The funny and talented Sarah Moore is back today to help us get over our fear of creating. As writers, we have a lot of challenges to face, and this is one that we really need to beat into submission or those stories inside us will never get out. Read on!
You’ve set the scene perfectly: a clean desk gazing out through a rain-filled window, a steaming mug of coffee, a fresh document open on your computer, gleaming white with promise. It’s all so perfectly writer-ish, isn’t it? Hemingway/King/Rowling would be proud. You are doing this.
After 5 minutes, the “doing this” has not much progressed. After 10, you have typed and erased a single sentence about eight times. You have also chewed a cuticle, wondered about lunch and suffered a brief, spasmodic panic attack when you imagine anyone, anywhere, ever reading what you write.
If you can even write it, that is. Cue additional panic attacks.
Fear of Reception (Or: That Thing You Shouldn’t Worry About)
Chances are, as a reader of this fine blog, you’re a creative type. That comes with many wonderful qualities and one big, giant, clawing foible: insecurity. Any writer who denies this should either a) stop lying to yourself or b) write a book about how you’ve accomplished that, because you’ll make millions.
The fear of how our writing will be received can become so crippling that it stops us in our tracks … often before we even put figurative/literal pen to paper. Instead of working hard and worrying about reception later, you spend minutes or hours or days fretting about what “people” will think when they read your work.
Because the assumption, of course, is your work will be seen by EVERYONE EVER. Then instead of writing your novel for fellow YA-lovers, say, you’re writing it for your mom, and your ex-boyfriend, and that one girl in high school who was mean to you at prom and you’d really like to show her … etc. It’s impossible to write for an audience like that, not least because those people probably don’t even like YA fantasy. Or perhaps you write only to achieve what another writer has, which leads directly to death by comparison.
So this is really a two-part problem: You write for the wrong reasons, which doesn’t inspire creativity; and you cripple yourself with fear by imagining all these people whose opinions terrify you instead of the ONE person who would love to hear/read/experience this story.
A Better Way (Or: Your New Writing Mindset)
Guess what? You don’t have to swim in that morass of creative fear. You don’t have to get all pruny while the water chills around you. You can get out, and here’s how.
Imagine Your Perfect Reader
I love this strategy. It helps me remember, whenever I start to worry that _________ is going to ridicule my work, that I’m not writing for _________. I’m writing for my perfect reader, someone I probably don’t have Sunday dinner with, or even know. That reader has a host of characteristics, which you can feel free to list out – finding your audience is a great exercise – but the most important characteristic is this: They enjoy your writing. That’s it. They love your subject. Your characters. Your slant. Your story. You’re writing for them.
This is a useful tool not only when you’re sitting alone and writing, but when someone asks you about your work and you feel troubled answering. What if they don’t like it? What if they raise an eyebrow, or nod uncertainly?
To that I say … who cares? You’re not writing for them. If you need to, you can even tell them that. Gently. Politely. Kindly. Just shrug and say, “Yeah, it’s probably not your cup of tea. But I’m really excited about it.” It’s the nicest beat-down ever, and your conversational compatriot doesn’t even know they’ve been beat down.
Focus on Your Sphere of Influence
When fear arises, we tend to catastrophize, then start trying to control all possible outcomes. Don’t tell this person! Don’t put that on Facebook! Spoiler alert: That’s nonsense; you’ll never manage it. So the question becomes, what is your sphere of influence? What can you control, and what can’t you?
Well, you can control what happens at your rain-glazed, coffee-fueled writing desk. You can’t control what Cindy from work thinks. You can control how much deliberate practice you put in every day. You can’t control what people will say when you publish the resulting short story or novel. You can control your work. You can’t control the minds of others.
… yet. I’m working on it.
Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
I like to call this “writers’ exposure therapy.” *chuckles darkly*
Whenever you start to freak out, just close your eyes and envision the absolute worst-case scenario. Here’s mine: I will write a book that I believe in wholeheartedly. I will take it to a conference and pitch it to agents. I will get requests for partials from all of them. I will get signed on. I will almost have a book deal … and then the agent will drop me.
