Hello, welcome to Fear of Writing. . . .
Our goal is to make it fun!
Fear of Writing has given me new friends, a creative outlet, and a chance to
push myself to do some things I've been thinking about for a long time.
— Susan Smith, Bulverde, Texas
If you're out on the Web searching for some . . .
— FUN + a way to let your hair down creatively
— Emotional support
— Creative inspiration
— Thinking outside the box
— A big ray of hope for yourself as a demoralized or currently inactive writer
. . . then you've definitely come to the right place! So, take a deep breath, relax, loosen your tie (so to speak) and enjoy the ride.
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we're here we should dance.
Fear of writing can be that familiar thud in the pit of the stomach when you visualize sitting down to write.
But there are many aspects to fear of writing. Even prolific writers can experience it in some form. Here are some of the results from a survey sheet I've been using since 2001 at the Fear of Writing Clinic:
- Fear of mediocrity
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
- Fear of criticism
- Fear of pain and effort
- Fear of commitment
- Fear of “Making a big deal out of myself by writing from the heart . . . ‘as if anyone wants to hear that’.”
- Fear of reading my writing aloud to a group
- Fear of overworn metaphor
- Fear of not enough life experience to write about
- Fear of drawing a vacuum (“zip”—nothing to write) in a group
- Fear of not knowing where to begin
- Fear of being stilted and uncreative
- Fear that I will work and work but never get published
This is just a small selection from the many personal aspects of fear of writing that show up in my workshops. I don't believe I've uncovered all the facets yet. There are also degrees of intensity. Some workshop participants mark only a 1 or 2 on their survey. Others mark 10 for the most severe. The rare bird marks a zero.
Let me share with you a living, breathing example of the kinds of stories I hear.
This is Jenn Martin of O'ahu, Hawai'i, seen in the photo with her dad, Jerry. Here is an excerpt from an email she wrote me on September 6, 2005.
Note: The Jen (with one 'n') that Jenn Martin is referring to is the author of a chapter from Fear of Writing called “Jen Speaks.”
“This was a short piece I was compelled to write after reading some of Jen's writing in the book. I have not edited this at all. It is as I wrote it—straight from my fear center.”
When I read Jen's first writings, I was amazed by her eloquence . . . then horrified because I, a “seasoned” writer, am not nearly as eloquent as Jen, a “newbie” to the writing world.
How can I call myself a writer? I can't even begin to write a portrait—not in the first draft . . . often not even in the third, fourth, or fifth drafts! How does Jen do it in her very first attempt at writing?
I have a desire . . . no . . . a need to get my words down on paper, but I struggle with my creative voice. I have ideas, but I simply stare at my blank sheet of paper, pen poised above it, ready to make contact but never quite hitting its mark. Hah! Sometimes my hand even cramps up with holding my pen above the paper but never writing.
I wonder, how do people like Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Maya Angelou, Jen do it? How is it that the words come so easily to them but fail to come to me? What can I do to make the words flow? Will I fail yet again?
I would like to thank Jenn Martin for her honesty, and also her courage, in sharing this with others who may have similar fears about writing. —Milli
Photo caption: Jenn wished to use this photo (see above) in memory of her dad, who died suddenly in September 2004. Click on the photo to read Jenn's passionate tribute to her dad—and see her special tattoo.
A closet writer is someone who dreams of being a writer but has been procrastinating about getting started. Or has lots of false starts. Or, is already secretly writing but doesn't admit it to anyone.
Here are some of the reasons a closet writer might use to stay in the closet:
I'm not entitled to be a writer because I don't have a degree
I'm terrible at grammar
- A college professor told me my writing stank
- Writing is for creative people; I'm not very creative
- It will take semesters of training in dialogue and other mysterious techniques before I can write a story
- There's nothing original left to say
- If I admit I've been writing, my family will think I'm selfish or weird
- If I admit I've been writing, I might have to let someone read it
- If I admit I've been writing, I might have to meet a certain standard before I can call myself a “writer”
All of these reasons evaporate magically every time you step inside this Website. But, if you're a closet writer, you can stay safely in your closet while you check it out. There's no pressure here.
Fear of Writing is all about having fun and gently healing our writing scars.
There are many ways to stick your toe in the water at Fear of Writing. Some are free, others are low cost. For instance, you can try the writing prompts (Fertile Material) for free at this Website.
If that sounds way too scary, let me assure you that everything at Fear of Writing is designed to make the process fun and easy. And—here's an important bit—I do not allow critiques when writers share their stories in my forums or writing circles, so you'll never be humiliated here in the guise of “constructive criticism.”
For other Fear of Writing activities you can try (yes, anonymously!), enter the Website and click on Our Mission. Or use this link: Our Mission.
I had not read your book prior to finding fearofwriting.com. I stumbled on to your Website after running a Google search for writing. Just “Writing.” I wasn’t entirely sure what regarding “writing” I wanted, besides some HELP. What I found on your site was just—WOW. I had asked for a drink of water and I got a flood!
