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Friday, September 28, 2012

Paralyzing Fear

Writer's block is a tough wall to breach

Paralyzing fear, also known to those of us who scribble as a living as writer’s block. Most writers have experienced this at some point in their career. Traditionally, we define it as a time when the well runs dry in the middle of a project.

I have a different opinion. I’ve talked with (okay, occasionally ambushed) many writers over the years and find the conversation might go something like this.

Me: “Have you ever had to deal with writer’s block?”

Anonymous Writer: “No, never. Once I start a project I just keep going, no matter what I’m feeling.”

Me: “What about before you begin a project? Have you ever postponed it because you doubt your ability to do it justice? Or maybe you needed to think about it some more - just work out the details in your head?"

At this point the person I’m speaking with usually takes a step back and begins to stammer. Most writers don’t include being afraid to start a project, as writer’s block. I would beg to differ—anything that keeps you paralyzed and unable to write is, by definition, writer’s block.

Success can sometimes make us more
afraid of failure
Funny thing is, the people who suffer most from writer’s block are writers who’ve had a modicum of success. Maybe they’ve won a contest or two, or written regularly for a while. Usually they’re afraid they can’t live up to what’s gone before.

I also find it crops up when a writer is trying a new genre. They might be going from fiction to non-fiction, or from writing devotions to writing a column or even romance to science fiction. Let’s face it, trying something new is always a daunting prospect.

Now that we’ve defined it, how do we combat it? 
  • First, quit putting it off. Make a commitment to spend a certain amount of time in front of the computer—writing—and do it. Sound hard? Of course it is, otherwise everyone would be a writer.
  • Begin by writing what you’re afraid of. Fear of failure? Write why it matters. Fear of inadequacy? Define it. You’ll find it looks small and more than a little silly when you actually write it down.
  • Next, remember how you got here. Recognition in the writing world comes (99.9% of the time) from putting in time. It comes from being willing to let others see your work and getting back at it after rejection. Give yourself some credit, you’re obviously not a wimp or you wouldn’t be trying to become a writer.
  • Finally, give yourself permission to try and fail. Just because this one project doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. I would say the contrary is true. If you succeed at everything you’ve tried so far, I suggest that maybe you’re not trying very much. 

Quit procrastinating under the guise of ‘I have to think this through before I start.’ Get out there, and blow a raspberry at writer’s block and hit those keys!

Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the Social Media Coach at My Book Therapy.


  1. For me, it isn't fear, it's simply my mind goes blank. Then I don't feel like writing anymore. But if I've got a deadline I have to. So I push through. What comes out may be drivel, but even drivel can be edited. And after a while, my muse gets over her pout and begins to play again. ;o)

  2. Ane, I love the way you think! I have a pouty muse at times, too. Congratulations, again. I can't resist repeating it, I'm just so excited for you! Blessings, E

  3. I heard this comment at ACFW this week (in a class on marketing, but applies to so many facets of the writing life): Crash and burn and try again.
    Isn't that what writing is all about?
    Try. Fail. Try again.
    OR: Write. Rewrite. Repeat.
    Giving ourselves permission to fail is so, so freeing.

  4. I'm still unpublished, but I'm ready to start the next book as the one just finished (not my first ever) goes through its' round of queries. I've been putting it off for too long, wondering what the point is in writing it if the first isn't successful. Yet, if (when?) the first is successful, I know I'll be glad I had the second book started. I'm fairly new at participating in the writing community (although I've been lurking for a while), and I so much appreciate the encouragement every where I go. Thank you!

    1. Meghan, it sounds like you're doing the right thing. The point to writing the second and the third, etc. is to keep moving forward. It often feels like we're moving in the dark, but after a while, you just get used to the feeling. Keeping plugged in is key. Like Ane, said, your time will come. Blessings, Edie

  5. Meghan, it's rare a first book gets published. I'm not saying yours won't, but it's rare. My second book (and 3rd) just got a contract, however, it's been a 10-year journey and I have 5 completed novels with 2 others at the 20K word pint.. If you're a storyteller at heart, you simply keep writing. You never stop. You never know when the door will open, but if you stop writing, it can't ever open. Keep on. Your time WILL come.

  6. Good stuff Edie. Usually when I'm blocked, it's because something in the story isn't quite right and the more I press on, the more blocked I get. But sometimes it's just what you say it is, fear of failure. Failing the story mostly. All of us writers, I think, tell ourselves that we're just fooling ourselves, that the next story, article, book, whatever is going to prove that we are truly a hack. ha. Good advice here!

  7. I struggle with this and I'm no where near publish. That sounds awful if it only gets worse after being published.
    I will do go making myself write for a few days and then I'll struggle some and then have a few more good days. It seems to be my cycle. I'm working to make it more consistent.
    I finished one book. If I want it to be anything I have to completely re-write it and I keep changing my mind on whether I want to do that. Editing is something that trips me up because I realize how bad my first drafts are but I don't know how to make them better yet.

    1. Tonya, I hate to hear you so discouraged. You may not realize how far ahead you are. There are literally thousands who start to write a book and never finish. The fact that you've carried through is huge. Yes, editing is daunting, but it can also be an amazing time of refining. It's exciting to see your vision take on a life of it's own, ready to carry your dream to the world. Take it in small bites,but don't get overwhelmed and give up. You've come so far! Blessings, Edie

    2. Thank you, Edie! Maybe as I get into editing and just do it I'll learn to be less afraid of it. And I'm 1/4 through through the way of the first draft of my second book :)

  8. I don't believe in coincidences, so this is definitely a "God thing" that I would find this site today. After, literally years of dreaming of storylines, characters, dialogue, and more in my head, I have finally started to write again. I am 34, and I haven't truly written since college. The business of life got in the way, but I think it was more my fear and doubt. I am finally more secure of who I am in Christ, and I have "given myself permission to try and fail." I want to write because I love it and believe I have something to share! I appreciate the encouragement.

    1. Megan, that's awesome! Blessings on your writing journey!

  9. I once thought writers block was only when you couldn't write anything - and when I first started out I had it in spades. However once I started writing I discovered it hides in a number of guises - scenes that I re-write to death and am never satisfied with, or feelings of inadequacy. But I think you're right often the thing holding us back is fear. Determined not to be a slave to fear today - thanks for the reminder!

  10. This was an encouraging post - thanks


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