You probably don’t know this, but I am the president of my university’s writing club.
Hang in there, I am telling you this for a reason!
Recently, I was hosting a stall at a sign-up day in an effort to recruit some new members, and to make the stall a little more interesting, the VP and I decided to run a wee-little writing competition.
In short, we brainstormed a bunch of writing prompts, stuck them around the table, and waited for all the budding writers to show up.
The rules were simple:
- pick a prompt (or make up your own)
- grab a post-it note
- write a piece of flash fiction.
The prize? A coffee voucher.
Because writers love coffee.
Now here’s the interesting thing: forty people signed up that day, but only three entered the competition.
Many of the writers were intrigued by the competition; they would pick up a prompt — excitement spreading over their face — but then their eyes would glazed over as the took in the stack of black post-its, presumably overwhelmed by all the possible stories they could write.
But unfortunately, most of those stories went unwritten.
Several times I slide a pen and pad towards a tempted writer only to have them take a step back.
‘Oh, no I can’t!’ They’d lift their hand like a shield, embarrassed that they’d even considered entering the impromptu competition.
This same pattern repeated for the next two hours and I left that sign-up day having learnt something very important: writers are terrified of writing.
Now, I know that it can be hard to write, because sometimes we feel like we don’t know what we are doing (most of the time we don’t know what we are doing), but I never thought of writing as being scary.
So, this got me thinking about the type of courage it takes to write.
Many of these budding writers refused to participate in the competition because they were afraid that whatever they wrote “wouldn’t be good enough”; they thought I was going to judge them.
Now, yes of course, I was judging the stories because it was a competition, but I wasn’t judging them as people.
This predicament then leads to the old paradox of art vs the artists:
- do we need to consider the artist when experiencing their work?
- And if so, to what extent?
But I digress.
The thing that really baffled me though, is that the stakes were so low!
The competition was free.
There was no entry fee.
It took less than five minutes to participate in it.
Seriously, guys (!), the “entry form” was a freaking post-it!
These stories were NOT going to be engrave in stone.
I even tried to make the writing component of the competition easy by displaying multiple prompts! If one prompt failed to spark an idea, the aspiring writer could choose another.
Even the length was easy, the story had to fit on a post-it.
Plus, you could win a free coffee. As we already know, writers love coffee!
I was amazed that so many people who were interested in joining a writing club, a club where presumably we would be reading and critiquing one another’s works (in addition to the usual chit-chat that comes along with social clubs), were afraid to actually write!
In short, if you are writer who is afraid to write, or perhaps you are simple afraid to share your writing, then the following four tips may help you.
#1 Know where to start
As you’ll already know from the above story, prompts are a great way to get you started if you are tapped out of ideas.
Here are some of my favourite prompts:
– I remember …
– She opened the lid …
Not knowing where to start can be paralysing, but this is such a silly reason not to write.
Here’s the thing, writing is really re-writing or to put it more elegantly, revising.
Of course, sometimes, writing is incredibly fun, but sometimes writing can be really uncomfortable; writing can be hard when the words aren’t flowing naturally and you don’t know what should happen next.
It’s really important that you keep things in perspective: you’re not trying to save the world, in fact, writing a book is a very inefficient way to save the world.
Keeping you expectations in check is also recommended. Do not approach the blank page with the belief that your story will one day become a best-seller or Pulitzer Prize winner. That’s a lot of pressure to put on your writing! (And you).
Loosen up. It’s okay to write something that doesn’t work. It’s okay to write something that is bad.
First drafts are supposed to be sh*t, that’s why editing was invented.
# 2 Fear of being judge
People will judge you and that’s okay. You judge people all the time and their life, as well as your own, continues on just fine.
Your work is going to be judge. It will be judge by your beta-readers, editors, agents, publishers, and readers.
If you want to get published, then you need to develop some strategies on how to deal with criticism and feedback.
Look, I get it.
Sharing your art with people is scary, but focus on the positive. You don’t know what impact your writing is going to have on those who read it, and you are incapable of seeing your work accurately.
Your work could be really good, but how will you ever know if you don’t show anyone? And if you’re writing isn’t “that good” then how will you ever know that you need to improve?
And further, how will you know what needs improving?
Rejection is a part of life.
Hate to break it to you, buttercup, but learning how to handle rejection is an important part of life and a reality for any author.
You can either have 999 rejects and one ‘hell yes!’, or you can zero of both.
#3 Consume good content
If you are really struggling to think of anything to write, but you feel compelled to write something, then perhaps your problem is that you aren’t consuming enough content, or at least not enough of the ‘right’ content.
If you are just starting out don’t stress, there are so many ways for you to build your writing muscles and to learn about the craft.
– Read craft books! Here are some of my favourites, On Writing by Stephen King, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, The Writer’s Room by Charlotte Wood and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. (If you have any others, please leave a comment at the end of this blog).
– Read lots of books! The only apprenticeship for writing is reading. Pay attention to what you are reading: make note of any unfamiliar words, unique descriptions, clever dialogue or turns of phrase.
– A great way to learn about sentence structure is to grab a beloved book and to write out some of your favourite sentences or paragraphs.
– Read or watch interviews with authors you admire. In fact, my weekly newsletter includes a round-up of inspiring podcasts, videos, blogs, or articles that I have recently read and loved.
– Watch your favourite movies and dissect the story. What happens when? How would you describe the characters or the setting? How did the narrative surprise you?
– Start keeping an ‘inspiration diary.’ Make a record of any interesting articles, sights, sounds, objects, or images that spark your imagination. If you get an idea for a story, or if a funny exchange of dialogue ‘pops’ into your head, write that down too.
#4 Publish Your Work
There’s a strategy used on patient who struggled with severe cases of OCD … Now, I’m not a doctor and I can’t be bothered Googling the name of this method, but here’s a SUPER WATERED DOWN example to illustrate my point …
If a patient believes they have to turns the door knob three times before leaving the house in order to stop something bad from happening, the therapist challenges the patient to lock the door and to walk away without checking the handle. What happens next?
And that’s the point.
I urge you to try a similar method with your writing.
Write a short story and post it on your blog or submit it to any of the brilliant websites or blogs listed on The Grinder.
You can post a piece of flash fiction on your Instagram or you could type a piece of micro-fiction and tweet it.
Because the sooner you publish your work the sooner you’ll realise how unimportant it is.
I don’t mean to be harsh, I’m just being honest.
I love writing; I love words; I think stories are awesome and I am proud to be a writer, but I also realise that if I never wrote another word again, the world would keep on burning turning.
So, there you have it.
Those are my four tips on how to overcome your fear of writing. Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you struggle with sharing your writing? What did you do to over-come it? Leave your comment below and let’s get this conversation started, because the world needs your story.
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