I read EVERYTHING. Then, I jumped on to Amazon.com to buy your book. I’ve read other books on writing, and they all have their good qualities. One mantra that was consistent across texts was “just keep writing, keep at it, and keep going.” Just keep writing? I would think. But I’m FRUSTRATED with it! It’s not FUN. It has become WORK, which is not something I want to do in my spare time. Who are these people? And why did they decide to write these books? To make me feel worse? Hey, mission accomplished, sir. Can you please retire so I can hold onto a LITTLE self esteem? You know, none of them said it could be fun. But YOU DID. And you gave me the tools to play.
You’re absolutely right when you say we’ve forgotten how to play. We’re worried about all of the things we have to do or about what people will think; we’re too tired, too guilt-ridden, too anxious, too busy, too lazy. . . . We used to come up with excuses TO PLAY, and somewhere along the line, we began coming up with excuses NOT TO PLAY.
As I mentioned previously, I had a very difficult time with writings that weren’t assignments. Along with my various other psychopathologies, I’d stopped paying attention to my inner child because I was so concerned with my outer adult. I was well on my way to being nothing but outer adult—essentially a shell—unable to tap into my creativity because I’d taken away my own play time.
You also really helped me overcome some of that paralyzing stupidity that seems to envelope me every time I sit down with the intent To Write. I say to myself, “I Am Going To Write.” I get the pen, get the paper, and get retarded. I sit and I wait. A few words trickle out: I…. Like…. Pie….
Oh God, I think. I am so boring. What do I have to say anyway? All I have in me is an affinity for pastry. So I quit.
But, Milli, your writing prompts are GREAT! I can sit down with them, and I know before I even start that I can have fun with it. I get my pen, get my paper, get my prompt, and get creative because I’m not taking myself or my writing so seriously. Because, really, with a prompt like “Waiter, There’s a Gremlin in My Soup” how can you help but get started with a smile?
I never really thought of fear as being an energy that could be used to propel my writing. I always saw it as an obstacle, never a tool. I LOVE the idea of using my fear for something other than self loathing.
You also have a lot of other really great information and resources on your site that I’ve taken to. I’ve ordered The Inventor. I’m still waiting for it to arrive, but I’m excited about it. I’ve also reaffirmed my commitment to drinking water—AND I FEEL BETTER!
Most importantly, though, you’ve helped me reconstruct my sanctuary. It really is so important to have that safe and secure place to write. And it starts with HAVING FUN. You've given me my two chairs and blanket, now I'm building my own little writer's clubhouse. So, again, THANK YOU!
Milli, You've done something very useful in the realm of creative writing: You have removed the starch from it by encouraging creative people to write while letting their hair down—instead of being bound by the usual thinking that writing can only be done using strict literary phrases. VIVA EL ESTILO COLOQUIAL! —Giselle Hurley, Boerne, Texas
Giselle (or, more affectionately, Gigi) is a lively character with a fabulous Argentinian accent who first got involved with Fear of Writing when she joined the local writing circle in Boerne, Texas.
Gigi immediately took to the idea of having fun with the Fertile Material writing prompts. She not only wrote new stories each week in the writing circle (where members read their stories out loud in a supportive atmosphere that does not allow critiques), she also began using the prompts at home to build up a collection of stories written for creative pleasure.
Over her time so far with Fear of Writing, Gigi has also:
- Become a regular reader of Milli's newsletter (Fear of Writing Gazette)
- Attended a party for writing circle members (parties are not uncommon at Fear of Writing)
- Won a contest in the Gazette (independently judged, so no favoritism for regulars)
- Recorded one of her Fertile Material stories for Online Arts Outreach on Texas Public Radio
- Had the account of her visit to TPR published in the Gazette (One Writer's Journey Into the Bowels of Texas Public Radio)
When she won the Gazette contest and heard about her prize, Gigi responded to the news in her typical exuberant fashion:
YAHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you hear my scream of joy? I'm looking forward to receiving my signed prize and TREASURING it for the rest of my days.
Reprinted with permission from SouthWest Sage (February 2002), the newsletter for SouthWest Writers
SOMETIMES I’M TEMPTED to think that fear of writing is a gene I was born with.
This is confusing when I look around and see that many other writers were not born with the same gene. Ken Goldberg, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Peter Squared, was a practicing clinical psychologist when the inspiration for his first book came to him in a church pew in 1995.
“I never saw myself as a writer before, my talents were always in math,” Goldberg said, during a recent guest stint in the Fear of Writing chatroom. “I still work full time, and that does hold back the pace with which I can write my next book. But I don’t experience writer’s block at all. I’m able to boot up my computer and use even 20 minutes productively. Before I came on for this chat, I had about an hour and a half and wrote 3,000 words.”
