You’re Not the Boss of Me! A Writer’s Lament
by Heather Doyle Fraser
You’re a wily, sly
One, skulking beneath the page,
Waiting to burst forth.
When I stare at the
Blank abyss, you come boldly,
Stopping me again.
If you’ve ever decided to embark on a big writing journey, like writing a book, you have been in this place. The place where writer’s block takes hold and stops you in your tracks before you even begin.
Our first instinct is to resist: You’re not the boss of me! I will write RIGHT NOW! Sometimes just being there with your rear in the chair in front of your laptop is enough and you can power through for your allotted time or words per writing session. Other times, try as you might, you can’t seem to eek out more than a paragraph and the words that do come forth are not what you would call your best.
Let’s call writer’s block what it truly is: Fear. Fear of something. It may not be the same each time it rears its head, but it is all fear at the core. Here’s the thing about our relationship as humans with fear: We want to fight against it, turn away, pretend it isn’t there; we want to avoid it. The more we resist, though, the more the fear persists. And so it continues — maybe, as I said, you power through in that one writing session, but this feeling comes back again and again because we refuse to fully look at it and acknowledge it. We refuse to give our fear an audience, to really look at what it is we are afraid of, and without looking at it, the fear continues to loom, day after day, week after week, month after month. We try numbing it with distraction or other things that do indeed temporarily stop that uncomfortable feeling, but these distractions don’t propel us any faster towards the writing that is waiting.
What if we approached this scenario differently? What if we looked underneath that itchy discomfort that plagues us at the blank page? What if we named the fear? Here’s some of the fears around writing that I see in my work with myself and with my clients…
- Who will want to read this book?
- What makes me think I can do this?
- Is my writing even any good?
- What will people think of me once they read my book?
- What if I don’t sell a single copy?
- What if I can’t finish writing it?
- What if I give up before I begin, like all of the other things in my life?
- What if I do all of this work and it is all for nothing?
- What if I am actually a terrible writer and I have been living under a grandiose fallacy for years?
- What makes me think that what I have to say is something special?
- Other people have already written about this topic, and probably better, why should I even try?
This list could go on, but these are the fearful thoughts that I see come up again and again. These thoughts are designed to stop us from sharing our voice with the world. It’s understandable. Sharing your voice is a vulnerable endeavor and it takes us back to those ingrained fears of being shunned, kicked out of our social circle and community. At one time in our ancestors history this would mean death. (In high school it may have felt like death!) At the beginning of civilization, though, a lone person couldn’t survive without the help and support of their community. They would literally die. You get kicked out, and then you become injured, and then you are done. That’s not how it is now, but that’s still how we feel — our threat system can quickly hijack our thoughts and emotions and create real mental and physical discomfort and pain. We start down this path and our palms might become clammy, we may begin to sweat, and our hearts may race as our anxiety skyrockets. What can we do in the face of all that?
Soothe the fear.
So after we have named the fear, we soothe it.
It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy. These thoughts loop and loop until we are down the rabbit hole, so we need to create some space. What’s the best and fastest path to that open space? Your breath. Deep breathing, pausing at the top and exhaling. Inhaling for a count of four, pause, and exhale for a count of four. Repeat. Do this until you have a little space in your mind and in your heart. You don’t need to feel all warm and fuzzy here. Our aim is to create a space — a place of reset and grounding — so that we can look at this a little differently and move towards what we want (writing the book) instead of moving away from what we want in order to not feel the discomfort of the fear.
Let’s look at a common fear I often hear about writing: Other people have probably already written about this topic and probably better, why should I even try?
Most of the people I work with are writing creative nonfiction: informational books, self-development, self-help, memoir, or a combination of these. In their case, they are most certainly right about the first part — other people have probably already written about their topic because often these topics have a basis in universal truths. However, even if someone has already written about “your” topic, no one has your voice. No one can write the book that you are meant to write. Your voice is unique. Just take a walk in a library and you will see hundreds of books that seemingly are about similar things. Your voice (and your book) will resonate with your audience, though, and not necessarily with someone else’s. To me, that makes it imperative for you to share your voice. Your message is languishing inside of you. What if someone’s understanding of some universal truth hinges on the way you write about it? What if there are hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for the way you might explain that idea about which you are so passionate?
These are all deep thoughts for sure — maybe even worthy of a Jack Handey quote or two — but they also have been proven again and again the more I read, write, and experience life.
Name It, Soothe It, Move It
So after you name the fear, soothe it, and give yourself a compassionate dose of honesty and support, what else is there to do? Sometimes the physical effects of these thoughts and the adrenaline in our system lingers a bit. What can we do to move that and help us get back to the writing? There are so many strategies you could use here, but I have some favorites that I use again and again:
- Go for a quick or long walk
- Take your shoes off and walk in the grass
- Dance to one of your favorite songs
- Shake the energy out, literally shaking your arms and legs
- Do some stretching or yoga
- Do 10 squats, jumping jacks, and or pushups
And then you come back to your chair. You sit down and look at the blank page and write something that doesn’t matter, something that doesn’t feel big or pressure laden. For me, I often write haikus. I find them a creative boost and a fun way to get into the writing of the day and connect with my voice. That’s why I start my blogs with haiku. I even wrote about it in piece a while back entitled, Haiku: A Compassionate Bridge to Your Creativity and Your Voice .
If that doesn’t feel quite right for you (don’t knock it until you try it!), you could also doodle, draw, paint, origami… whatever — just something that will spur those creative juices to move past the block (that you have named) and into the space of writing and flow again. Over time you will notice the same fears coming up again and again. Each time you name it and give yourself a compassionate response to it, rather than a self-critical one or ignoring it all together, you will notice that it holds less power over you. That space feels exhilarating and provides us with the opportunity to do what we are meant to do in that moment: WRITE.
Originally published at https://www.cmcollab.com on January 11, 2021.