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.