Does that title annoy you? If it were only that simple, right?
Some writers become paralyzed by the blank page. They have a plot and subplot lines, characters’ voices, and amazing new worlds swirling in their heads. But when putting pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard), fear takes over and shuts them down.
For some, it’s that nagging voice inside saying, "You can't produce anything good enough." Or, "Everything you write sounds like sh*t."
For others, it’s a different voice that says, "Wait until the time is right, when the muse hits you." Or, "I’m not ready yet to get started. Let me do more research."
Whatever your lovely inner editor is saying to you, you’re procrastinating out of fear. Fear of writing badly. Fear of baring yourself to the world. Fear of failure or looking like a fool. Fear you don’t have what it takes to do the most important thing in your life.
But if it truly is the most important thing in your life, wouldn’t you do it no matter what? Not necessarily. Not everyone can conquer their fears by doing the one thing that scares them the most.
Psychology Today’s advice
Trying to get at the root of the problem, I turned to Psychology Today to research how to overcome procrastination driven by fear. I found "6 Tips for Overcoming Anxiety-Related Procrastination," where one piece of advice in particular made the most sense.
In the article, Alice Boyers Ph.D. discusses "procrastination due to predicting a negative outcome." Do you expect someone will lambast you for writing drivel? Or maybe you worry you’ll struggle abjectly with writing so you put it off. Either way, it will not go smooth.
You’re automatically predicting a negative outcome.
One of the most profound sayings to fight negativity comes from Pinterest (odd, I know):
Dr. Boyers offers on her website some cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to change your mindset to a more positive one. She also has a handful of other relevant posts published in Psychology Today you can find on her website.
Sometimes it's best left up to professionals for help.
Know you’re not alone
Perhaps what intimidates me the most is when I’m confronted with a genius like F. Scott Fitzgerald for whom writing came so easily and naturally. He could sit down and whip up a story in minutes that would get published for big bucks.
I must keep in mind Fitzgerald is the outlier. Most writers’ first draft is sh*t. So said Ernest Hemingway. (At least the internet believes he said it. You can, in fact, get it printed on a coffee mug with his signature.)
I spent time researching the processes of other writers because I want to learn how to get over my fearful procrastination. I read Sarah Stodola’s book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors. It was wonderful to realize even famous and best-loved authors struggle to write and fight procrastination and fear. It’s just not that simple to sit down and create a masterpiece. Some authors take years to create something passable. Others write fast and spend most of their time editing.
The key to writing
The key is finding a way that works best for you. Whether you’re a pants-er or a planner—or you write a single sentence and spend the rest of the day editing it—only you can find a process that meets your needs. You can read all the literature out there discussing other’s writing habits and routines, but it won’t work. You still have to find the process that helps you write every single day.
So I could bandy about other’s suggestions on how to get the words down, how to "vomit" on the page and worry about editing later. But that might not work for you. Maybe the reason you don’t have a routine or a process is you keep trying on others that don’t fit. You need to come up with something that’s tailor made for you.
This is why National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is so powerful. It forces you to sit down and write—no matter what. Because the goal is to get 50,000 words down in 30 days. And to do that, you must silence those inner voices. It might surprise you to find not everything you wrote is sh*t.
But one thing you will find out after doing NaNoWriMo is what works best for your writing life. Maybe you learn you need to write and edit as you go. Or maybe you learn you need more structure to your writing life. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is giving yourself permission to put everything else aside and focus on your writing.
Let’s agree, shall we? Let’s support each other during NaNoWriMo this year. We have a few months to get ready for it. Maybe we can connect on ProWritingAid’s Facebook page or on Twitter with a hashtag. But let's check in with each other every day to offer encouragement. We can talk about our struggles and just be with others who understand it’s hard, but so worth it.
Let us know in the comments below if you want to join us for NaNoWriMo.