The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.—President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Overcoming fear requires effort no matter what you’re afraid of.
It could be anything from a full-fledged phobia—of spiders, for example—to feeling nervous around someone like your boss or a celebrity.
Fear can be healthy. If you’re afraid of a shadowy figure on a dark street at night, you should be afraid. And if a black widow spider is on your leg? Get. That. Thing. Off. You value your health and your life, right?
But fear can be unhealthy and irrational, too. And if fear stops you from writing, it’s probably something you want to get over. But how?
Reframing your thoughts can help banish fear.
That’s when you consciously think positive thoughts about the feared object or activity instead of allowing negative thoughts to remain in control.
Replace thoughts like I’m no good, I can’t write, I suck, my grammar is terrible, and there’s no point with positive thinking. Try everyone starts somewhere, I’ll improve as I go along, and I can learn anything I need to.
Imagining worst-case scenarios can reduce fear, too.
The worst thing that can happen with a blog, for example, is that nobody reads it. Will that kill you? Hint: No, it won’t.
And the worst thing that can happen if you send an article to an editor is that it’s rejected. Can you live through that? Writers get rejected all the time, but it’s not a personal thing. It doesn’t even mean your writing is bad; your article just might not be right for that publication at that time. Can you handle that?
But what if you’re stuck with fear that absolutely paralyzes you?
Let me tell you about a fear I’ve recently overcome. You can follow the same process to get over your fear of writing.
A year ago, I followed through on my dream to be car-free and use only a bike or public transportation to get around. Walking, of course, is fine too.
I was nervous and excited because of the change, and I was worried I’d regret it since I planned to sell my car. But I wasn’t afraid. I’m safety conscious, after all, and I wear a helmet. What’s the worst that could happen?
I soon learned I was absolutely terrified of riding my bike in traffic.
I was fine on sidewalks, and I was careful but calm crossing busy intersections with the pedestrian signal. Bike trails—for bikes and pedestrians only—were great.
But bike lanes on streets that are more like highways? Nope. Wasn’t happening.
I tried, but my arms shook so bad I couldn’t move forward in a straight line. The handlebars wobbled every which way, and I felt like I would cause an accident just by wobbling too far out on the street.
Storm water drains were my nemesis. They reduce the width of bike lanes by at least a foot, and I was sure I’d fall into one. Then a loud car or truck would whoosh by, and panic zinged through me like a lightning bolt. I’d get off the road just as quick as I could, feeling sick and shaking like a leaf.
Not being an experienced cyclist was part of the problem. Of course I knew how to ride a bike, but most of my experience was off-road mountain biking. What little city biking I had done was over 10 years ago, and that was mostly on sidewalks.
I realized that the fear probably stemmed from a certain event: I was hit by a car in my late teens. While walking on the right side of a busy highway, I was struck from the rear. And riding my bike in a similar location just triggered the terror, though I wasn’t thinking about it actively.
It doesn’t really matter where the fear comes from.
I like knowing, though, because it makes me feel better knowing the source. But it’s not that important, and here’s how I got over it.
Little by little.
Nothing fancy. I just practiced biking on relatively safe roads until I felt comfortable.
I started with big parking lots and slow-moving roads that connect shopping plazas. Then it was a super-busy, four-lane street on a slow Sunday morning. Any road with a bike lane that didn’t have traffic, at least for a few minutes, was a chance to practice. And then I got off when a car approached (I have a rear view mirror), or if I got scared.
I didn’t want to reinforce the fear, so I didn’t let myself get too frightened.
But I pushed it a little bit more whenever I felt brave. With no nearby traffic, I crossed three lanes to get to a left-turn lane. I rode in front of traffic—fast!—on driveways that led to apartment complexes. And I watched other, more experienced cyclists maneuver expertly on really busy roads.
I read about safety procedures, and I learned to use hand signals. I practiced different bike skills to improve my agility, like weaving in and out of tight parking spaces in parking lots after hours.
And I got more confident. I’ve even learned to cruise so slowly—in the middle of a street—that I can take my turn at a four-way intersection without stopping (at least in shopping areas). And I don’t shake or wobble anymore.
The trick is very gradual desensitization.
And finally, just today, I realized I wasn’t scared of traffic like I used to be. I took the bike lane on a certain road because I only had a short distance to go before making a left turn. Plus, there’s a drainage ditch (like a small stream) between the sidewalk and the road and no way to cross it at the right place.
And I didn’t even think about it. On a Friday around 6pm with plenty of traffic! No more shaking, and no terror rushing through me. No more panic.
I’ll still have to be careful, and if the traffic is super heavy I won’t be in it—not yet. Sensible is good, right?
Here’s some additional information about desensitizaton.
If your fear is anything more serious than riding a bike or a fear of writing, though, please consult a trained medical professional.
How can you apply this to your writing?
Just as I did with my bike, take it slow. As this article suggests, you’re already doing a lot of writing, even if it’s just email. Think about it.
And build up gradually by starting with writing that causes very little anxiety or fear. Here are some ideas.
- Start a free blog on Blogger or WordPress.com if you don’t already have one.
- Post privately or only for a few friends.
- Write short posts on topics you don’t feel self-conscious about.
- Try writing, for example, about your cat’s antics or how your toddler did something totally brilliant.
- Post photos of flowers in your garden (or some other project) and write a short ”how-to” post to help others interested in your hobby.
- Change your blog settings to public
- Tweet your posts or share on Facebook
And then move on to something more challenging.
- Write a blog post on something you feel strongly about.
- Write a guest post on a friend’s blog.
- Make comments on really big blogs if that feels scary (or start here at Simple Writing).
- Write personal essays for The Mix.
If you’re way beyond these ideas, use them just to get thinking. Where does fear kick in for you? Start just before that point, and make a list of writing activities that gradually takes you to your ultimate goal. When you’re relaxed about one step, tackle the next. And keep going.
What small steps can you take to get over your writing fears?
The small steps you take to beat your writing fear depend on what you’re afraid of. Joining a writing group can help whether it’s online or local. Try this one: The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. They have a Facebook page, too. And don’t let the name bum you out; I think it’s a little tongue-in-cheek.
And while you’re at it, stop by at the Simple Writing Facebook page. Add your thoughts or ask questions. That’s writing, after all. And I don’t bite, I promise. 🙂
You could also Google with a search string like “online writing support groups” (without quotation marks, of course). You might find a group on Meetup, too.
Sharing your writing with a group, no matter what kind it is, can help reduce fears. But don’t let it replace efforts to get it published, a little at a time. Baby steps.
When I was just out of college, I wrote letters to the editor at local newspapers. I almost always got published, even in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I sent recipes to a food columnist who asked for reader contributions, and they were published, too. I didn’t get paid, but those efforts gave me clips that helped me land a paid feature article in a local food and wine magazine. Little by little I grew my confidence, and you can too.
Don’t let fear stop you from writing. Just like I refused to let fear stop me from riding my bike in traffic, you can do the same with your writing. Just get out onto the street slowly, and take busier roads and highways as you get more comfortable.
Your turn: Does fear hold you back from writing? What steps will you take to get over it? Share in the comments. And please share this post! Lots of writers are held back by fear.