The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Your Writing Fears

Carol Tice | 32 Comments

The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Your Freelance Writing Fears. Makealivingwriting.comby Ollin Morales

Before you read this article, I would like you to try something:

Move your eyes away from your computer screen and take a deep breath. Feel the air as it moves through your nostrils, down your throat, and feel it fill your diaphragm to the brim. As you do this, I want you to take in your surroundings.

Notice the light as it flows through the window, acknowledge the noises you hear, the chatter of the people around you, the chairs and other objects that surround you. Do not resist anything you see, hear, or feel. Just become aware of everything.

Do this exercise right now. When you have done this for a few minutes, come back to me.

You done?

If you did it right, you should feel a little bit more at peace and relaxed.

Most importantly, you should have felt that a certain, negative emotion was not present: fear.

 

Now, before I go on about how to overcome your writing fears, you need to first understand how fear works. Once you understand how fear works, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself and you’ll understand what Franklin Delano Roosevelt meant when he said:

 

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

When Fear Was A Good Thing

Fear actually serves a very important purpose in our human physiology.

Dr. Joan Borysenko, in her book Minding The Body, Mending The Mind, calls the process by which fear manifests itself in our mind and our body as the “fight-or-flight response.” I won’t go into too much detail about this response but what you, as a writer, need to know is that human beings were initially designed with sophisticated hardware that utilized fear to help us survive “life or death” situations.

You see, there was a time when we humans were just hunter-gatherers out in the wild, susceptible to dangerous predators. In those days, when we saw a tiger, our mind sent a signal to our body. The body, in response to this signal, made our palms sweat, made our heart beat faster, caused our muscles to tighten, and sent a shot of adrenaline through our veins. Our mind was so sophisticated that, in a nanosecond, it would prepare our body to run as fast as it could (or to fight as hard as it could) in order to survive a tiger’s attack on our lives.

When Fear Became A Bad Thing

This “flight-or-flight” response was very useful back in the caveman days, but as many of us are realizing, our primordial response to highly stressful situations has now become harmful to our livelihood.

Have you felt, for instance, after receiving a rejection letter from a potential employer, that your heart started to beat faster, your palms began to sweat, and a shot of adrenaline went through your veins that sent you reeling?

You have felt that way?

Guess what? We all have felt that way. That’s because we, as human beings, are hardwired to respond in this way to high levels of stress and fear.

In the example above, your mind mistook that rejection letter as a tiger about to attack you, and so your mind sent a signal to your body that it was time to run (or fight for its life).

 

Human beings were not built to handle a 21st Century workload. We were built to hunt, gather food, eat, poop, sleep, have sex, and avoid being eaten by predators and that’s about it.

How To Overcome Your Fears

As we’ve discussed, your mind is designed to look at something you fear as a tiger ready to kill you. However, the truth is you will never die from having your writing rejected, criticized, or misunderstood. I repeat: WRITING FREELANCE ARTICLES NEVER KILLED ANYONE.

But you are still afraid, right? So, how do you get past your fear when your mind wants to view every rejection as a tiger ready to attack you?

The answer: you need to stop relying on your mind to overcome your fears.

 

It is your hunter-gatherer mind that is behind all your fears, so you can’t expect that same mind to help you overcome your fears.

Therefore, the only way to move past your writing fears is to move past your mind.

 

“But how do I do that?”

Remember that exercise you tried at the very beginning of this article? That exercise is called meditation.

Meditation is one of the best tools a writer can utilize to overcome their fears. Because when you meditate, you leave your mind and return to your body and the world around you. In a sense, you return to reality and discover that there is actually no tiger that is ready to attack you. Your “fight-or-flight” response is neutralized.

“Are you telling me that the only thing I have to do to overcome my writing fears is to take a long, deep breath and look around me?”

Yes, the answer is that simple.

But even if the answer is simple, the process of meditation is not. Just like your ability to write great articles, meditation is a skill that you need to learn, practice, and perfect.

If you need help getting started, I recommend reading books by Dr. Joan Borysenko, Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, and Thich Nhat Hanh to help start your journey into meditation practice.

Good luck to you, and remember: When it comes to your freelance writing career, you really have nothing to fear but fear itself.

What do you fear most in your writing career? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

 

Ollin Morales is a writer and a blogger. {Courage 2 Create} chronicles his journey as he writes his first novel. Through his blog he also offers a writing consultation service designed to help his readers improve their writing skills.

32 comments on “The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Your Writing Fears

  1. Fern Fletcher on

    We all have that fear, and we all have trouble getting up again. Go figure. I love your line, “you will never die from having your writing rejected, criticized, or misunderstood.” Thanks for the great reminder! Ah, I see.

