Overcoming the Fear of Writing

When I was about fourteen years old, I used to write almost every day after school. In one sitting I’d scribble twenty to thirty notebook pages of creative prose; the handwriting was awful, but the work itself was rich with personality, punch, and youthful exuberance. At that time, I never expected that anyone other than myself (or my parents) would actually read what I had written, and I liked it fine that way.

In college, I decided it was time to get serious about writing as a career, so of course I majored in creative writing. The professor was a published novelist himself, and I wanted more than anything to impress him.

Sometimes, I did. Other times, a short story would come back mired in red ink, topped with a heart-wrenching “B.” My professor was doing just what he should have done, of course–but rather than view my mediocre grades as wonderful opportunities for constructive feedback, I saw them instead as cause for alarm. My high school writing teachers had awarded me A’s without fail, so this was uncomfortable, new territory.

Somehow, someway, writing became a chore, no different from any dreaded homework assignment. Once, I had so many stories and characters running through my brain that I couldn’t write them down fast enough; now, I couldn’t hear my characters over the voice in my head shouting, “This paragraph is too clunky! None of this works! Who would want to read this? Who would ever publish this crap?”

These days, as a part-time English teacher, I work with high school students to improve their writing skills. I once heard another English teacher moan that teaching kids to write is like “pulling each individual tooth,” and that analogy is all too accurate. Often, my students respond to writing assignments by staring forlornly at blank sheets of loose-leaf paper, at which point I pace around the room shouting, “Come on guys, write something. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

But my deep, dirty secret is that I can be afraid to write, myself.

No one ever said that writing was easy, of course, but does it really warrant these levels of terror? If I place a writing topic on the blackboard, my students will discuss it out loud until I rap on my desk for silence, yet their ideas suddenly disintegrate when they have to put pen to paper. Why?

Although fear of writing has dogged me for much of the past ten years, I’ve come a long way from the overly sensitive college student I once was. In my upcoming blog posts, I’m going to discuss some simple steps that helped me to stop sabotaging myself as a writer. I’m going to explore and examine some helpful methods for overcoming basic writing fears. I hope this will assist some aspiring scribblers in meeting their writing goals.

And I do hope to teach by example; after all, by overcoming my own fear well enough to post to this blog regularly, I’ll be achieving one of my very own writing goals.

Which brings me to writing tip number one: The single best way to overcome a fear of writing is to sit down and actually write something. Honestly.

Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. This is her first column with Magnificent Nose. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.


10 thoughts on “Overcoming the Fear of Writing

  1. While contemplating how to write a prolific response to your blog, I froze. The fear lives in me as well. I think as we get older; we become more critical of ourselves. We loose the inner child who was fearless. As children mostly everything we do results in praise. The first time we receive criticism, even constructive, is a shock to our systems. You can’t have a delicate nature if you are going to write.

    Recently I have been working with an author on his new novel. He has asked me to be his muse. He appreciates and respects my writing style and believes enough in my ability that he trusts me to help him. For me, this is the highest praise I have ever gotten. I am encouraged by his remarks but still not fearless.

    So, I will become a regular reader of your blog and maybe you will be the catalyst that finally eradicates my fear. I hope not to be frozen for very long 🙂 ~Rosanne~

    1. I agree that fear of writing grows in us as we get older…I always hoped it would start to vanish by around the age of 30, but I guess that’s not the case 🙂

      I don’t think any of us every loses the fear completely…I think it’s more about working through the fear, day by day.

  2. I enjoyed your article, because I face the same fear about my writing. I am in my fifties, and even though my former professor highly recommends it, I am hesitant to pursue the MFA in creative writing. I would like to have read some solutions about how to overcome the fear demon.

    1. Over the past 12 weeks that I’d been writing this blog, I have tried to provide solutions to the problem of fear. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a “magic pill” solution…it all comes to forcing yourself to write, even when you’re terrified.

      I have let fear stop me for a long time. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve reached a point where not writing scares me more than writing.

      Anyway, Crab Xpress, I think you may have inspired my next blog post. Stay tuned!

    1. @Carlos – Sara can indeed be inspirational. Best of luck with your writing, and in class.

      Nobody’s writing is completely free of errors, of course. I’m not trying to be snarky here, but brushing up on your spelling and capitalization will help. Knowing that “I” is always capitalized, the difference between “advice” and “advise”, and that one should write “I am determined to succeed” will do more than make your writing technically “correct”: It will make you more confident as you type.

      A good way to do these things is to read the posts at the excellent blog Grammar Girl. They’re educational and also fun to read–a combination that’s quite rare.

      But the best way to improve grammar and spelling it simply to read books that have been professionally written and edited. (Not to knock on self-published books at all–I make my living editing them–but the quality can be uneven if the author doesn’t have the budget for a pro editing pass.) Not only will you learn by example, but it’s more fun than reading grammar textbooks or sitting in class diagramming sentences. (Do they still do that?)

  3. Thanks Sara….. I am also one of those who has the fear of writing. I haven’t finished my degree even, but my love for writing is big and wanted to start blogging for my own satisfaction. I don’t expect readers to be mesmerized by my writing, as I am not so confident that my writing style would interest the reader and may find may criticism. I hope to surpass my fear one and your blog has inspired me a lot….

    1. And criticism, while it can hurt, helps you become a better writer. The trick is to seek out criticism that is helpful and encouraging. Not happy, fuzzy, feel-good criticism that gives you a false sense of security, but rather criticism that makes you think: “That’s a good point. I could make my story even better than it is now.”

      > I don’t expect readers to be mesmerized by my writing, as I am not so confident that my writing style would interest the reader…

      It’s possible that your writing would interest people, because your writing is clear and easy to read, two things you have over almost all writers I’ve read. But you sound like you’re talking yourself out of that possibility. Maybe there’s someone out there that will be just a little happier after reading something you wrote. Write for that person.

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