What Keeps You from Writing

Our fears are proficient at keeping us from writing and they are confounding masters of disguise.

We often don’t recognize them for what they are. They hide behind to-do lists. They cloak themselves in victimhood and responsibility to others over self. They mask themselves in blame and shame through which we are incapable of seeing ourselves truthfully.

External Voices

One of our workshop exercises at the January Story Camp writing retreat focused on identifying the fears associated with writing . . . and not writing. We began by recognizing the things that others—family, friends, fellow writers—may say or have said to us about our writing and we compiled lists. Here are just a few things that showed up:

  • It’s a waste of time.
  • There are more important things to do.

  • How dare you write about this family!
  • Your writing isn’t that good.
  • It’s too hard to be a writer; are you sure you want to try?

All sorts of criticism and judgment from others can show up when we declare that we intend to be writers.

Internal Voices

After listing our external voices, we then turned internally—the things we say to ourselves in the privacy of our own minds. Again, we made lists but these were tougher to compile because we usually resist hearing our true internal voices. Here is a sampling of those:

  • I should be doing more important things.
  • I don’t deserve to take the time to write.
  • There will be consequences to pay with family and friends if I write.
  • I’m not a good enough writer anyway.
  • The topic is too hard and heavy.
  • The topic is too light; no one will care.
  • I have obligations to others to fulfill.
  • There’s not enough time.
  • I’m too tired after working all day.
  • My teachers always told me I couldn’t write.

All of this negative self-talk boils down to fear.

Do you recognize any of these? several, maybe?

We may write in different genres or mediums—journaling, essays, novels, memoir, poetry—but we are not so different in the fears we harbor about our writing practices and the words we write.

We “manage” our fears by buffering or camouflaging them in busy-work, masking them in a litany of excuses, by taking care of others before ourselves, and giving our time to things that we label as “more important.”

Our fears have good intentions.

They intend to protect us, to keep us from being exposed and vulnerable. But to grow and flourish as writers and to full-heartedly experience the benefits of writing, we must overcome these fears.

We must remove the masks and cloaks that disguise them as something else.

Recognizing what the something else is and then acknowledging our fears releases them of their power. Each time they show up, we must step back—away from our personalities and our egos—and look with curiosity at our fears and at our responses to them.

So, now, make your own lists.

We did this on sticky notes on the first day of the retreat and then put them all into our own paper sacks. Over the following days, we added to the sacks as new and old fears revealed themselves. On the last night of the retreat, we ceremoniously placed our sacks of fears into a fire. We watched them go up in smoke so no one had to take them home.

From both your external and internal voices, make your lists. Then talk to your fears: ask them where they come from, how they’re trying to serve you. It will feel weird, but yes, talk to your fears.

Then tip your hat to them, look them in the “face,” put them into a fire—whatever works for you to release them. As you do, declare, in no uncertain terms, “Thanks, you’ve done a fine job protecting me. But I don’t need you anymore.”

Hear more about how fear keeps us from pursuing our dreams in Alexis Fedor’s recent interview of Gina on the Artists in Business podcast: http://www.alexisfedor.com/gina-edwards/

Gina Hogan Edwards

Gina is the founder of Around the Writer’s Table. When she isn’t hosting writing retreats and supporting authors in creating a writing life on their own terms, she is working on her novel-in-progress, Dancing at The Orange Peel.

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