What’s the biggest obstacle to writing?
Sitting down to write often means coming face to face with our doubts and fears. I’m not a real writer. I don’t know enough. How can I possibly say anything that hasn’t been said better by the experts? What if I get it wrong? Does my idea even make sense? What if my mother reads it? What if she doesn’t? What will people think of me? What if it sucks? And on and on.
I either edit out the parts that made me fearful or I stop writing
I totally get it. In fact, I’ve lived it. A great idea will strike. I optimistically jot down notes. Doubt creeps in as I do my research and it is on full tilt by the time I write the first sentence. If I manage to get beyond that round of fear, a more powerful version kicks in as I make my way through the first draft. It manifests as is-it-any-good and/or what-will-people-think. One of two things happen. I either edit out the parts that made me fearful or I stop writing.
Four years ago, I started an essay about learning to live with my natural hair. The original essay dove deep into my insecurities about the texture of my hair and myself as an African-American woman. It asked some really poignant questions, and then I backed off. I told myself I needed more research on the history of black hair in the United States. And once I did the research, I couldn’t figure out how the additional information fit into my story. So, I stopped working on it. It’s sad to think about the pieces that have died a slow death because of self-doubt and fear.
Writing from a place of vulnerability
But interestingly enough something happened. I discovered my writing only works when I write from a place of vulnerability. As the saying goes, feel the fear and do it anyway.
I’m not suggesting that writing from a place of vulnerability is easy because it’s not. It’s really hard. There will be tears, and maybe a bit of nausea. But it will be true. It will be real.
I recently went back to the essay about my hair. I wondered what would happen if I just wrote it in spite of my doubts and fears. Here are five practical tips that helped me move from doubting myself to writing fearlessly:
Make room for yourself to write authentically.
Find a place where you feel safe to explore your thoughts deeply. There are times when I write best in my home office. It’s comfortable. I’m surrounded by my favorite things with the added bonus of not having to ask someone to watch my computer when I go to the restroom. Other days I love being lost in the anonymity of a crowded coffee shop. It feels less lonely than my office, and I don’t have to let the dogs in and out twenty times.
I can’t emphasis this one enough. Keeping your behind in the chair goes a long way when you’re trying to write fearlessly. It forces you to face the challenge on the page. When you have the urge to get up or go do something else, ask yourself what is it about this work that makes you uncomfortable? Sometimes it’s because of the emotions it evokes. Or the approach to the work could be the issue. Either way, don’t let yourself off the hook so quickly. Set a specific time limit or word count and stay seated until you have achieved your daily goal.
Allow yourself to make mistakes.
Nothing stops our work died in its tracks faster than perfectionism. We have a vision of what the work should be. When it misses the mark, we get frustrated. This often happens because we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves to write like someone else. This is a big one for me. I have a ton of friends who are wonderful writers. I worry that my stuff isn’t as good as theirs. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. But we will never improve unless we actually do the work. Our mistakes become our guide.
Own who you are.
Self-doubt can make you question your ability. You may worry that you don’t have the right education or experience to write well. So, you buy more books or take another class. But nothing will makes as big of a difference as accepting who you are as a writer. Even after several books, countless classes, and two master degrees, I still doubted myself as a writer. It took me a long time to realize that if you write, you’re a writer. The world needs our story and we are the only one who can tell it.
Honor your accomplishments, no matter the size. I love to set a reward for myself at the end of a writing session. Go shopping. Get my nails done. Or lately, watch my favorite Netflix show without guilt.
Making a decision to write fearlessly may result in the best writing you have ever done. It’s worth it to at least try it.