The Fear of Writing

I have spent my entire career “writing,” mostly as a serious journalist. Whether as a reporter, editor or manager, it all involved the skill of writing.

For years I have wanted to write a novel — as the old saying goes, every journalist has two chapters of a novel languishing in his bottom drawer. But there has been an invisible wall that always prevented me from going forward.

I have watched colleagues break through the wall and publish successful, well-received, quality literature. I even have seen several become quite wealthy from their endeavors.

So, why is it that I have been unable to get to Chapter 3? The answer is simple — resolving the dilemma was exceedingly more complicated. But the problem can be summed up in one sentence:

I didn’t have the courage to write.

Ideas were plentiful, drawn both from my personal experiences (“write what you know”) and from those around me. I would verbally discuss some of the ideas and experiences with colleagues and friends and more often than not what I heard was: “You should write a book.”

In his thoughtful, dynamic book The Courage to Write, prolific author Ralph Keyes explains why talented writers fear putting their thoughts on paper:

“Its psychic demands make writing an exercise in courage little different from climbing a sheer granite cliff or skiing down a steep slope. The real shock [for a writer] is discovering how demanding writing is not just of their skill, talent and work ethic — but of their valor.”

Keyes presents the fear of writing as a positive impetus to push yourself beyond what you consider your personal limits — a challenge to overcome a phobia, just like any other.

“Writing is both frightening and exhilarating. It couldn’t be one without the other” he writes. “The best writers exploit fear’s energy to billow the sails of their imaginations. They convert anxiety into enthusiasm and an unparalleled source of energy.”

So, why is it so personally difficult for many writers to get up the courage to write — and more than that to attempt to get their words published?

The lack of courage to share one’s words even has several names: The most common is Scriptophobia — the fear of writing in public. It used to mean literally the anxiety experienced when writing on a blackboard or even filling out a job application, but it has evolved to include making your writing public.

This fear does not just apply to writers of novels. It extends to non-fiction, poetry — even blogs.

As noted, the fear is easily explained; overcoming it is much more complex.

Procrastination; when will I find the time as the act of writing itself (for most) does not pay; what if I fail: What if no one cares what I have to say.

I had become an expert at using all these excuses. But I finally feel that the fear is gone and I now have both the intestinal fortitude and discipline to proceed.

Encouragement from colleagues has been a major factor. So has a subtle realization that if not now, then when.

But here is why I no longer lack the valor of a mountain climber and why I am tackling the project.

Simply put: Because it’s there.

Less trite, I have learned that the fear is shared by many — from the most successful to the ultimate novice.

There are several therapists driving around in Lotuses and even Maseratis, who have helped, but the most compelling reason I am writing my book is this:

If I don’t — who will?

As a final note: When it does come out, please buy my book?

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