Monday 23 July 2018

Overcoming The Fear

At first glance writing may not seem like the scariest of endeavours. But writers, whether published or not, face an immense mental challenge, and this can turn into a crippling fear.

The first challenge is the empty screen. That flashing cursor waiting patiently for you to fill the page with brilliance.  

Then once you start writing the niggle that the story isn't quite right, that your middle will sag, that your middle does sag, that you're spending hours every day working on something that is an appalling pile of nonsense, even that somewhere there's another writer writing a story almost identical to yours... I call these the Doubt Demons.

The standard advice is to just keep writing... 

While I take Mr Bradbury's point, this kind of advice doesn't help when I'm teetering on the brink of an anxiety attack, consumed with self doubt and scrubbing the toilet as a virtuous form of procrastination.

Fear not, though.  I know way to overcome the dreaded doubt demons.

Its habit.

Humans are habit driven creatures.  Check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg for a heap of fascinating research on this subject.  

In my writing I have harnessed this characteristic of habit, and used it to keep motivated and overcome the Doubt Demons.

Motivation-wise I've developed a habit of showing up.  8am, for one hour, I will sit down at my computer to write.  That is my habit.

All I ask of myself is that I show up. That's it. I don't have a word count goal. I don't expect anything else of myself except that at 8am I am seated in front of my laptop.  Sometimes the hour flies by, and I'm there for another two.  Sometimes I've got nothing and spend the time researching (which is fine, the goal is to move the story forward and research will always do this).  Sometimes I'm overwhelmed with self-doubt and can only focus on the washing that needs folding, the toilet that need scrubbing or the dogs who need walking...

This is where I also use habit.

Self doubt, negative self talk, overwhelm, anxiety... this fear, or negative mental state is a habit.  For me, as soon as I lose where the plot is heading, struggle with a scene, or have anything be remotely challenging the Doubt Demons take over my inner dialogue.

These issues are always going to be there when I'm writing. A plot never goes smoothly. Scenes suck. Challenges come out of nowhere.  I cannot change the 'trigger' for the negative self-talk habit.

However, I can (and have) changed my reaction.

First, I don't let myself entertain the negative self-talk.  As soon the inner dialogue starts I redirect it.  I refuse to think negatively.  Generally I give focussing back on the story a go.  Sometimes that works. But not always, so...

Secondly, I think 'ooh a problem to be solved.'  I turn the negativity into something positive and interesting.  I like to solve problems. I find it engaging and enjoyable.  I take time to pick apart the problem, and nut out solutions.

Doubt Demons do not have to have a place in your writing life.  They are a habit.  And habits, with patience, persistence and practice can be changed.


  1. This is such an excellent article, Tory. I'm sure at one point or another - if not continually - we're all plagued by self-doubt as writers. Forming a writing habit is sound advice which I will endeavour to heed!

  2. Great article! Doubt demons can paralyse, the little rotters, but these are good tips to knock them flat. I especially like the idea of treating it as a problem to be solved.

  3. I had huge 2nd book angst. Will readers like it as much as the first one, Will they hate it? Will anyone buy it? Eventually, you have to just stop and let it be what it is and get on with the next one - and all the doubt demons that come with that. It's like a never ending cycle.

  4. Hi Tory. The fear is real for all of us, I'm sure. I like your idea of just showing up at a set time to get some writing done. I'll let you know if it works for me. :)

  5. When self doubt hits it's so hard to find your way out of it. I'm all for positive thinking and making self doubt a problem to be solved is a great suggestion. Will definitely do that. Thank you.

  6. Hi Tory, what a great blog post.Thanks for sharing this knowledge. I particularly like the idea that doubts are a habit which can be changed.

  7. Awesome blog post Tory, The story of the novel seems so good and I Love to read the books and novels. The story of the novel quite seems interesting too. And I can't stop my self to read the novel. I can get eBooks download online to read the full story.


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