by Hunter Liguore
What do you fear when you sit down to write? A myriad of emotions can sift through a writer, attempting to wrangle from the creative mind an assembled story, with characters engaged in all sorts of revelry. Most writers don’t consider the effects of fear in their daily process. Fear is the debilitating emotion that prevents us from going on. It is the force that makes lengthy excuses for why we can’t write. It is, next to procrastination, the fire burning up our sail, forcing us to abandon projects, and call it quits, or worse to abandon a work of art completely.
What is your “big” reason why you can’t start writing today?
Writing is a solitary process, one that is easy to hide from others who might otherwise assist in identifying the sense of fear you feel when sitting at the computer. If you were to open up to a friend or loved one with the details of your writing process, might they say to you, “What are you afraid of?” or “Just write it, what’re you waiting for?”
That is the question each writer must face even before the idea blossoms, or the white screen is put before us: what are you waiting for? Most writers dream about the idea of writing a glorious story, one with recognition. Or perhaps you’ve always had that one good story that everyone is telling you to write, “it would be a best seller.” Or maybe you’ve read other fiction and felt you could do better, like Edgar Rice Burroughs, who went from pencil sharpener, to short story writer to novelist, by believing he could do it.
Most writers will answer the above question with a list of life conflicts that get in the way of writing: waiting for the kids to go to bed. Waiting for the kids to go off to school, go to college, or move out altogether. Waiting to finish a big project at work. Waiting to get more time in a day. Waiting until after vacation. Waiting until a favorite TV series is over for the season. Waiting until you clean the upstairs room out to make an office space to write. Waiting to save more money so you can take a long break and devote to writing. Waiting for the school semester to end. Waiting until you outline the idea. Waiting until you’re really inspired.
The list of excuses and reasonable conflict is never ending, and depending on what your situation is, most writers have at least one “big” reason why they can’t start writing today. I can’t write because I have kids. I can’t write because I work two jobs and I don’t have any time. I can’t write because something always gets in the way. I can’t write because the house is too noisy and I keep getting interrupted. I can’t write because I don’t have a computer. I can’t write because… I just can’t today.
While the conflicts that arise in each of our lives are real, there is a way to move past these obstacles to create the writering life you’ve always dreamed of. The first obstacle to overcome is fear. Fear comes in many forms. We fear we are too old. We fear failing. We fear our work will not be good enough. We fear completing a goal. We fear actually having to do the work that we told ourselves we would do. We fear dying. We fear accomplishment. We fear the struggle. We fear we’ll ruin a story that started off good. We fear not being good enough. We fear our own creativity—will it be enough?
How do you know if you’re suffering from fear? When you think about sitting down to write, does your mind make excuses of how you can barter time and actually work on a project? The voice, if it doesn’t lead you to writing, is working from fear. It is telling you it is okay to defer on your true intentions.
A common scenario: you make time Friday night to write for three hours while your wife and son are at a movie. You pull the phone off the hook, unplug the computer, shut the cell phone off, and barracade yourself in your room. Five minutes into the writing process you’re hungry. You go and make some food and come back. You type two paragraphs and go to the bathroom. You get a drink. You get back to the writing and you think that if you could only get a little more research on the medieval knight you’re trying to bring to life, it could really help. You tell yourself, just five minutes, and instead of the computer, you scan some books on medieval warfare from your shelves. Fifteen minutes pass, and you’re back at your computer. The cat decides it wants to play, so you toss the toy away, but the cat brings it back and forth. You go and feed the cat. Back to the computer. An hour and a half has gone by and you have two or three paragraphs to show for it. You realize you only have about an hour and a half before your wife returns. You try to dig in. Your mind is blank. You finally pick up the thread you’ve started, when the doorbell rings. It’s your neighbor telling you your wife’s trying to reach you on the cell phone. You turn the phone on and call her. She tells you your son got sick on the popcorn and she’s on her way home. She assures you that she won’t bother you, which you appreciate. You head back upstairs to the computer. The medieval knight feels far away. You type two words and decide you’ll be too distracted until your wife gets home and you see how your son is. They arrive, and before you know it, you’ve shut the computer down, and dimmed the lights on your writing room, telling yourself you’ll be back after everyone is in bed. You don’t ever return. The next time you think about writing, you feel disappointment, and wonder why you should even try.
Facing your Fears
Fear shapes our lives in many ways, not just in writing. The goal is to face the fear head on and retrain the voice inside you from a negative one to a positive one. The above situation is very real. Life happens. It happens to us all, but if you truly want to write, you have to negotiate time and push back the excuses, in order to face the “big” fears head on.
Some writers can’t articulate what the fear is that they feel, but can relate to the anxiety they feel when they are writing and in one sense are enjoying themselves, but in the next breath are seeking some distraction to procrastinate the momentum. Fear drives procrastination, which continues to prevent you from rising to your call. In order to drive fear away you have to use the sword of persistence. Persistence is the counter voice that tells you to persevere. Persistence tells fear to take a hike. Persistence will get you up in the middle of the night when you have a breakthrough and feel you won’t have any other time to get it down in print.
“All men have become what they are because of their dominating thoughts & desires.” -Napoleon Hill
The Role of Persistence
Persistence isn’t an easy skill to acquire. It battles with your insecurities and weaknesses, which are generally stronger. Writers should force themselves to listen to voice of persistence and counter their own fears. Writers should force themselves to sit at a computer and type five hundred words a day, and work to reach 1,000, then 1,500, and then 2,000, and more. Writers need to discipline their time and move past fear into a place of habit that includes scheduled time for writing. If writing is only a hobby for you, one you do once in a while, then ask yourself why you won’t do it full time?