  2. Ahlam on

    Meditation/prayer is such a great way to put things into perspective. I did the exercise at the beginning of the blog post and it just put me at ease. …someone recently mentioned the word ‘conviction’ in a blog conversation and it has just stuck with me. When you have meditation to help you put things into perspective and conviction to follow through, it is simple a recipe for success. Thanks for the reminder that putting things into perspective can help ease stress and aid better writing.

    • Ollin Morales on

      “When you have meditation to help you put things into perspective and conviction to follow through, it is simple a recipe for success.”

      Couldn’t have said it better myself Ahlam! And that is a great way to put it: meditation helps you build perspective, and perspective reminds us not to take the situation or ourselves that seriously.

      I’m glad you liked the exercise and the post!

  3. Judy Dunn on

    Ollin,

    Thanks for the suggestions. I have done “The Artist’s Way,” and actually have been doing Morning Pages every day for 10 years. I love Cameron’s book, too, and highly recommend it. (I never run out of ideas, it’s just that I want every piece to soar. Unrealistic expectation because some things will fall flat on their faces.)

    But interestingly enough, I keep pushing the envelope and trying new approaches. Not afraid to do that. : )

    I think that a lot of writers have this same fear if they are honest with themselves. It’s just something we have to manage. Very interesting topic here.

    • Ollin Morales on

      Ah, I see. Then John Kabat-Zinn is the man for you. I recommend his book: “Full Catastrophe Living” He taught me to be at peace with who I was already, and I never really feel the need to soar – I generally just allow myself to be, and I soar anyways. The law of least effort is what Deepak Chopra calls it. Since you are spiritual person you should check him out, too. (If you haven’t already.)

  4. Judy Dunn on

    Ollin,

    Nice post here. I think our fears can be both external and internal. Is there any other writer in the world who competes with herself (as I do)? Who is afraid that she produced a brilliant piece once (and everyone loved it), but it was the only good idea she had? That she’ll never have another one? That people are going to find out that she’s a fake?

    I go through this EVERY time I sit down to write. I encourage people to pick up Bonnie Friedman’s “Writing Past Dark.” It talks about writer’s fears, in a very real, yet eloquent, way. That book helped me a lot.

    But I still feel shaky with every blog post I write. And I am competing with who? JUST MYSELF.

    Go figure. : )

    • Ollin Morales on

      Hey Judy,

      Thanks for the book recommendation, it sounds fascinating. And thank you for being so honest about your fears. No wonder you’re so successful – you’re very relatable.

      I’m not sure if you are a spiritual person, but if you are, I highly recommend Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” That book will really help you with the “running out of ideas” syndrome. She recommends “writing pages” and “artist dates.” Both of which clear your mind and also “fill the well” with brand new ideas.

      So you’ll never run out!

      Your internal competition with yourself is an interesting issue, but I am sure there are many people who would identify. I have close friends who are overachievers and sometimes it does feel like they keep trying to top themselves but never can.

      Some fears are more complex, and I think if this is an issue that is really causing people harm in their work life, I strongly recommend counseling. Counseling is not for “crazy people” and seeking counseling doesn’t mean that you are a mentally unstable basket case. It just means your human and life is hard and you need a little help. I truly believe that we all need a little extra help dealing with powerful emotions such as fear – especially if they get in the way of our well-being.

      I read it somewhere that we call a plumber help us with our toilet, but we are embarrassed to call a counselor to help us with our emotions. But there really is no difference. Sometimes expert advice is what you need.

  5. LewEllyn Hallett on

    This is such concise, practical instruction on fear and anxiety of every sort that I’ve passed this link on to several friends who are not writers. Thanks for saying it so well!

    As for my writing fears, they seem more internal than fear of criticsm. I certainly don’t enjoy criticism, but I’ve written for enough editors that I expect changes and editorial requests and accept that they often make the piece better. It’s not fear of judgement or even rejection that stops me–it’s fear of commitment. I get all caught up on making decisions–what to blog about (not a single post, but the big picture), which article to query, what to devote my limited time and energies to, what type of writer to be, which path to go down, etc. Silly, right? Maybe I’m afraid of not being able to follow through, or wasting effort and missing opportunity. I’m not exactly sure. Is it true that making a decision, even a bad one, never killed anyone? Not sure about that either. I better go meditate. Thanks again for the insight.

    • Ollin Morales on

      What a thoughtful comment LewEllyn!

      First: Thank for sharing me with your non-writer friends. Some of my biggest followers are not even writers because I often use writing as a metaphor for life. I like to think of my blog as a holistic, self-help blog “disguised” as a writing blog.

