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How to Write When You’re Scared

by Rochelle Melander

How do you write when you’re scared?

You want to write, but you’re scared it won’t be good enough. Maybe examining your own thoughts seems like too much. Or your project is new and big and feels overwhelming.

So you avoid writing. You get busy with other things. A week goes by. Then two. And you don’t write. The longer you avoid it, the harder it gets.

I see this with the young people I teach. When a project seems hard or scary, they freeze. They look at the paper but won’t draw a thing. When I can get them to tell me what’s up, I hear things like, “I don’t know how. It won’t be good. I can’t draw a straight line.”

I usually encourage them to make something bad. Something they don’t have to keep. Something they can throw away.

That usually works. Why? Because the stakes are lower. The outcome doesn’t matter. No one will be looking or judging it.

When writing is hard, when you feel scared, you can tiptoe around your fear. How?

Lower the stakes

Stop thinking about your work as something you must publish. Instead, think only about telling the story. Explaining some information. Exploring ideas. When Kelly Barnhill came to Boswell in 2022, she talked about a time in her life when she didn’t think she’d write again. Instead of writing and stacking up pages, she’d write a fairy tale a day and then throw it away. That’s one way to lower the stakes.

But you don’t have to toss out everything you write. Just write it—on your computer, in a cheap notebook. Then forget about it and start again tomorrow. Do this every day until you aren’t scared anymore.

Write less

Last week, I talked about how you can write more this year. But sometimes even the idea of writing more words is terrifying. So write less. Instead of setting aside HOURS to write, give yourself five to ten minutes every day to write. Scribble in a journal. Dash out a poem. Write a few sentences. Then put it away until tomorrow.

Write differently

Sometimes we get stuck and feel scared when what we’re writing isn’t working. It’s like trying to dance the salsa when we don’t know the steps and we can’t feel the beat. It just feels awkward. Instead, write something that feels comfortable to you. Play with writing exercises or journaling prompts.

Just write

The bottom line, friends: write. In a notebook, on an index card, or in your notes app. Get down those feelings and ideas. The only way to conquer the fear of writing is to write through it.

And write with friends! My writing accountability group is a great way to keep going despite feeling afraid!

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