Fear is one of our most primal emotions. If we let it, it can stand in the way of us accomplishing great things. At its worst, it can stop us from accomplishing anything at all. There is a lot of fear around being a writer, for me personally and for people in general. I think if there weren’t, a lot more people would be writing, rather than just talking about it. There’s a fear of failure, a fear of not being good enough, a fear of opening up and being vulnerable to the blank page – all of these are valid fears, but we can’t let them stand in the way of the creative process. Here are five things that I remind myself of in order to get the better of fear and do my best work writing.
- Nothing can be worse than nothing
There’s a quote that I have on my computer: “The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you did not write.” I summarize this to myself as “Nothing can be worse than nothing”. The blank page is terrifying, the blinking cursor a mocking bully – the sight of either often paralyze me with fear. What if what I write isn’t good? What if what I write is downright terrible?
The truth is, it might very well be. But I can fix what I’ve written – I can’t do anything to what I haven’t. There comes a time when you must have faith in your ability as an editor as much as your ability as a writer. That time might as well be now.
- I have been here before.
This thought can be terrifically frustrating at first, but it can also be reassuring if you sit with it long enough. You have looked this same fear in the eye before. It hasn’t changed. But you have. You’ve gone on and done things that maybe at one point in your life you didn’t think you were capable of doing. In the case of writing, you’ve written! You’ve gotten past this fear before and you can do it again. You might have to defeat it a hundred times, which is a drag, but every time you fight through it and put words on paper, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve won once again and that defeating it is possible.
- This is where I am supposed to be right now.
A lot of my fear comes from thinking that I’m doing the wrong thing or that I’m going to screw up somehow and never be able to get back to the way things are supposed to be. One mantra that I find really helpful in assuaging those fears, both during my writing and just in general, is: this is where I am supposed to be right now. What this means to me is that I’m not meant to be doing anything else other than what I am engaged in in the moment. I’m not missing out on anything, or screwing anything up – it’s impossible for me to do that, because I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing. It’s not always easy to believe this, especially when what I’m doing or where I am isn’t something or someplace I like. But accepting that truth, that I am where I am and doing what I’m doing for a reason, helps alleviate a lot of pressure from my mind.
- Don’t feed the sharks
Think of your mind like an ocean. You’re sitting at the bottom of the ocean and above you is a coral reef, teeming with fish and other aquatic life. The fish represent all your thoughts. You can go up and swim with them, but in order to be mindful and present, it’s best to stay here on the bottom and just watch them flit about from one end of the coral reef to the other. On occasion, a shark may swim by. These sharks are the negative thoughts that disrupt your mind, thoughts like “I’m never going to be a good writer” and “It’s pointless to try, I’m just going to fail”. Just like we don’t go up and swim with the fish, don’t go up and swim with the sharks either! Don’t wrestle with them and certainly don’t feed them. Just let them swim past when they appear.
- Success is possible
I’m not a natural optimist. But I’m working hard to change that. While I may not be ready to throw open my arms and declare “Everything will work out for the best! This is the best of all possible worlds!”, I do find that when combating fear, it’s important to remind myself that success IS possible. I may try and I may fail. That is true. But I may try and I may succeed. That is equally true. It’s important to remember too that success has variable definitions. Success today may mean sitting down and getting something, anything, down on paper. Success in the long-term may be something completely different, but that doesn’t diminish the success of the moment.