How to slay excuses and move to a place of productivity?
There is a special formula for productivity, a potion that if you drink will make you magically a productive bee—this may be coffee for some, but no, there is no special elixir. Instead, it takes hard work, negotiation of time, and persistence. Learning to steal time is the number one skill a writer needs to master. Stealing time throughout your day is important for two reasons. The first is that you will be focused on making time for your writing all day, which keeps the project fresh in your mind, and vital. The more you think about making time, the more you will find ways to devote more of it to your goals. The second reason is that by stealing pockets of time throughout your day, the amount can be added up and count for actual writing time. So, if you can’t devote two hours a day, only one, find a way to make up that hour elsewhere in the day. That’s the art of stealing time.
How to Steal Time
Stealing time starts the moment you get up in the morning. The first thing you need to do is to make a list of all the actions you want to accomplish with your writing. (This can also be done the night before.)
A typical writing to-do list might look like this:
1. Write 2,000 words
2. Plot next chapter
3. Draw character shopping list for antagonist knight
4. Research medieval castle
5. Research markets for story
6. Edit previous chapter
After you review your list, think about which items you can do throughout the day, while you’re at work or between tasks. The goal is to free as much time later in the evening (when you’ve banked time for writing) to devote solely to the act of writing. From the moment you wake up and have your list, it’s time to think about stealing time.
Look at the time you take to get dressed in the morning. If it takes you one hour, try to shave fifteen minutes off, and use the time to outline a piece of writing, or get your emails out of the way for the day, rather than waiting for the evening when you can be writing. The stolen time can also be used to do chores that’ll be waiting for you when you get home. Use the time to get them done early, so you can come home to write. Do something that will be beneficial for your writing in the stolen time, research, write a summary of a chapter, something.
If you work or leave the house in the morning, on your way you should either be writing in between stops or listening to an audio book, since writers need to read as much as they write. Reading gets you acquainted with forms of writing. It helps to see how others are doing it. It’s research. Whether you’re learning about medieval knights from an audio lecture, or how not to write from an average book, it’s useful. If you’re not listening to an audio, pull out some paper and start writing dialogue, or other prose. You can write at red lights, and in standstill traffic, on a bus or subway, or in a carpool. Use a recorder (every Mac has one) if that makes it easier.
On the walk into work, you can jot several lines of prose down. Never underestimate the usefulness of the side of a coffee cup. When you sit at your desk, rather than gossip or check in with everyone for five minutes, collect your thoughts and write yourself some notes.
Two hours into work, (and if you work from home or care for children all this applies) take a break. Go to the bathroom with a pad of paper and write out a page of prose. If you have a fifteen-minute break spend it writing. If you’re on a roll, consider returning to your desk and finish your thoughts in an email to yourself and send it off for when you can retrieve it at home later.
At lunchtime type out any notes you have and email it to yourself. If you’re on a business meeting, zone out and write a paragraph of your story. Or better, bring pages of previous writing to edit during intervals.
Two hours after lunch, get away from your desk and go for a walk, either to your car or the bathroom. Offer to take the trash out. Use this time to write a few sentences. Visualize being at home later putting all the pieces together, and writing for a solid hour.
Before the end of work, clean up your desk, and spend five minutes free writing a shopping list for your character. Include everything they will need to get through the next part of the story. If anyone asks, tell them you’re writing a shopping list… they need not know it’s for one of your character.
On the way home, hone your idea, make notes as needed. Since you spent much of your day negotiating time, you will feel more able to get home and devout even fifteen minutes to writing. Try for a half hour, then more when your work and responsibilities are complete. Don’t allow yourself the choice to be lazy and tired and resolve to put it off the next day.
Other ways to steal time are as easy as substituting an hour of TV, Internet surfing, video games, and the like for writing. Wake up an hour early to write, or stay up an hour later. If dinner takes an hour to cook, go for take-out once a week, or prepare meals a day or two in advance. Find ways to shave time on house cleaning and chores to make time for your writing. Whatever your project, shave fifteen minutes off of the task each day which will add up to writing time. Reorganize your time and your list of important tasks to include writing.
Writing starts with conquering fears. Conquering fears starts with making goals and sticking to them. I subscribe to the 2,000 words a day for five days, or 10,000 words a week. I allow myself two days to do other things, or if something comes up, it defaults to one of the non-writing days. Going for a straight seven sets up the writer to fail, since it is usual for at least one day a week to be pure chaos. Less than five makes it easy to let it fall by the wayside, but one day is better than none, so start with what works for you, but make a goal. Write it down.
Copy the following statement somewhere that you can read in the morning and at night: I will commit to writing X words a day X amount of days a week. My goal is to have X amount of words written in X amount of weeks. I will not allow fear or procrastination to debilitate me and prevent me from writing. Although “life happens,” I will not use it as an excuse, and continue to focus and make my word count if I miss a day. I will do this for myself because I believe in my talents as a writer. Above all, when I doubt that I have time for writing, I will assert that I do, and renegotiate my time schedule to include writing.
While writing can be a fun activity, it is mostly hard work. Many of the things you thought were important will be second to your writing, the more you devout time to it. It doesn’t get easier the more you write. If anything, your ability to be persistent will strengthen, but the Universe will always throw obstacles at you to make sure you’re serious when you say you want something.
Work hard for it. You owe it to yourself to conquer your fears, your excuses, and your obstacles. Like the hero in your story, you have a Call to Adventure: Will you finish a novel? Will you write today? Will you become a full time writer? Fill in your own Call to Adventure, and work as hard as your hero to overcome the challenges. The one thing is certain about writing. If you don’t make time, it won’t happen. Make a goal today and stick to it.