This is the second post in my Fear Stages in Writing series. Last week I posted the introduction to the series, and here is the first writing stage: the first draft.

Here are the questions from last week’s introduction.

• Do you fear to go on with the next chapter?

• Does your writing feel stale, passionless?

• Do you feel unsure about where to go next?

When fear slips into writing the first draft ego masks itself as several fears and hides the thoughts that are at their roots. As an example, I dive in two fears related to the first draft.

1. My idea sucks

This thought usually comes when you are at about 1/3 to 1/2 of your story, no matter what you are writing, short stories to novel length. At one point you will start thinking: my idea sucks! Many manuscripts land on shelves or in dusty corners of countless hard drives.

Thing is, the idea probably never did suck. What did suck was a deep-seated fear: what if I finish it and people will laugh at me for its complete uselessness? What if I can’t turn my shiny brilliant idea from the start into drivel?

From an inner two year old’s point of view, it is easy: you just keep on writing because you love to write and play with words and make them uniquely yours. From your ego’s point of view, the writing is a reminder of the time when you had some beautiful clay and turned it into an ashtray you made for your dad. He praised you for it and then he threw it in the bin when he thought you weren’t looking.

Your idea doesn’t suck. Your ashtray was mighty cool. Keep on writing.

2. My writing sucks

This fear is also called: perfectionism. You constantly read through what you have written before, and you cringe at the use of words, the miss spellings, the complete jumble of words that makesnonsensicallines.

The fear is that when you don’t make it absolutely perfect, you won’t be able to finish the novel in the end. The reality is that your word count doesn’t increase much when you keep going back to polish the words you have written. Truth is, you could keep going back to publish.

Your inner two year old is all about writing, about putting her pen to paper and writing your story. Ego has a completely different idea about this. It sees the red pen through words on a school essay that got you a 4 out of 10 because of spelling mistakes. It comes back to haunt you with that pain, and you just give up.

Thing is, first drafts are supposed to suck. They are supposed to have flowery language, crappy dialogues and tons of spelling mistakes. I really am grateful to Anne Lamott for writing that in her book Bird by Bird. It kept me from falling for the perfectionism more times than I care to remember.

Inner two year old to the rescue!

Alright, so you are sitting at your desk and you shiver with fear at the next blank page of your manuscript. How do you break through it?

  • Write down what reasons you had to start with your idea, write a tremendous love letter. Do this at the start of each new project from now on, they are awesome to fall back on when fear grabs you by the throat.
  • Find out what is the source of your fear. Somehow, somewhere, something happened to you that lies at the root of this fear. And sometimes it is completely different than what you first thought, think creatively.
  • When the fear comes up and grabs you by the throat, play. Create something completely different, bring out your inner two year old in full. Then go write again.
  • Accept failure. Writers need to make mistakes in order to get better at writing, they need to fall into traps and get a banged up ego. That is why I am a firm believer that writers should be issued harnesses and bodyguards.
  • Embrace the suck, just keep writing and writing until you are finished. Then put on your harness, saddle your charger and embattle all the suck until nothing is left.
  • If all else fails, just shove your first draft aside, and start working on something new. Sometimes abandoning a project is all you need to start writing on it again. That’s what I am doing with one of my novels, a beast of a science fiction project with a to research list as long as my arm. Sometimes it gets too much for me to work on, and I shift to something else. As long as I write every day, I am doing what I’m supposed to do.

Next week the topic will be Editing, as I am right at that stage right now, it will be extra fun to explore. See you then!