The Psychological Blocks That Stop You From Publishing Often
The secret fears of writing
Every writer dreams of making it big. We dream of going viral, of turning writing into a full-time career, and of publishing a book. We daydream of the lifestyle our writing will create for us and of the impact we will have.
The reality is that not all of us will achieve these dreams. Lack of time, poor work ethic, and distraction meet us at each blank page. We know we need to write more, to develop a regular publishing schedule, and to read more. Yet we find ourselves doing the exact opposite. We fail to do the work needed to build a writing habit.
But behind our actions is emotions- deep-seated often unacknowledged emotions. Because as much as we love to think of ourselves as rational decision-makers, the vast majority of the time we’re motivated by how we feel, not what we think.
As psychologist Nick Wignall puts it, the challenge with emotions is no one taught us how to handle them. We went to school and learnt our multiplication tables but learnt zero about emotions. We do not understand our emotions, what they are, where they come from, how long they will last, or if they are healthy or unhealthy. The one thing we know is that some of them feel good and some feel bad.
“Emotions are the dark energy of human nature, massively powerful and ubiquitous but almost entirely unknown and mysterious” — Nick Wignall
If you ever sit in front of a blank screen and wonder why your brain isn’t working, emotions might be the cause. Below are signs that your emotions are running your writing career and how to overcome them.
1. You Skip Writing Days
Fear manifests itself in many ways. From cleaning out our refrigerators, scrolling the net, talking on the phone to tidying up our desks. Being distracted stops you from getting your thoughts out into the world.
I don't know about you, but for me, it’s the start that scares me most. When you feel your heart beat faster, your hands get clammy, and the inner critic goes on overdrive. Each writing session requires you to overcome resistance. It takes courage. And some days, we don't have courage. All we feel is fear. All you hear is the inner critic and the nagging self-doubt.
It is scary to let others into a part of your life. Each time you write you are sharing your thoughts, defending your opinion, challenging your ego, to the void of the internet. It is frightening. What I found is that putting off writing provides temporary relief of unpleasant emotions. But it is deceptive and short-lived.
- Take a few minutes before your session to acknowledge your emotions. Free write your thoughts without censoring them. Conscious stream writing helps you get in touch with the inner critic; the silent voice that runs in the background and stops you from writing.
- Set a schedule and stick with it. The nature of fear is that it can lead your thoughts all over the place but once you have a schedule you limit its influence on your behaviour. Bake a reward system into your schedule to help you stick with your habit.
Once you learn to acknowledge your frightening thoughts and difficult feelings you realise that they are not as scary as you imagined them to be. You realise that you have the capacity to deal with those difficulties head-on rather than avoid them.
2. You Compare Yourself to Other Creatives
Envy is a trap. Rather than motivate you to do better it blocks your creativity. Rather than find the fulfillment you are driven to outdo someone else. Envy sours the enjoyment of what you most love.
The public nature of the creative process makes us more susceptible to envy. Doctors, accountants, and real estate agents can only guess at how much their colleagues make. Not so for creatives. It is all out in the open; available for you to fawn and frown at. You envy the number of views another writer’s article garnered. You resent the number of followers a YouTube vlogger gained. And when they publish a book? It must have been luck, not talent.
Like the emotion of fear, you can turn envy into an ally and not a foe. Because envy isn't about the work it is about you. Envy towards another’s achievement is an indication of an unfulfilled and unacknowledged desire.
How do I know this? Have you ever felt envious towards Stephen King or Beyonce? Do you get resentful towards Jay Z or Margaret Atwood? No, you don’t. Because you know their achievements are beyond your current abilities. But you will feel envious towards a fellow writer, an Instagram influencer, or a YouTube vlogger in your tier.
Envy is a sign that you are not living up to your full potential. You know deep down that you are capable of more than what you have achieved so far. Turn envy into admiration. Read the works of those you admire- see how they structure their work, line breaks, and punctuation. Notice their tone and voice.
Consume their content like a fan; not a competitor. Observe their publishing frequency, how often they post new videos on YouTube and share posts on Instagram. Use their achievements as a guide for what is possible.
3. You Are Unsure About the Fame
When success comes barraging through your door, it comes with some uninvited guests: trolls and naysayers. Those whose scathing comments and attacks pierce through your fragile ego and shatter your confidence. A bigger audience means there will be those who do not agree with your ideas and they let you know in unflattering terms.
To mitigate this you unconsciously slow down your efforts. You play it safe by holding back from the work. Self-sabotage sounds like this:
- I’m not smart enough.
- I don't have what it takes to succeed.
- If I go viral, I will always have to write viral articles.
- I will have to spend more time writing.
Fear, frustration, or anger will follow these negative thoughts. Your thoughts will stir up feelings and these emotions drive your actions. These negative thoughts disempower you, which changes the actions you take.
- Take out your journal and brain dump until you get to the source of these thoughts.
- A daily meditation habit helps you become aware of your negative thought patterns and critical inner voice. Hypnosis and daily affirmations also help you build a supportive inner dialogue.
It takes time to unlearn negative thought patterns. Due to the repetitive nature of your thoughts, they have become hardwired into your psyche.
4. You Set Specific Expectations for Your Articles
You put in a lot of time and effort into your articles and expect your hard work to be rewarded. You are certain you will get accepted by a big publication. You are sure your article will go viral and your earnings will skyrocket.
You’ve been writing for a while, and you think you deserve recognition. When things don’t go as expected you give up. You start to get envious of other writers. You begin to doubt your competence, your timing, your topic choice, and the platform. You slow down your efforts and start to get bitter and jaded.
It is important to set goals and targets. They help keep you focused, driven, and results-oriented. But, you already know that even if you set a goal and plan your actions, you cannot control the outcome. Life does throw challenges at you which can alter your emotional balance.
When things do not work out as anticipated we have two choices- either let ourselves wallow in self-pity. Or, take a moment —step away from the situation and say — “Ok, it is not what I wanted, but it has happened. I cannot change the outcome right now, but I can choose how I will react. I can decide not to feel sad, disgruntled, and constantly disappointed by it. I am not going to pretend that I am happy, it is awful that things are this way. But I am still not going to let this reduce my efforts.
I am sure there is something I can do to improve my writing.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
— Maya Angelou.
Successful writers share at least one common thread- persistence. They write on the good days and the off days. They understand that success lies on the other side of the work. They continuously engage in practises that push their writing forward- writing daily, reading, and learning from their mistakes.
They focus their efforts on activities they have control over and let go of those they cannot. This surrender allows them greater flexibility, focus, and energy. In turn, they are able to write more which leads to success. They start an immediate feedback loop that strengthens quickly. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
For upcoming writers, the work is to learn how to sit down and write, to get out of your own head, and allow success to happen without your emotions stopping you.