If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You’re a human being with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.
― Richard Rhodes
The fear of not being good enough wears many masks. They are: procrastination, confusion, lack of time, lack of knowledge and endless self-criticism. Those are the more common ones. There are many other ways it hides out, and you recognize them through the fact the writing isn’t getting done.
In an earlier blog post I wrote called The Only Obstacle is Our Mindset, I talk about how everything is simply an excuse our mind uses to not do the work. Awareness can help us recognize when we’re sabotaging ourselves.
There are times when you may truly not know what to do, but you can find your answers and keep writing. If you don’t try to figure it out or get help, your confusion is really masking fear. If you gain the knowledge you need to keep going, but find yourself coming up with other reasons you can’t get the writing done, fear is at the root.
So how do you write through the fear and get the writing done?
Become aware of and accept the fear
Look behind the masks and recognize what’s really going on. Accept the fear if it’s really there. Don’t make excuses. It’s okay to be afraid. Many of us have this fear of not being good enough. Take a deep breath and let it be.
Get to know your thoughts and feelings about writing
What does this fear of not being good enough to write feel like? Where is it in your body? This will help you recognize it when it’s wearing other masks.
What are your thoughts about it? Our thoughts feed our feelings. Some are probably the ones mentioned in the quote above. Also ask: Have I assigned more importance to the work than needed at this stage? Do I think about all the steps at once or over analyze each step?
Take all these thoughts and ask if they’re true. Then ask if there is something you can do about it if they are. Then do something. Taking action can alleviate fear.
Now how do you want to feel about writing? I know I want to feel excited and joyful about playing with words. So I think about that. What thoughts can help elicit the feelings you would like to have instead of fear?
Write about your fear
Tell its story based on what you learned in the above exercise. How does it feel? When does it tend to show up? Do you remember when it first started?
By writing about it, especially when you are experiencing it, you get some distance which allows you to gain insight. The distance will also help with the next step.
Sit down and write
You probably won’t get your butt in your chair before the fear starts contorting your mind to create one excuse or another. That’s okay. Fear is just being fear. You don’t have to listen unless there is a real threat.
Take a moment to think the thoughts that make you feel good about writing. Once you feel good, start writing. What really helps before you do this is to know exactly what you’re going to work on. You want to keep the momentum going.
Rewards and celebration
If you sit down and write, celebrate it. Find ways to create more joy.
You can also promise yourself a reward for meeting your writing goal. This can help at first, but try not to rely on it. Once the fear dissipates some and you’ve been writing for a while, the reward begins to come from the joy of the work itself and doing a good job. Over time you will improve and you’ll see you are good enough.
If you still find yourself avoiding the work, talk to someone about it. Our old patterns of being hard on ourselves can take a while to break through. But if I can write through the fear, I know you can, too.
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What did I come in here for?
I stand in the kitchen for a minute before I can rewind my brain to the reason I went in there. Oh yeah…I wanted a napkin.
Sound familiar? Or how about when you pop onto to Facebook to check something, get distracted by your news feed and close it before you remember why you opened it in the first place.
We are so distracted these days that completing simple tasks, let alone our writing, has become more time consuming than need be.
So how do we reclaim our focus and get the writing done faster and better? Like everything I talk about, it begins within.
Too often while writing we have multiple browser windows open and so periodically peek at social media and email while listening to music and thinking of our to-do list. Maybe our phone is nearby, too. I do this and believe I’ve lost some of my ability to focus. It’s time to get it back by practicing.
Set a time to focus on just one thing with the intention of doing so for a set period of time. Keep it short at first. Try 15 minutes. At first you may find your mind wandering to other things. Keep coming back to the task at hand. You’re training your brain to focus.
Without the ability to focus you won’t be able to reach your potential.
“’People think that they can multitask and check these things without losing their focus, but we have lots of studies showing that task-switching leads to mistakes and back-tracking, and that it wastes a lot of time,’ Miller says. And all of these interruptions seem to be getting in the way of more creative, profound insights. When your brain is bombarded by distraction, ‘your thoughts are more superficial, and you’re not getting as far down that path to where new ideas emerge.’”
-- From Time article: You Asked: How Can I Use More of My Brain?
Here are a few things you can do before you sit down to write in order to have a focused and successful session.
Prepare your environment
Turn off all other possible distractions. This means no Internet while writing or if you’re using it to do research while writing, make sure you open only what you need. If possible, do your research before your writing session.
Music can help you focus, but it needs to be the right kind, instrumental works better than songs.
You can also limit interruptions from others by letting them know you are writing now and help them understand they need to leave you be unless there’s a real emergency.
Take a look around your writing space as well. Are there things that will distract you there? Do you have bills or other things needing attention within sight? Clear you space of anything you know will distract you.
One thing that helps me focus is to know exactly what I’m going to work on before I start. It saves time and energy during your writing time.
