on the page. Planning takes TIME! Ruins the spontaneity. Who needs a plot? *rolls eyes*

My story can’t be forced. Plot will reveal itself. Like, it’s totally ORGANIC.

***Know what else is totally organic? Bull$#!t. Just food for thought 😉 .

Anyway, this type of writer might (mistakenly) believe that an outline or anything remotely resembling a structure equals ‘formulaic writing.’ I know, because I claimed that nonsense at one time as well.

Truth was, I wanted to play with my imaginary friends, and learning craft was hard and boring and looked way more like HARD WORK than I was comfortable with.

Also, obviously, I was an ‘exception’ due to my superior, innately born, and gifted-from-angels ‘talent.’ Thus, the rules applied to everyone but me, because *hair flip* I was smarter.

Yep, sure.

All excellent stories have structure, because a story is akin to a living organism. It needs BONES, because guess what had no bones? The Blob. If we want a squishy creature that just keeps getting bigger and bigger by absorbing more characters, descriptions, plot bunnies and adverbs?

Meet BLOB, not BOOK.

If pantsing is your jam, that’s fine. But authors who are excellent pantsers took time to learn and understand how story structure WORKS. Sometimes this is a person who’s read a gazillion books. They’ve read SO many novels, structure is almost ingrained into their marrow.

Perhaps they wrote a crap ton of bad books that fizzled and died. After years of writing utter crap, eventually they didn’t.

These authors are like the self-taught musician who plays by ear.

Problem with this approach is a writer is more likely to give up than be successful. A creative can only endure so many stillborn stories, before we just give up.

Been there.

A person who learns to play a guitar by listening to music and plucking around can possibly be AMAZING. However, classes covering even basics like finger positions and chords can help…a lot. The would-be guitarist will get to making something that sounds like actual ‘music’ far faster.

Thus, the self-sabotage is not the writer’s choice to be a pantser, rather the almost savage reaction to any suggestion regarding learning structure.

Deep down the reason the writer won’t consider a log-line, outline, basic plot points is because of two false beliefs. First, they believe if they ‘succumb’ to *shivers* structure, they therefore lack talent.

Only amateurs need paint-by-numbers. <—me

Secondly, they might also believe they really DON’T have talent/ability. Thus, if they actually read the books and took the classes, they’d have no reason NOT to write amazing stories. <—totally me, too

Fearing authentic failure, the Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death crowd makes certain to always pick the path that leads to ‘something other than them’ being the source of failure. This could be failure to ever finish, or failure to write a book that sells (either to an agent or an audience).

I’m not writing the right genre. The idea wasn’t as good as I thought. Nobody is reading BLAH genre. My book isn’t bad, it’s ‘literary’ and agents/editors/readers just don’t ‘get’ my story.


Any excuse other than to admit fear of not ‘having enough talent.’

Self-Sabotage—The Craft Class JUNKIE

self-sabotage, how writers self-sabotage, writing and productivity, writing tips, how to get published, write more books, Kristen Lamb, procrastination, writers and procrastination, fear and creativity

Knowing Amazon is chock full of ‘novels’—self-indulgent personal fantasy fulfillment tropes with no plot—this writer goes to the OTHER extreme. They hit the books, blogs, classes, conferences and do all the exercises. The Craft Class Junkie is a near relative of the professional college student.

This writer is perfectly okay, so long as their ‘knowledge’ is never actually put to the test. While brilliant regarding theoretical, they cave when it comes to practical application. Writers like this are always exploring various ‘methods.’

In fact, they likely never choose any method, or at least not long enough to finish and see it through. To practice with it until they are skilled.

See, writing is really, really freaking hard. Like the Give Me Liberty or Death group, Craft Junkies believe (again mistakenly) that if they were ‘good’ enough, writing a story would NOT be hard.

Which is total bunk.

Thus, the Craft Junkie might start out with the Snowflake Method, hit the inevitable second act slump, then shelve the story…because you know, snowflakes are flaky and it just wasn’t working. The story really needed this method or that method.

The Write A Novel in a Week By Channeling Your Spirit Animal! Now THAT’S the ticket.

Envision your story squirrel and merely describe what your story squirrel sees in as many words as possible.

The Liberty or Death and the Craft Junkie are two sides of the same coin.

The pantser is at least willing to write…a lot. Even if they have no idea where the hell they’re going, they at least GO. This writer actually NEEDS the craft training.

Conversely the Craft Junkie is incredibly educated, but it’s all theoretical. This author needs actual practice.

Writing is actually a trade/artisan skill which requires training AND loads of practice, practical experience, and yes…failure.