Oh hey, guess what? That happened. It sucked. Like, reaaallll bad. But no one is dead. The apocalypse did not ensue. No zombies. (My biggest fear is always the zombies.)
So what’s your worst fear? Chances are it feels pretty grim when you allow it to flit around in the back of your subconscious. But if you bring it into the clear light of day? Eh. You’ll survive it. Just give that fear a wave, remind yourself that you’re alive and, actually, you rock pretty hard … and get back to work. Even when all you’re doing is writing that first draft badly, you’re getting closer and closer to the goal of a beautiful, wonderful, finished product just perfect for your special reader.
Sarah Moore has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has worked as a professional writer for the last seven years. She is the owner and founder of at New Leaf Writing, working as a fiction writer by night, and with clients and other writers to help them reach their own writing goals by day. You can find her talking about reading and craft on Instagram, or read her new book about creative fear, Get the Hell Over It: How to Let Go of Fear and Realize Your Creative Dream.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Brent Jones says
What’s my worst fear?
I have no idea, at least not when it comes to my writing.
My wife and I built a business together, and I made a graceful exit last fall to pursue creative writing full-time. I have since self-published two novels and two short stories.
My wife hired help, the business continues to run, and I really haven’t seen any decrease to our household income over the past year.
So I can’t say that “failure” is a fear of mine. I hope to get to a point that I can earn a regular—even if not substantial—income from writing fiction.
But even if that time never comes, I will still have enjoyed the opportunity to do something I love doing full-time. Not everybody gets to say that.
Glynis Jolly says
Sarah, you nailed it for me. Everyone I have talked to about the lack of work I have been doing on my WiP has told me the fight through the WRITER’S BLOCK. Yet, I have known all along that it is not writer’s block but could not put my finger on what to call it. Your have found the term and have clarified it for me. Now, maybe I can do something about it. Thank you.
Susan Haught says
Oh, holy smokes did I ever need this today. I received the feedback from my beta readers and they punched a hole in a few things I never saw coming, and crashed my self-made deadlines for completion. Whoa…now to fix it…okay, go…or not…how do I do this…I know or maybe I don’t know how…okay, that won’t work…maybe I don’t need to fix it…but I get it, it needs fixing…oh dear god, why am I even attempting this…screw it, I don’t care…maybe I can be a garden bum and go trim the roses…make peach jam…do a half load of laundry…gosh, the dog sure does need brushing…
I procrastinated the last few days, and the doubt multiplied and multiplied until I was ready to trash the entire project…and then early this morning I went for a walk and decided to write for me, and those readers who want to know when this novel will be ready and are anxiously waiting for it. Those are the people I need to concentrate on. I write because this story needs to be told. I write for my readers. This post came after my so-called epiphany, but what fantastic timing, icing on the cake so to speak. So today I’ll set my rear in the chair and concentrate on my readers and how I can fix the flaws my betas discovered. I WILL DO THIS!
Sarah Moore says
I’m so happy to hear that! That is exactly the attitude that more of us need to take, Susan. And yes, it sure is crushing to hear negative feedback, but so often, other people see the holes we don’t. Better that they do before we send it off to the big dogs, I figure.
My approach, when I feel like this (and I’m pretty sure you were describing me up above), is simply to focus on the very next thing I can do. Only one thing! And then I do that one thing. After that, another one thing. And so it goes. As for fear, whatever … it can go do its own thing too. 😉
BECCA PUGLISI says
I love the idea about keeping your perfect reader in mind. Because it’s true—we worry about all those people who might not like our work, when we really should be focused on the people who are invested in it, and making sure we’re doing our best to provide THEM with what they’re after. Those are the people we should be writing for. Great advice!
Sarah Moore says
Thanks, Becca! It sucks to worry what the whole world will think when the whole world isn’t going to come looking for your work anyway. This is the antidote!