Another way to prepare is to learn how to switch tasks. When you switch from one task to another, there is a tendency to carry what you were working on over to the next task. It’s hard to shake what you were working on, and the more tasks you try to fit into a short period, the more clutter accumulates causing internal distraction and a decline in productivity.
So, before beginning a new task take some time to fully close out what you were working on.
Let’s say you were paying bills and now want to write. Do a quick rundown on what you accomplished. Make sure you are finished. If you need to follow up on something, make note of it and a time and date to complete it so your brain knows you’re done for now.
Take a break between tasks. A walk or some other movement can help your brain through the shift and will enliven you.
Don’t use your break to check email or social media. Give your brain a true rest. Stare out a window or meditate for a few minutes. It will help you focus better on the next thing.
You can also prepare yourself by dropping the drama around the work. I sometimes get tied up in thoughts of self-doubt about a project or wondering if I have time and all kinds of other stories that are simply distractions.
When you find yourself doing this, bring your focus back to the writing and get to work. Tell yourself you’ll work for the allotted time and you’ll worry about whether it’s any good once it’s done. And really, we all know it can be and will be made better during the revision process.
Once we have increased our ability to focus, we’ll accomplish more in less time. We’ll feel calmer and less stressed because we completed what we wanted to complete. More peace also comes from being in the flow state. We just need to practice focusing long enough to get there.
Remember, less time isn’t about working faster; it’s about working focused and not wasting time in distractions. Rushing is a stressed, unfocused state motivated by fear. Working steadily is a calm, focused state motivated by engagement in the work itself or the vision that pulls you.
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This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
― Steven Pressfield
Inspiration is the backbone of our writing career. But many new writers misunderstand what it is and how to use it. Even some of us that have been writing for years can use a reminder about how best to court our muse.
Here are the ways we fail inspiration and how we can make up for our transgressions and become the creative souls we were meant to be.
You only write when inspired
Inspiration arrives when it arrives. There’s no forcing it. But to say you write only when it comes is to misunderstand the nature of this mysterious and magical illumination.
Write often. Don’t wait to put words on the page. Inspiration comes to those who are prepared and one of the ways to be prepared is to master your craft. Not everything you write will be inspired, but as you get better, the likelihood of the muse gifting you becomes greater.
In wanting to master your craft inspiration can show up, but being competitive blocks it. This is so because inspiration is a transcendent aspect of experience ignited by transcendent behavior. In mastering our craft, our confidence and self-esteem grow. They are both facilitated by inspiration and help evoke it.
You don’t give it the opportunity to show up
As mentioned above, waiting for inspiration to strike leads to a hit or miss situation. But we get more hits of inspiration when we take an active role in creating the conditions that allow us to be present and in a receptive state. The problem is we don’t spend much time in such a state in our busy world.
I’ve written about this receptive state in Find Your Writer's AHA!: Discover the Book You Were Meant to Write. To encourage this state, do things to help you let go of the thinking mind like meditation, spending time in nature or simply stare out a window and watch without thought. It takes practice, but this is how to prepare yourself for the arrival of inspiration.
Being prepared by mastering your craft is another way to invite inspiration. Doing the work can lead to inspired ideas. As Steve Pressfield said in the quote above, the muse takes note of our dedication.
You don’t act on it
Inspiration needs action. Ideas come to us more often than we may realize. Only we’re not paying attention or if we notice, we put the idea on the back burner.
The process of inspiration is about expression. Some would say it’s about the Divine expressing through us. If we stilt that process, life literally become uninspired. We close down and shut off our channel to our muse. The important thing to remember is that we can always open it again.
You don’t let it lead
You can either work from inspiration or through your own effort. When you get inspired by an idea let the inspiration lead your work. Often what happens though is you get the idea and then let the rational mind take over.
Studies show what is made through effort can be technically sound but it is not creative like what is made in an inspired state. You know the difference by the flow. When the words come fast and you don’t stop, it’s more creative. When you stop and ponder over the words, you’ve moved down into effort and the work is less creative. This is why it’s best to write in flow first and then edit on the second round.
You don’t use it to set goals
Take a look at these two goals:
I will complete four essays this month.
I will inspire myself and others with my words this month through four essays.
What goal would be more fun? Which one do you want to achieve? The more inspired the goal the more likely you’ll reach it and continue to make and meet inspired goals in the future.
You don’t let yourself be inspired by others
Some new writers refuse to read the work of others for fear they will be influenced and not produce original work. The only thing that happens when you don’t read the work of others is you keep yourself small. You can be inspired in other ways, but reading the works of truly inspired individuals can help you more than you realize.
At first you may emulate their work, but that’s just an early stage of learning. You won’t keep doing it. Eventually you’ll discover the work that inspired you to sameness starts to work its magic and trigger your own unique creativity. Truly, unless you’re working from effort, the work of the inspired can only turn into more inspired work.
Though I was inspired to write about inspiration, reading about it in the article titled “Why Inspiration Matters” by Scott Barry Kaufman in the Harvard Business Review confirmed some of my ideas and helped me add others. I hope you’ll give it a read. I think you’ll find it helpful.
