4 Top Tips to Overcome Your Fear of Writing
If you are a nonfiction or memoir author, one of the issues I hear from multiple authors (and experienced myself) is giving ourselves permission to write the hard stuff. Many people will never put pen to paper because sharing the intimate details of their lives, or a particular experience, is simply too terrifying a thought.
I’m here to tell you how to overcome that fear and start writing.
What are you so afraid of? Most writers are terrified of sharing the truth of their experiences, for a myriad of reasons:
- What will my family and friends think?
- Will people judge me?
- Will anyone believe me?
- Will I lose my job?
And these are all valid. However, keep in mind that you can still write about your experiences and nobody has to see them.
Just start writing. Get the words out.
Journal, write a letter, share your story on your blog or as a guest post, anonymously, whatever — just get it out of your head and down on paper. Nobody is watching you or hovering over your shoulder. Take those fears, lock them in a drawer, and put away the key. They’ll be there waiting when you’re done.
Vulnerability works in your favor when writing memoir and nonfiction.
An author told me the other day that she could write for weeks nonstop if she could just get over that fear of someone reading it, so keep this in mind: nobody has to read your journal or first draft. Do what I call the “word vomit,” and simply release your mind dump. It’s so incredibly freeing.
In fact, I’m giving you permission right now.
You’re an adult, and you are allowed to write like one. Own your story…which leads me to my next point…
If, at some point, you take that word vomit and decide you do want to create a book out of it, the only way you’ll be able to connect with your readers is to dig deep into what you’re feeling as you write it. Harness your raw emotion. If you don’t feel it as you write it, we won’t feel it as we read it.
As I counsel my author clients (and remind myself): write what scares you.
Here’s my biggest tip as you write your initial first draft: do not self-edit. Those stories have been circulating inside you for years, waiting patiently for you to bring them out. Honor them and let them have their say.
Real-life experiences (in my case, I write about surviving childhood sexual abuse and the after-effects) can be brutal, joyful, horrifying, and thought-provoking — often a combination of them all. Give your writing some kind of structure after your initial draft.
Once you allow yourself to write out your experiences, some kind of structure will usually emerge. Note: working with a professional editor helps immensely at this point. We are not objective enough to edit our own work at the level it needs to be for publication.
In my own case, in writing my first Broken book, Broken Pieces, I discovered that surviving abuse isn’t a linear, chronological process. My editor and I decided that the best way to present the book was in pieces (as referenced in the title), so the reader would feel the same kind of frustrations and sense of discord I felt as I experienced it.
In truth, some readers loved the structure, others did not and they made that clear in reviews. (That’s okay, because to me, their frustration was a win. They didn’t have to know that. Shhhh.)
In the second book, Broken Places, I found my work centered more around mind, body, and soul, so that’s how we structured the book. I didn’t discover that until after I had written most of the book and released everything I felt. The lesson here: trust the process.
If you simply cannot move forward without a full structure, that’s okay, too. Everyone works differently. Nonfiction and memoir tend to be a more internalized process, so my advice here is to not hold back, whichever way you go.
Trust your voice. It may sound cliché but the truth of it is, many people will give you feedback on your work but ultimately, it’s your name that goes on the cover of that book. It’s your work.
That said, I do believe it’s critically important to work with a professional editor (like Wendy, who’s awesome), or someone else who does this for a living; not Aunt Edna who used to teach English back in the day. Ask people to beta-read for you. Send out ARCs. Send your work to trusted critique partners.
Why is this important? Because readers, book bloggers, and book reviewers will buy, read, review your work, and leave reviews. You don’t want any surprises. Sure, not everyone will love your work and that’s okay, too — that’s their right.
Keep in mind, once your book is out there, you’re no longer invited to the party. Don’t take it personally — publishing is a business. Be professional and keep on writing.
The only thing stopping you from writing is some unknown, nebulous fear and it’s up to you to wrangle it. Remember, nobody will see what you are writing unless you allow it, but even you can’t see what you’re writing unless you start.
This article first appeared as a guest post on Wendy Garfinkle’s site and is used with permission.