Yesterday three friends talked to me about their fears of the blank page, which is a real fear that seems to lie in wait for many writers. I have some writing friends who say that they never experience it because writing is their escape. That’s never been true for me.
Writing is something I actively love doing, but sometimes fear gets in the way and I stare at a blank screen. It is as if my brain leaked through my ears. I’m hollow inside. The last year of writing a story a week has been about overcoming that faster. And, in fact, I now see patterns in my fear. Every Wednesday or Thursday I encounter fear. Or as Steven Pressfield would say, “Resistance.”
That’s the first resource I am going to share that helped me overcome my fear in writing. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I recommend the audio version, which is truly stirring. But you may want both audio and text. He calls the force that stops us “Resistance.” It’s an excellent book with references back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. He writes in a way that feels like stirring oratory.
Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
Dean Wesley Smith spends a lot of time within his writing courses dealing with fear in all its forms. He pushes writers to get out of their own way. To abandon fear. From Dean I learned the critical phrase that gets me to unfreeze: Dare to be Bad. Some very bad days will find me at my keyboard, filled with fear, reciting “Dare to be bad, Carolyn, dare to be bad” as if it’s a mantra. Eventually my mind unkinks and I can write.
One of the best resources Dean has is a set of courses and lectures about how to deal with fear in writing. I highly recommend them. Their course line-up changes regularly, but anything where they talk about fear or critical voice is one to look for. Currently they are offering Pop Up #18 Nothing’s Good Enough.
The best way to buy courses from Dean Wesley Smith or Kristine Kathryn Rusch is to wait for one of their Kickstarters. They always discount courses within the Kickstarter and sometimes outright give them away in their stretch goals.
That’s going on now with Dean’s Cave Creek Kickstarter (for another week). They are nearly to a stretch goal that will give everyone a free lecture (normally costs $50). If you are reading this in the future and missed it, they will almost certainly do another Kickstarter with discounts and stretch goals in the future. Watch for it.
Mary Robinette Kowal wrote an excellent post on distinguishing fear from depression. In it she helps writers distinguish between the various causes of writers block and what each means to her process. She offers a variety of strategies to deal with the causes and to prevent it from derailing you. This is another post I go back to again and again.
Another critical service Mary Robinette Kowal provides to her Patreon patrons is the opportunity to write with her via Zoom each month. For a lot of people, her kind, logical way of thinking and speaking melts writers block. She also answers questions during that period and I’ve seen more than one writer who couldn’t move forward suddenly make a breakthrough under her gentle questions.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books The Write Attitude is useful for dealing with fear of the blank page. Her writing is more felicitous than Dean Wesley Smith’s and her organization is better so many people prefer her and resonate to what she says better. For me, Dean speaks into my heart. But I get a great deal from Rusch as well. So I recommend this book as a good place to go to deal with that crippling fear that stops us from writing.
The last resource I’m going to offer here is Holly Lisle’s book/course 21 Ways to Get Yourself Writing When Your Life Has Just Exploded. She has several other courses/books including her course How to Think Sideways and How to Deal with Writers Block that are helpful when dealing with fear. But I recommend 21 Ways because for so many of us our lives have exploded recently and we’re trying to find a way to get back on our feet. Also, I know that two of the people who spoke to me yesterday about fear and blockage are dealing with trauma. This is a great book/course for that. Most of her materials are written and include a forum to discuss your personal issues with her and others. It’s helpful. Some of the courses also have a video component.
I hope this helps. These resources have been my lifeline during the last two years. There is absolutely no way I could have written as much as I have without going back to the words of wisdom above.
Dare to be bad, friends!
Figure out what your blockage means.
Learn how to write while dealing with trauma and tragedy.
You’ll find your way into your own voice and truth as you write. Perhaps it will surprise you. My voice surprised me. Or perhaps you’ll find an old friend inside yourself as you overcome fear and blockage.
Love to you all. Be well, friends. And stay well.