You’re struggling to write. To follow your dreams and make it happen.
Or, maybe you’ve mustered the nerve to put pen to paper and are sticking to a schedule. Sort of. You might have even finished that piece — a full novel, or business book. You’ve polished, polished, polished and are ready to take the next step — enter a contest, find a literary agent. You’re gaining momentum everyday.
Then, out of nowhere…
You hesitate, unsure about pulling the trigger, and moving forward.
Instead, you do nothing. Everything was progressing so well.
What went wrong?
The negative thoughts start beating on your brain like a baseball bat:
What if my book isn’t good enough?
What if I never get published?
What if Mudpie Writing fails before the entire world?
What if, what if, what if?
That’s Fear talking. Fear with a capital “F.”
Fear is a writer’s #1 worst enemy.
Fear wants to keep you small, in your place, status quo. Don’t take a risk.
Fear hates you reaching for the stars, acting on your dreams, bursting into the world. Shining bright.
So, when you start to change, succeed, move one, tiny step in a new and exciting direction.
Fear knocks you down, again and again. That’s Fear’s job.
The #1 skill every writer needs
Just like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, you need Courage.
He didn’t earn his name for nothing.
Writers need courage more than talent, luck, or determination because NOTHING will ever happen if you don’t show up to write. Or, finish that project. Or, keep trying after yet another rejection.
Saddest of all is when people quit writing all together. That’s the ONLY way to fail is when you quit.
It takes a lot of bravery to show up to the page, day after day, week after week. Unsure if it’s good enough, unsure if you’ll ever publish. Sometimes, you write with such little payoff for months, or even years.
A true story
Steven Pressfield, is the author of The Legend of Baggar Vance and two other must-reads for writers on my RESOURCES page: The War of Art and Do The Work. Pressfield was 24-years-old when he started writing full-time on his first novel. He gave up two years later. That act cost him his bank account, his sanity, his marriage.
Six years later, the next book took about eighteen months; again, writing full-time. He finished that one, but couldn’t find a publisher. The third one, three years after that, took about 2.5 years to complete, and truly made him suicidal. He said the only thing that stopped him was he couldn’t find a hook heavy enough to hold him. That manuscript never sold.
At that point, he moved from New York to Los Angeles, where he spent the next five years writing nine screenplays on spec (about six months each, writing and working full-time). None of those found buyers either. Eventually, he sold a few screenplays, but those films flopped, too.
Today, everything he writes turns to gold. All his books hit the New York Times Best-Sellers list. Looking back on those difficult years he realizes he was finding his voice and learning how to write. Each failure made him stronger.
Yes, you do hear about “overnight” successes, but most published authors are like Steven Pressfield. They wrote and slugged and fought. They found the courage to keep going.
Unfortunately, courage isn’t something you can pick up at the store, along with milk and eggs.
Where do you find courage when you have none?
A threesome with courage
Some days, I feel lost and scared and just want to spend the day in bed, eating Oreos and watching the Law & Order SVU marathon on TV. When I’m in a writer’s funk, here are three things I do to regain momentum and get my mojo back:
1. Name it and claim it.
2. Find a writing community.
3. Write through the Fear.
1. Name it and claim it
Unnamed Fear rattles through our bones like ghosts. Don’t panic. That’s part of the creative process, but it scares the hell out of us each and every time. When we shine the light of truth onto Fear and call it by name, it’s a little less scary.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still frightening, but acknowledging Fear starts to make it smaller until it disappears for another day.
I’m afraid my pitch won’t do well at the Austin Film Festival. The early-bird registration ended yesterday. It’s too expensive to go now.
Yes, that’s bass-ackwards thinking, but we do it all the time.
This is the PERFECT time to visit The Whinery at marcymckay.com to vent your frustrations, especially The Fear Factory page. Throw out all your negative feelings, so you can get back to writing.
2. Find a writing community
As I said in my free eBook, Write on Fire, writing is a lonely, solitary process. That’s why we need others who understand and will help hold you accountable.
WARNING! Be VERY careful with whom you share your literary heart.
There are people out there, even your family and friends who mean well (sometimes), but they don’t always understand our journey. Maybe they don’t want you to get hurt, or are afraid you’ll change so much you won’t need them anymore. Sometimes, when we’re courageous enough to pursue our own dreams, it might remind them how they abandon theirs.
If you don’t feel like your family or friends ‘get you’, try other writers. Most cities and towns have writing groups. If not, there are online writing communities like Mudpie Writing to help. Keep searching until you find the right fit.
Even with other writers remember that just because someone else puts pen to paper doesn’t mean you should share your work with them. I’ve seen writers destroy other writers to where they wanted that hanging hook Steven Pressfield mentioned earlier.
On the flip-side, don’t seek out those who only say nice, flowery things about your work. You need to hear the truth to become a better writer, even if it hurts like hell.
However, just because someone you trust gives you constructive criticism does not mean you have to take it. Part of being a writer is learning to trust your own instincts. Nobody knows your work and your vision better than you.
I know this sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but as the theme of Mudpie says it all: Writing is delicious + messy.
There’s no “one way” to do it all. We each have to find our own creative process.
3. Write through the Fear
The only antidote for Fear of writing is writing through the Fear. Or, whatever the next right action is for you: query that agent, contact that magazine about your article idea, attend that writers’ conference to gain more knowledge and meet like-minded people.
Small steps are okay, just keep writing and pursuing your dreams.
Try to remember that Fear IS part of writing. Fear will strike again and it will terrify you each and every time.
How do you find courage? Share your comments with me. If you enjoyed this blog post, please pass along to your friends.
Pick up your FREE copy today of the mystery, The Moon Rises at Dawn (SkipJack Publishing). Read, enjoy, repeat.