Self-Sabotage—The Background BOSS

self-sabotage, how writers self-sabotage, writing and productivity, writing tips, how to get published, write more books, Kristen Lamb, procrastination, writers and procrastination, fear and creativity

Maybe we wrote some ‘stories’ or ‘novels’ and realized we had a bunch of paper dolls, talking heads, and kept writing ourselves into a corner. Eager to get to writing (with or without an outline) we jumped the gate. We failed to take time to really know and understand our characters.

Thus, we commit to knowing every character intimately from their favorite cereal to the name of their first kitten. We will open every psychological door!

Problem is, we can fall in LOVE with the background.

Backstory is to the novel what crossfit is to sports.

Seems close to the real thing but isn’t. We can self-sabotage with planning and more planning and adding more layers.

Backstory is fun because we have no skin in the game. It isn’t our NOVEL, which will actually test our mettle. It’s the intensive activity that permits a thrill of storytelling without any of the commitment.

Like doing crossfit, I can become extremely fit, which is fantastic if my goal is to simply be super fit.

It is only when I commit to applying this crossfit training to something else (a sport) that my ‘activities’ become more than rolling around large tires and swinging kettlebells. Application is the only place my strength, endurance, and dexterity can truly be measured.

Backstory is CRUCIAL. In fact, Cait is teaching a class on backstory I STRONGLY recommend. But if we aren’t vigilant, it can end up the writer equivalent of dragging around a tractor tire and believing this is progress. Backstory is to help make us the best at writing great novels, not number one at creating character profiles.

Backstory is IN THE PAST

Meaning it’s already happened. The true test of a storyteller is to use the past create an unknown future.

Sure, Fifi has had a bad life, but when presented with a problem that pokes her wounds, HOW DOES SHE DEAL/OR NOT DEAL?

Yet, the Backstory Boss isn’t comfortable going forward because that’s scary, and the past has passed and is safer.

Just as the crossfitter knows she can do cherry-pickers all day, she’s possibly afraid that, if she played field hockey or soccer or started doing roller derby, she might be terrible. Same with the writer who’s self-sabotage manifests in a ton of busy-work.

They’re endlessly tweaking backstories or even trashing perfectly good backstories and starting over…and over.

And over.

There is an insidious addiction to preparation and yet never enough preparation to commit to the ACTUAL GAME. Fear of failure, rejection, success all powers the self-sabotage cycle. #AskMeHowIKnow

Self-Sabotage—The Research Hoarder

self-sabotage, how writers self-sabotage, writing and productivity, writing tips, how to get published, write more books, Kristen Lamb, procrastination, writers and procrastination, fear and creativity

Research MATTERS. Granted, some genres require more research than others. Cupcake Cozy vs. Epic Historical. Totally different levels of research, but might want to know a little about baking even for the cozy.

Trust me, I’m writing a horror set in the Old West. I can affirm that learning how to write historical has been an @$$ beating. I’ve read everything from Mark Twain to St. Augustine, to Goethe. I’ve watched countless documentaries, studied food, weapons, cooking, clothing, idiomatic expressions, medicine, global politics, *taps out*.

Yes, I HAD to research to make dead certain this story could reasonably happen. Granted, it is a Western Horror, but the speculative angle doesn’t give me a free pass on history/research.

As my coauthor (Cait) has lectured me, my characters cannot be riding train cars not yet invented or passing through towns not yet imagined, let alone established.

Yes, ma’am *whimpers and fetches ice pack*

In fact, research is critical for my world-building (I.e. the barber having a corner chair at the saloon pulling teeth while patrons eat and drink nearby).

Yet, there is a fine line between wanting the details to be correct ‘enough’ versus wanting them to be PERFECT. Perfect is the enemy of the finished. We will never write a perfect novel, so don’t try.

Remember the AUDIENCE

Yes, please research. It’s part of our JOB to know and understand the world we’re writing about. We’re also wise to appreciate that readers will gravitate to our novel because they LOVE the subject. It is prudent to appreciate our audience might even be knowledgable.

Thus, if we’re writing a mystery-suspense with a homicide detective as our MC, we BETTER know how that all works, because our AUDIENCE likely does. NOTE: Unless this is OUR professional background, our audience is probably NOT law enforcement (because they can’t watch Miami CSI without suffering an aneurism).

Much like if we write medical mysteries, medical personnel probably NOT our audience because they watched House once, and nearly died…of laughter.

Relax, Already

Sure retired lawyers, detectives, doctors, etc. write stories that even people who share their profession might enjoy…if they enjoy reading about WORK in their free time. But even the pros must take liberties for fiction.

