It’s still early.
That’s true. A true sentence.
Regardless of how little there is left of the day, it’s still early. There’s time yet to write the daily clutch of words.
Despite the fact that my brain is doing its usual whirring with all the things to get done, the manuscripts needing edits, consult calls to make, talks and articles to write, courses to plan, a boulder to shoulder up the hill…
I know the fear is out there. And it’s strong. It’s still strangling so many great works, the words of writers yet to be written. How can I not fight to destroy this most fundamental of barriers?
This post is my Great Rebellion.
I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks, this culmination of thought I’ve listened to and spoken to myself for longer than I can remember…
I believe, despite everything else that’s pressing, there’s nothing else I’m supposed to do but this.
So with that reassurance, I’m ready to face the question:
How do we edit out fear for good?
1. Just write one true sentence.
Fr. Ernie had one unbeatable word of advice for himself I’ve begun repeating often:
Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
If writing is the only way for you to be truly happy, what choice do I have but to stop procrastinating and write that one true sentence?
To write the one thing I’ve been waiting so long to speak, how good would that feel? To forget all the many excellent reasons I shouldn’t? To finally deny ALL the distractions and do what I was put here to do today, as I draw this breath into my statistically impossible existence from this terrifyingly perfect blue-green spheball?
I’ve got to stop overthinking it. Just start with what I know.
2. Do Input/Output Every Day
There’s a depressing truth I’ve learned: no one, I repeat, NO ONE is born a writer but reading has made them that way. Just starting out or years into it, writing well takes reading–to find good INPUT, to make good OUTPUT. So I’m resigned that the writer I want to be is not much more than a good scavenger. When I’ve processed enough garbage, I’ll know what makes good material, and what doesn’t.
And by reading, I’ll learn to respond by doing it every day.
Fiction. News. Poems. Memoirs. Then I write and let it be what it is. My job is only to use what I have to its fullest today.
And then tomorrow, I’ll find more manna. I have to let go of any other expectation.
When I get afraid, I’m usually thinking my writing won’t be good enough. But writing isn’t about getting fancy. It’s about writing.
And you can quote me on that.
3. Stop, Then Go
I’ve been writing long enough to know it often feels stupid. It starts to seem selfish. I’ll start hearing voices. My limbs will develop phantom pains and I’ll need to, absolutely need to google “misplaced attention.”
I’m getting used to it. This is my tricky brain acting up. It’s perfectly normal. At least for writers it is. So first I have to…
Stop. Sit still and listen. Yes, I’m talking about “mindfulness,” but it’s really just cultivating awareness of the deeper reality behind reality. One Thousand Gifts is a perfect guide for this. When I slow down, I find humble gratitude and the inspiration and permission in the love God freely gives through Jesus and his endless reminders in my daily life.
And when I’m still and silent for a while, I get antsy. After I stop, it’s time to go. Pomodoros are a must to schedule focused work and breaks. But out and about, I carry a notebook and give myself permission to be the weirdo who pauses to capture fireflies.
Life is a series of trades and I’m trading everything else I could do for writing. That’s who I am. So I write to control my time and attention, or it will control me.
This stopping and going thing is based on my hunch that writing doesn’t come from a desire to express so much as from a desire to listen. To me, higher writing is prayer. It’s not asking for something so much as feeding and being fed by a relationship. It’s finding a thread of a thought that seems important to The Inspirer, and following it down the hole, across the bridge, and through the meadow.
When writing becomes no more than God-directed thought, then when I write I am praying without ceasing.
So every day I need to schedule time to practice writing the words down, time to shape them, and before that, time to read. And life happens in between that.
Stop, then go.
One true sentence. Input/output. Stop, then go.
These are the distilled lessons I’ve set for myself. Certainly there’s more to them than this. But these 3 keep me on the path, stepping forward, and away from the guardrails.
Remembering is how I overcome the fear. And reminding each other is our simple focus at Your Writers Group. It’s a thrilling surprise that with their continual encouragement and support, I’m facing my fears a little easier every day.
Regardless of how long it’s taken me to get here, I believe it’s still early.
[Getting excited to expand on these basics for storywriters in the 30-day YWG Story Course coming up in 2 weeks! Check the event page for details.]
What helps you face your fears as a writer? Would love to hear your secret…