Writer, Communications Professional


The fear of getting started

I'm 25 years old and I sometimes feel like I've had way too many false starts in my life already. Whether it's the time I quit voice lessons even though I love to sing, or when I dropped out of my Biology major in university, or when I didn't call that one person back about this or that opportunity, the list goes on and on. Regret and guilt are two feelings that I've had a hard time shaking over the years. But whether or not these feelings of mine are justified isn't really the point of this post.

The point is that for me, guilt and regret are also two of the most toxic feelings to have when I'm trying to be creative, particularly with my writing. 

 When you're working on new projects, these feelings can be downright destructive, inviting in doubts and making you question your self-worth as you're trying to create. They can make you afraid to start any new projects for fear of failing miserably like you did that one time X number of years ago. They can make you ask yourself things like:

Why am I even doing this?

What made me think I could do this?

And these type of questions usually lead to one conclusion:

I can't do this.

In many ways, my past regrets have stemmed from me telling myself this, over and over. For whatever reason, I've managed to convince myself many times over the years that I just couldn'tdo something that I wanted to do. I wasn't smart enough or brave enough or good enough. In reality, I don't know whether I was smart or brave or good enough. The point is that I was afraid that I wasn't, and that was what held me back.

I still struggle with these feelings of inadequacy today, especially now that I've made the decision to write a novella in a genre (sci-fi) that is admittedly a little out of my comfort zone. Every day I ask myself the above questions: Why am I even doing this? What made me think I could do this? Sometimes I lose a little faith in myself when I can't seem to find the answers. 

 But there have been many good days, too. And lately, the good days seem to outnumber the bad. I'm not as afraid as I once was to start a project or re-visit past work. I asked myself why the other day, and I came up with a few bits of advice that I thought I'd share. These are techniques and reminders that have helped me tackle my fear of getting started, and I hope they can do the same for you.

1.     Surround yourself with reminders of why you wanted this in the first place. I feel it's important to surround yourself with physical reminders of your past successes because they seem to be more easily forgotten. Whether it's an article that you got published or a kind message from a friend about something nice that you did, these little reminders can make a huge difference in your mood. I'd love to be the type of person that can look at a rejection letter and just brush it off and keep working away, and maybe I will get to that point someday, but for now, I try and combat my negative thinking with positive reminders of what I can do.

2.      Stop telling yourself it needs to be perfect. This is probably one of the most important lessons I've learned this past year with regard to my writing. I don't think I would've even been able to start writing a novel a year ago because I would've been too afraid of making a misstep and having to start over. It would've frustrated me and caused my self-confidence to plummet, which can be debilitating to any creative pursuit. It took a while, but I managed to convince myself that the first draft or even the second draft doesn't need to be the stellar, groundbreaking literature of legends. It doesn't need to be perfect right away.

3.      Find your productive happy space. A 'productive happy space' is a place where you feel free to get work done without fear of judgment, and where the guilt and regret that I've mentioned aren't prone to peering over your shoulder. I'm not talking poolside lounging while sipping margaritas, though, because as wonderful as that sounds that isn't really an environment conducive to actual work. What I'm trying to get at is a place where you feel relaxed and inspired enough to work, but not too relaxed that you just end up scrolling through Instagram. Which brings me to my next point...

4.     Realize that your happy space and your productive happy space aren't necessarily the same.Hands down, my bed is my absolute safe/happy space where I like to read, listen to music, and occasionally hide from the world. It's also, I've noticed, a terrible place to try to get anything done. When I'm sitting up in bed on my computer trying to write, I find there is very little motivation for me to do anything besides watch YouTube videos and read trashy clickbait articles on the internet. While there's a time and place for that, it's definitely not ideal when I'm trying to work on a deadline. That's why I say your 'happy space' and your 'productive happy space' shouldn't necessarily be the same.

I used to think that truly great writers were the ones that were able to produce outstanding material in one sitting without even trying. I'm slowly realizing that this isn't the case. I think the really great writers are probably the ones that aren't afraid to make mistakes the first time, and start over and rewrite until they get it right. 

I hope I can learn a few more lessons from them as I continue on my journey toward publishing my first novel.




In my next post I'll be talking about my experience writing bisexual charactersand the writers' responsibility of proper representation!

Laurel JohansonWinterComment