“Jaw dropping,” our chat moderator typed in response.
“The key,” Goldberg continued, "is to never worry whether what you are writing any particular day is any good.”
Seawind, one of our regulars, spoke up next. “I wish it were that easy. How do you still the inner editor who has a big derogatory mouth?”
Goldberg: “I don’t have that inner editor.”
Seawind: “I'll give you mine.”
During this exchange, I saw the familiar gulf between writers who have the gene and those who were born without it.
One day about two years ago when my husband was speaking on the phone to his accountant, he mentioned that I was putting the finishing touches on a book called Fear of Writing.
“That’s me!” the CPA exclaimed.
My husband put me on the phone and the CPA’s story tumbled out. He had left home heartbroken at the age of thirteen and lived on a knife’s-edge for the next several decades. As an adult, he lived not just a double but a triple life, and his adventures— hair-raising, tragic, often bizarre—belong in a movie. He’s long wanted to write the story of his life as a fictional novel, but could not bring himself to write more than the opening paragraph.
“If I can’t write like Wally Lamb, it’s too scary to even begin,” he declared in his heart.
The years ticked by and the CPA felt unfulfilled.
“I’ll write my story when I retire,” he promised himself.
When I heard this, I couldn’t rest.
“Don’t wait until you retire!” I said. “You may just put it off forever at that rate.”
I knew this truth intimately because of the years when painful hormones surging from my fear of writing gene caused me to hide from my own creativity.
After hearing the basic storyline for the CPA’s novel, I designed writing exercises to elicit scraps of manuscript. We met in a coffeehouse every Tuesday at 7 a.m. and, as each written exercise was added to the previous one, the CPA saw that his novel was emerging.
The most intense case of the fear of writing gene I’ve ever heard of came to me just last week. I have a form on my Website [Editor's Note: this refers to the old Website] called “Your Anecdote” where writers can submit anecdotes about fear of writing for my sequel, Son of Fear of Writing.
Although I receive plenty of fear of writing confessions verbally, no one had ever submitted this auto-form since it was uploaded to my Website almost two years ago. So when the “Your Anecdote” box popped up in my email program with a submission from J.M. (as I will call him), I was riveted.
Starting in the first grade, J.M. had severe panic attacks whenever he was expected to write anything more than his name or a one-word answer. Muscle spasms, pounding pulse, nausea, sweating, the desire to flee.
J.M. excelled at multiple choice tests but when it came to essay questions, term papers or book reports, he went into a blind panic. Although an avid reader and a lover of learning, J.M. flunked high school English twice because he refused to turn in written work. The anguish involved in writing was simply more than he could bear.
J.M. says he would have pursued a doctorate by now if colleges didn’t require that one impossible thing: written compositions. Instead, he went for a career in electronics, where he held a 4.0 GPA for the first several semesters of his associate’s degree—until the teacher requested a written project report. At that point, J.M. dropped out of school and considered suicide.
For years after that, J.M. found ways to circumvent the fear of writing gene. He fixed helicopters in the U.S. Army and served in the Gulf War. He worked as a security officer, forklift driver, copier repairman, and computer technician. By his own admission, he has purposely pursued careers where writing would not be involved.
“So here I am,” he finished. “I can’t even put a resume together. This is the only thing I have written since.”
Some might say that J.M. is better off without writing, or that his panic indicates his unsuitability for a career as an author. But his writing on the auto-form was real and deeply moving. And his dream is to write a science fiction novel or perhaps a techno-thriller.
Everyone deserves a shot at his or her dream. Touched that J.M. felt safe enough at my Website to pour out his story, I asked him what had made this possible.
“I’d just finished watching Finding Forrester. A line in the movie said, ‘A writer writes.’ So I started by answering your request for experiences on the fear of writing. It is one of the few subjects that I have a deep understanding of.”
It seems rather sad to me that, given the vulnerable dreams of people like J.M. and the CPA, some writers can be cavalier at the expense of others. A journalist who reviewed my workshop in a large city newspaper couldn’t help but show off his superiority.
“The Fear of Writing Clinic is for those who want to eliminate the so-called writer’s block,” he wrote. “As the author states in a press release, ‘Fear of Writing is about expressing yourself.’ What was I thinking?”
It was probably a lot easier for the journalist to toss off these snide remarks than it was for a woman called Rebecca to come to my clinic that weekend. Rebecca was so timid about her writing, she shook noticeably when she read it to the group. At the end, she scampered away like a frightened mouse.
In my opinion Rebecca showed great courage, while the journalist merely used his position of power to belittle the struggles of others.
As writers and/or published authors, let’s continue to use our positions of power to strengthen others in their creative dreams. The closet writer you encourage today may be the published author you congratulate a few years hence.
And that’s a positive for everyone.
Copyright © February 2002 Milli Thornton. Reprinted with permission from SouthWest Sage, the newsletter for SouthWest Writers