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The advice you hear most about how to improve your writing is to read and write. I have given that advice myself. It’s where every writer needs to start. But in order to truly improve, you need to have the intention to do so and you need to do it on a regular basis.
Here are a few ways to use reading and writing intentionally for the improvement of your craft.
Work with a mentor or editor
The back and forth of working with someone who is a few steps ahead of you or better yet, a professional editor is the apprenticeship of the writer’s craft.
I learned more about writing through writing papers in college and getting feedback, having my editor husband go over my work and getting feedback and in poetry workshops than I would have just reading and writing on my own.
If you’re a pro and getting your work out there, you’ll have the opportunity to do this often. Working with a mentor periodically can help keep your skills sharp.
Give yourself writing assignments out of your comfort zone
If you’re used to writing short essays, try your hand at long ones. If you’re used to writing fiction, write a well-researched, long nonfiction piece. Expand your repertoire and you’ll expand your abilities. We all have preferences in what we write, but stepping outside those now and then gives us new skills and new ways of looking at the world.
Study the work of writers you admire
This is beyond just reading their work. Study it. Write in the margins. Pick it apart. Understand the structure. Join a reading group that does critical reading. Take a class. Get inside a piece of writing and learn how and why it works. And bring what you learn to your own writing. In fact, do so immediately so you can practice what you just learned.
Consistency takes discipline
If you want to be a professional writer, it takes practice. Professional athletes practice often. Professional musicians and artists do, too. They also look for ways to improve on what they do.
There are thousands of people out there who are writers. How do you stand out? You take on the mindset of a pro, do the work, improve, get it out there and you do it consistently.
It’s not always easy. It takes time to build up discipline. But remember your passion for the work, for the written word. That’s what discipline is about. It’s about valuing what you do and binding yourself to it. You will grow into a pro as you do this. And we need more pros so the industry prospers.
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The dream: NY Times bestselling author with 5 books in print making a good living as a writer.
The reality: Two unpublished books, one you can’t seem to finish and three rejections. It’s as though you gave up before you even began. It’s easy to do when you perceive the distance between where you are and where you want to be as an enormous chasm.
The chasm isn’t as wide as you think and while we’re at it, stop thinking about it as a gap at all. It’s just the space between two things and we can bridge that space as we move towards our dream. The key is to not quit.
We’ve all been told you just need to do xyz to get to where you want to go. But formulas don’t usually work because one-size-fits-all solutions don’t. We can take what others have done and tweak their formula to make it our own. Better yet is to look within for the steps that will shorten the distance between now and the dream life. Here’s how…
Stay out of overwhelm
First, stop seeing your dream as impossibly far away. It’s a given that as you take steps towards it, you will get closer. But as you take those steps you begin to change and gain confidence. Soon those small steps become big steps and once in a while you’ll leap. What seemed to be 10 years away gets cut to five or less.
Begin with baby steps
Don’t think of your dream as an overwhelming goal you may never reach. Dreams can inspire you to move forward. They are not to be lived in, which is daydreaming. They are to be lived from. Use them to inspire actions that you can take from where you are now.
Also note dreams are not goals. Goals help you reach your dream and are set based on where you are. They need to feel doable now. Break down your vision into goals and then break each goal down into doable steps. That’s how you bridge the gap.
It’s a journey not a gap, and it’s necessary
I know I keep saying this in one form or another, but it’s important. The space between where you are now and where you want to be is the journey you NEED to take in order to become the person who is living the dream.
You may have heard about people who win the lottery. They spend it all within a year then end up right back where they started. This is because they didn’t have the space to grow into the person who could handle large sums of money. We need that space to become who we want to be. Don’t lament the time it takes to get where you want to go. Without it you can’t become the person you need to be to live the dream.
Don’t listen to the past
The past will haunt you and tell you: Things will always be this way. You haven’t changed before. What makes you think you will change now?
Don’t listen. Find proof that you have grown and changed. See how you’re not the same person you were 10 years ago. Maybe you haven’t moved as much as you like, but you’re still growing into the life you want.
And if you’re not moving towards your dream, take a breath and forgive yourself. We all get sidetracked sometimes. Remember, those sidetracks still contribute to our growth. When you become aware you’ve started down the wrong path, just come back to your dream and refocus. This is why people hire coaches. It helps them stay on track.
Today’s actions are the stepping stones to your dream. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Those musicians and artists who suddenly show up on the scene as a huge success started out just like you. They had a dream and didn’t know how they would make it real, but they kept moving towards it. Often they spent 10 years or more getting better at their art and finding ways to get their work out there. And we know them and their work now because they never gave up.
Determine what success means to you, do what you love and keep dreaming. When you live in the moment and enjoy every step, you realize the journey itself is your purpose. The dream isn’t the destination. It appears in your heart to help you unfold into an ever greater expression of life itself.
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