Doing it Anyway: How I Overcame My Fears about Writing

by Meryl Evans | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 11 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Melissa Ann Goodwin‘s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re hosting a giveaway of her book The Christmas Village [affiliate]. Read on to see how you can win.

Melissa Ann GoodwinAbout the author: Melissa Ann Goodwin is a native New Englander, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, artist J. Richard Secor. She has written extensively for Fun for Kidz, Boys’ Quest and Hopscotch for Girls. She was a regular feature article contributor to the Caregiver’s Home Companion for more than five years. Her poetry took 10th prize in The Writer’s Digest 2010 annual competition. WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re hosting a giveaway of her book The Christmas Village is her first novel.

Doing It Anyway: How I Overcame My Fears about Writing by Melissa Ann Goodwin

I doubt there is a writer alive whose brain doesn’t feel as thick and frozen as a Dairy Queen Blizzard before sitting down to write. It’s why we post on Facebook, sort the laundry and make out the shopping list, when our firm intention that day was to get writing First Thing. We do this, often, because we’re scared. A thousand undermining thoughts creep into our minds: What if I try to write and nothing comes? What if what I write is awful? What if, GASP, it’s not perfect?

But how do we silence that insane Drama Queen screaming inside our heads, terrifying us into paralysis of the pen? Believe me; I count myself among the biggest fraidy-cats of all time. In fact, I let fear keep me from writing for almost 40 years. But I found some practices that have helped me overcome those fears. If you feel a bit paralyzed before sitting down to write, maybe these ideas will help you too.

Make Like the Buddha and Calm Down: Besides being a writer, I’m also a yoga teacher. Part of our goal in yoga is to focus and calm the mind. Similarly, clearing the mind of distractions before writing can help quiet your fears and make it easier to get started.  Try this: Sit comfortably and just breathe. Try to empty your mind, but don’t be aggressive about it. Let your thoughts come and go. If you are thinking about your shopping list or other “life” things, just mentally whisper the word, “later,” and try to move on. When you feel calm, open your eyes and start writing.

Leave Your Mind Out of It: The idea of writing without thinking might sound strange at first, but in my experience, it definitely works! After calming yourself with quiet breathing, open your eyes and start writing whatever comes to mind, without even thinking about it. Keep writing fast, without stopping or thinking, for as long as you can.  If you slow down and get stuck, write, “I don’t know what to write this is really stupid I can’t believe she told us to do this and I can’t believe I’m doing it.” Good! Keep going. The next thing you know you’ll be writing something coherent and unexpected and surprising.  You’ll be amazed by what comes out of you that you had no idea was hiding inside there.

Perfect Makes Crazy: I used to think that what I wrote had to come out of me fully formed and close to perfect. What a silly goose I was! No wonder my panic-stricken fingers hovered over the keys like a Zamboni with transmission trouble. How did I learn to let go of this perfection complex? By giving myself permission to write what the brilliant writer Anne Lamott calls a “shitty first draft.” Just let stuff flow out of you without judgment or mental editing. Let it be really and truly awful. Celebrate its awfulness! After all, that’s why they invented revision.

The Christmas Village book

I think that overcoming our writing fears is less about particular techniques than it is about learning to trust that the well of inspiration is deep and limitless. I’ve discovered that no matter how awful my first draft is, there is always something in it that is worth keeping – a word, a phrase, a snippet of dialogue. Something. We’re all different, and different things will work for each of us. The trick is to experiment, and while you’re experimenting, you’ll be writing. And the more you are writing, the more you will learn to trust in that infinite well.

About The Christmas Village: Jamie Reynolds wished that he could live in Grandma’s miniature Christmas village, and now that wish has magically come true. But is the village really what it seems? What stunning secrets does it hold? And how will Jamie ever get back home? Join the fun, come along on the adventure, and find out!

Comment and win: For a chance to win a copy of The Christmas Village, leave a comment about dealing with any writing struggles. How do you deal with perfection? Facing a blank page? Or share what you think happens in The Christmas Village based on the above description. You have until 11:59pm on November 15, 2011 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic has the honor of picking the winner.