Our audience generally will be people who know the broad strokes of these worlds (the ‘interesting parts’), but know them very, very well. They know about blood transfer, blood spatter, ballistics, Luminol, body lividity, etc.

Suspense, mystery, thriller readers are people who’ve watched so many episodes of Forensic Files they yell at murderers on Dateline the same way men yell at football games.

Seriously? You PAID the hit man with a PERSONAL CHECK under the video cameras at Taco BELL? You deserve the needle.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, the audience will (likely) know who does what job when and where and how. This means we (the authors) should know this stuff, too.

But, in the end, fiction is NOT reality.

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To paraphrase Hitchcock, ‘Fiction is life with the boring crap taken out.’ Accuracy, to a degree, draws readers into the fictive dream.

Yet, if we were completely accurate, then a murder mystery would be 400,000 pages long and detail excruciating paperwork for warrants, multiple interviews, polygraphs, interrogations, months waiting on DNA, CODIS, filing MORE paperwork, and answering every crackpot tip on the hotline.

Also gotta make sure the unit secretary Brenda Baffleghast’s retirement party is included because, you know…authenticity.

Oh and remember to include the local psychic who saw the murderer’s face burned on her toast!

Research is vital because the better we do this scouring, the easier it is to work seamlessly within our world without interrupting creative flow. The deeper the well to draw from, the richer the story, the more opportunities to create magic.

Beware of paralysis by analysis.

It is OKAY not to know everything…so long as we nail the major stuff.

I cannot have my MC traveling through the Fort Worth Stock Yards in 1860 BECAUSE IT DID NOT EXIST UNTIL 1876. 

This is a major point and something I reasonably should have researched and know while plotting.

Alas, expect some research troll to appear, majorly miffed who will write a detailed two-star review saying crap like, ‘Well, I couldn’t get into the book. The railroad didn’t use the gringle-doffer-doodle-mabobber until 1875 and the author has it in 1874. After that? I was totally thrown out of the story. I mean did the author even TRY?’

Sure did. Just not nearly as hard as you tried to be a total @$$…

At the end of the day…

All these ways of self-sabotage are not in and of themselves BAD or WRONG. It took me starting and never being able to finish 27 ‘novels’ for me to get a clue and maybe read a craft book…or ALL OF THEM. I ended up going to the OTHER extreme and was terrified to WRITE until I knew…EVERYTHING.

I’m not a plotter or pantser, I’m a plotser 😀 .

I have a hard-drive bursting with fantastic backstories I will likely never use. Not to mention I’ve listened to over TWO THOUSAND hours of audio books in less than two years. This is NOT counting time spent reading paper books or e-books on my Kindle, articles, papers….or the books taped behind my toilet.

Suffice to say my ‘research’ might have gone a tad…okay completely off the rails.

But I am much better now…. *drools*

So if you’ve been hiding in any of these self-sabotage safe spaces, it’s okay. The one leaving cookie crumbs? Probably me.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I love hearing from you! Did you see yourself in any of these ‘profiles’ or maybe…ALL of them? *hangs head* Have any to add? How do you struggle? If you’ve overcome one of these self-sabotaging habits, do you have tips, suggestions, war stories?

And if the BOG OF BACKSTORY is where you get stuck, remember Cait is teaching how to do this well…without needing safety line to make sure you return to your loved ones 🙂 .

Backstory—The Yarn Behind the Book

June 8th with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds


Beyond the Princess Prodigy: Strong Females in Fantasy & Historical

Class starts the morning of 6/16/18 with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds 11:30 AM EST to 1:30 PM EST ($45)

Beyond Bullet-Proof Barbie: Strong Female Characters for a Modern World

The NEXT class starts the afternoon of 6/16/18 with ME, Kristen Lamb 2:00 PM EST to 4:00 MP EST ($45)


Dangerous Dames Bundle: Pirate Princess to Bulletproof Barbie

Both Cait AND me for FOUR AND A HALF HOURS! Squeee! SAVE $15 for the alcohol you might need afterwards to…celebrate 😀 ($75)

***Recordings included with purchase to reduce chances of ODing on AWESOME.

mastering fear, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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

mastering fear, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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

mastering fear, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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.

Writers WRITE.

The Indecision Disguise

mastering fear, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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.


mastering fear, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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.

Exhibit A:

mastering fear, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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?

Reading TREATS!

mastering fear, how to master fear and put it to work, the power of fear, fear and creativity, Kristen Lamb, power over fear, conquering fear, facing fear

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!


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!

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