April 26, 2022
Note From Rochelle
This past winter, I’ve taken several scary steps in my writing career. I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone to write poetry and short stories and revise a novel. Despite years of writing practice, I still quake a bit when I see the blank page. I’ve learned that it’s normal to experience fear when we try new things. Today’s tip offers you a tool for managing that fear and writing anyway!
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
Behind the Block: Overcoming Fear to Write
by Rochelle Melander
Have any of these blocks kept you from conquering the blank page?
- Perfectionism (I have to make this piece perfect before I can share it.)
- Excuses (I can’t find time to write.)
- Procrastination (Before I can write, I need to clean the house, take a class, finish this research.)
The Write Now! Coach blog is packed full of tools to overcome every one of these challenges. But when the tools don’t work, it’s often because these blocks are hiding a deeper issue: fear.
Wait! Wouldn’t fear feel like we’re facing down a dangerous beast? Wouldn’t we have a racing heart, sweaty palms, and a flopping stomach?
Though each of us experiences fear in different ways, we all get the same result: we don’t write. Or, if we write, we don’t share our work. We hide behind excuses and blocks.
So how do you know if your obstacle or writer’s block is really fear? If you have reviewed and solved your external challenges to writing (e.g., found a time and place to write), tried multiple tools to get over blocks and write (e.g., eliminating distractions), and still feel blocked, chances are you’re dealing with fear.
Here’s the thing: if our core issue is fear, then strategies are less likely to work. We can have the best software, the perfect schedule, and an ideal outline—and we’ll still procrastinate. Why? Because fear hurts. It feels uncomfortable, and we’ll do whatever we can to avoid feeling it.
When we went to Disney World, my family challenged me to go on a roller coaster. They chose a small one at Animal Kingdom, one that was suitable for ages 3 and up. I climbed into the ride, making sure my safety belt was tightly fastened. And then I reassured myself: you can do anything for a few minutes. The ride started out fast and never let up. I screamed and swore because, dang, the twists and drops had left my stomach and my courage back at the starting gate. But it was over fast.
It’s the same with any emotion: they pass through us quite quickly—in about 90 seconds. Jill Bolte Taylor wrote about this in her book, My Stroke of Insight:
Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run. (Jill Bolte Taylor, p. 153)
This explanation gives us the perfect solution to overcoming fear. Next time you show up to write and feel afraid—don’t avoid it. Feel it. Ride it out for 90 seconds and then get back to writing. If you experience one of the roadblocks above—perfectionism, procrastination, or excuses—and suspect it’s fear, try writing. If it’s fear, it’ll roar louder. Let it. Feel what’s happening.
Feeling fear is tough. Trust me, I know. I’ve dealt with it my whole life. I’ll do whatever I can to avoid it.
Still, if you can take a deep breath and feel the fear, it will go away more quickly.
Know this: you don’t have to white knuckle it. Fear often feels like someone has literally removed the ground beneath our feet. We feel like we’re falling, arms flailing, with no safe place to go. Getting grounded can help counter this feeling.
Take off your shoes and let your feet feel the ground. Imagine yourself growing roots into the earth. Other grounding exercises include hugging a tree (I’m not kidding!), wrapping four fingers around our thumbs on both hands and holding this hand position while breathing deeply, holding a comforting object like a stone or stuffed animal, or noticing concrete sensory details about your surroundings.
Pro tip: Feel the fear with some kindness toward yourself. Talk to your anxious inner child the way you’d talk to any child who was afraid.
- You are safe.
- You are okay.
- This feeling will pass.
Fear tends to show up when we’re doing something new, working on a project that means a lot to us, or writing about something that’s very personal. That’s normal. So if the fear appears, acknowledge it, feel it, and keep writing.
Most of the people who’ve accomplished great things or written amazing books have experienced and overcome fear. You are not alone. And you are not stuck. You can overcome the fear and write.
(Note: This post is adapted from a chapter in Level Up, “Overcome Fear to Write Now.”)