      Second: That is not silly. Fear of commitment is normal, and actually not very different from your other fears. Again: what’s the worst that can happen if you commit to something that was the wrong choice? You’ll realize it is a wrong choice, and try something else. You’ll learn from that mistake and grow from that process right?

      You know what won’t happen if you commit to something that turns out to be the wrong choice?

      You won’t die.

      That hunter-gatherer mind is pretty tricky, huh? It made you think that your fear of commitment was different from your other fears. But it’s the same issue: the feelings of fear, anxiety, stress trigger the fight or flight response.

      And your mind is telling you to ditch that commitment, because your mind is mistaking that commitment ready to kill you.

      • Ollin Morales on

        Oops, meant to say this:

        “And your mind is telling you to ditch that commitment, because your mind is mistaking that commitment AS A TIGER ready to kill you.”

  6. Mollie on

    My biggest fear about writing is that I won’t be any good. Not very original, right? That’s what we are all afraid of. But it’s not just the not being any good part that scares me. It’s what would come after. Like this:

    I’ll find out I’m not any good.
    My dream of being a writer will die.
    I’ll look like one of those fools with a pipe dream.
    There will be nothing left to look forward to.
    The end.

    Yikes! All of that hinging on being able to write a decent piece of fiction…

    • Ollin Morales on

      Did you noticed that you said your dream will “die.”

      This is your primordial mind afraid of a Tiger attacking it. Your dream is not a living thing–so it can’t die. You as a writer, can’t die by writing. So as you meditate today, notice how you are already whole, and that there is nothing to strive for. You are already a writer. You are already living your dream if your writing today–so how can your dream “die”?

    • Carol Tice on

      The funny thing is, with all the writers I’ve worked with in my mentoring program, I’ve never run into one where I thought the problem was their writing sucked. Almost anybody pursuing this writes at least competently well. The writing is almost never the problem. It’s the fear of putting it out there.

  7. Victoria Mixon on

    Thanks for this, Ollin! The thing about writing is that those of us who do it are often the biggest wimps out there—and yet publishing is all about throwing yourself on the mercy of thousands of total strangers. It’s the ultimate catch-22. Meditation, as you’ve demonstrated (nice job!), is the best way to keep from getting squished between the rock and that hard place.

    Because squished people have a really hard time typing that next book.

    • Ollin Morales on

      It is a scary thing. But writers are some of the most bravest and courageous people out there. As evident by the writers stories that you shared with us all over at my blog! 🙂

  8. K on

    Another great article, Ollin. I often encourage people that they should be “writing scared,” in the sense that if they’re not constantly pushing themselves just a little past their comfort zones, they’re probably not going to find growth as authors (or human beings). But out-of-control fear is just as crippling as complacency. We have to learn how to use fear as a tool and not a threat.

  9. Marina DelVecchio on

    Excellent post, as usual, Carol. I feel the hot mouth of fear breathing down on me when I submit my ms to agents and editors, when I go to job interviews, and even when I talk to my agent on the phone. I had an in with Ms Magazine for an article, I got approved, wrote it, and it was rejected. And my fear has kept me from trying to submit again — but I’m going to follow your advice and meditate. And submit again.

    • Ollin Morales on

      Marina,

      First thing: you’re not alone. We all have that fear, and we all have trouble getting up again.

      Second thing: Don’t worry about the mistake below. Nice the know that I flow so nicely with this blog that you didn’t know the difference! 🙂 That means I’m doing a great job as a guest blogger! It is a challenge for a guest blogger to make sure they don’t disrupt the flow of a great blog. So I’m glad I aced it!

  10. T.S. Bazelli on

    I’ve been feeling all kinds of anxiety lately at work, and it’s transferred into my writing. I really need to learn how to meditate. You’re right though. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

  11. Ollin Morales on

    Hey Piper,

    Remember, that fear of judgement is kind of like that fear of the tiger. A little part of us thinks that judgement will kill us–why else would we be so afraid?–So we have to remember: breathe, take it in. Everything will be okay.

    I’m glad you found the article helpful!

  12. Piper Larson on

    My biggest fear about writing is all about judgment. As any writer knows, once you put it out there, your work can be criticized. That vulnerability can be quite uncomfortable at times. I love your line, “you will never die from having your writing rejected, criticized, or misunderstood.” Thanks for the great reminder!

    • Carol Tice on

      Not only will you not die, but contemplate the number of people who will never know nor care. And lighten up, all! I like to bear in mind that no matter how bad I mess up, 1 billion Chinese could care less…

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