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Not Your Usual Writing Advice



A Sometimes
Unwelcome Guide


“We cannot escape fear. We can only transform it into a companion that
accompanies us on all our exciting adventures.”

                                                           — Dr. Susan Jeffers, author

At the end of my May column, I wrote, “Follow your muse, not your fears.” Yet, we all experience fear. It is making a decision based on fear I find unsettling — and like most people, I’ve made such choices too often in life. Those choices usually resulted in frustration, discouragement, lack of energy, and sometimes in anger and bitterness. Though I often need to remind myself, trusting the muse or inner voice instead of fear usually results in serenity or excitement or an intriguing mixture of both, and the things I feared seldom come to pass.

A decision based on fear might include continuing to write in a genre we no longer love rather than write a book our heart is calling us to write — and not see that we may be able to do both or slowly transition from the “old” genre. We may stay with a publishing house where we feel underpaid and under-promoted for fear another house won’t want our skills — a fear less overwhelming in today’s e-market world than in the past. We may not indie publish our back list because we fear the challenge of learning how to do so.

There’s a reason fear exists. It’s easy to see that in possible life-threatening situations fear is a warning system: take shelter from the tornado, don’t let children play in water without supervision, slow down when driving on ice.

Fear can act as a warning system in our careers, too. It puts us on notice to pay attention and act accordingly.

In its most basic form, it is guidance. The above-mentioned fear of leaving a publisher is legitimate, but that doesn’t mean the fear is telling us to stay with that publisher forever. Rather, it may be time to begin to make a plan to leave, to talk with other writers who have changed publishers to find out how they survived it with their careers intact, to explore other publishing houses, and put together a proposal to approach other publishers.

Writing blocks are often a form of fear, whether it’s a block that lasts for months or a block that lasts for a few hours while we avoid putting the next words of our story on paper or screen. Avoidance of the page or keyboard is fear trying to get our attention. Maybe the fear is telling us we don’t know enough about the next scene, and need to clarify the purpose of that scene, what place it has in the mystery or the relationshipbuilding, or whose point of view will best present the scene. Fear in the form of a writing block is likely meant as guidance that we need to figure something out before we get to the page, rather than guidance to give up on the project.

Sometimes we’re afraid because we’ve forgotten our purpose. Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

“I’ve taught my head to serve my heart,” singer Kenny Loggins is quoted in AARP The Magazine, “so when I get a crazy intuitive idea, my brain’s job is to figure out how to achieve the goal, not scare me off with reasons why it’s impossible.”

When fear shows up, it might be time to remind ourselves of the reasons we chose this profession or the vision we have for the current project. Turning our attention to reaching that goal may cause the fears to fall away.

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