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  • Posted by Melissa Ann Goodwin on November 8th, 2011, 10:52 AM

    Meryl, thank so much for being my host on the tour! I look forward to chatting with your friends and followers.

  • Posted by KarenG on November 8th, 2011, 11:19 AM

    The best way I’ve found to overcome fears of any kind is to just plunge in and know it will be hard but I tell myself it gets better with practice. As for writing, whenever I go to open up my computer to work on my wip I have serious fear that it will be horrible and I won’t know what to do to fix it. Like everything else, all I can do is move forward and do the work! (And it’s never as bad as I think it will be.)

    Great post!

  • Posted by KarenG on November 8th, 2011, 11:20 AM

    And yes of course I want to win a free copy of Melissa’s charming book so enter me in the drawing 🙂

  • Posted by SandyM on November 8th, 2011, 12:33 PM

    The title of your blog definitely caught my attention. My friends and family tell me all the time, “You should write a book!” Your tips on beginning are helpful; especially about leaving my mind out of it! Also, I am scared to death every time I even think about sitting down and beginning to write.
    I will keep your points in mind, maybe I will at least begin my book!

  • Posted by Karen Walker on November 8th, 2011, 1:22 PM

    Hey there, Melissa, congrats on your book tour. I would definitely love to be entered to win a copy, but if not, I’m going to get it on Amazon at the end of the week when I order a few other blogging buddy friends books.
    I love this post. I am just now incorporating deep breathing and meditation with my writing. Then it comes from a really deep place, which I love.

  • Posted by Melissa Ann Goodwin on November 8th, 2011, 2:44 PM

    Karen G – that fear that it will be horrible is such an obstacle for every writer, I think. That’s why Anne Lamott’s shitty first draft is so helpful!

    Sandy – you should write a book! It’s such a strange idea, I know, writing without thinking. But it really does help overcome the fear, because something ALWAYS comes! I hope you’ll do it! If I can, anyone can!

    Karen, thanks so much. meditation before writing really helps. You said it exactly – it comes from a really deep place – one we didn’t even know was there.

  • Posted by J.C. Nierad on November 8th, 2011, 10:17 PM

    Great tips, Melissa. I can usually get a very rough draft out; however, my problems start when I need to go back and read what I’ve written and work on revisions. As you noted, perfectionism can be paralyzing. If I’m stuck – meaning, I literally cannot bring myself to open my eyes to read my writing, I turn to one of my favorite authors’ books on writing (Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg to name a couple). Usually, I’ll find a quote or two that turns my red light green (or at least yellow) and I slowly start to rework the writing.

  • Posted by Melissa Ann Goodwin on November 9th, 2011, 7:44 AM

    JC, those writers have helped me SO much! Lamott especially. I say, just treat the first revision like another “first draft.” Take some whacks at it and let it be awful. I revise so many times, I can’t even tell you how many!

  • Posted by Carol on November 9th, 2011, 8:18 PM

    If I’m stuck I pull out a book of one-line prompts and start writing just for the heck of it. No pressure. This way I know that what I write can be awful and it really doesn’t matter. More often than not, though, it frees up my imagination and gets my thoughts going….like priming a pump. Before I know it, I’ve written several pages. When the wheels are greased, I’m ready to settle in and start writing on my latest project.

  • Posted by Melissa Ann Goodwin on November 10th, 2011, 7:57 AM

    Carol, that’s a great tip! Finding that way “in” to the writing – whatever it is, is what we’re all coming up with. It’s great to have a whole toolkit of ways in…

  • Posted by Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for January 15, 2012 « Write Livelihood on January 15th, 2012, 4:59 AM

    […] Doing it Anyway: How I Overcame My Fears about Writing | Melissa Ann Goodwin guest posts on “content maven” Meryl Evans’ blog about how to deal with writing-related anxiety. […]

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