Home » When You’re Afraid, Focus on the Process

When You’re Afraid, Focus on the Process

Regardless of how little is left of the day, there’s still time 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…

IMG_6579But no denying it, the fear is here. And it’s strong. It’s strangling so many great words, the words yet to be spoken. How can I not fight to destroy this barrier?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks, finally face this niggling thought I’ve heard for longer than I can remember:

Can we really edit out fear for good?

fear quote

1. Just write one true sentence.

Ernie Hemingway had one unbeatable word of advice for himself. I’ve repeated it 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.

IMG_6581If writing the truth is the only way to be truly free, what choice do we have but to stop procrastinating and just write that one true sentence? And yet, it’s not so much about making it happen as it is allowing whatever it is to rise to the surface.

To write the one thing I’ve been waiting so long to speak, I can imagine how good that would feel, and to forget all the many excellent reasons I shouldn’t,  and finally deny all the distractions and do what I must do today, it has to start with a simple willingness.

To stop overthinking it. And to just start with what I know.


2. Just do input/output every day.

Here’s a fact: no one is born a writer. What they experienced made them become one. Writing is born of living and reading–good INPUT makes good OUTPUT. So becoming the writer you want to be is not much more than becoming a good scavenger. When you’ve processed enough life and words, you’ll know what to write and how.

It’s by living and reading we learn to distill life into useful words.

Fiction. Daily news. Poems. Memoirs. Read it all, then write and let it be what it is. Our job is only to use what we’re given every day.

It’s the manna principle. Use up the manna every day. And then tomorrow, you’ll find more manna. You have to let go of any other expectation.

IMG_6568When 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.  Just 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 arrange or clean or google something. Such as “misplaced attention.”

But I’m getting used to this. It’s just my tricky brain acting up. It’s perfectly normal. At least for writers. So the first step I have to take is…

To stop. Sit still and listen. It’s about mindfulness, but to me that just means cultivating awareness of the deeper reality behind reality. One Thousand Gifts is my guide for this. When I read it, I slow down and remember life can be about finding inspiration in the ordinary, in the hidden love God freely gives through all these things I experience. And then I remember it’s about Jesus and his endless forms he takes in my daily life.

Eventually, after I’m still and silent for a while, I’ll start to get antsy. So to allow the mental space to continue to stretch out, I’ll often have to stop even thinking about where to go next. Pomodoros are a great method for scheduling focused work and breaks. But I also carry a notebook and give myself permission to pause and capture lightning.

IMG_6560When I don’t do all this, I’m often trading the writing for lesser things. There’s always something else I could do. That’s just life. So I either work to control my time and hold my attention, or it will control me.

In the end, this stopping-before-going thing is based on the knowledge that good words don’t come from a desire to express something so much as from a desire to listen. That’s a good thought for me to pause on. Writing can be prayer. And just like prayer, it’s not as much about being sure to ask for the food I need as allowing myself to be fed.  It’s simply acknowledging a relationship is there and it needs my attention.

In this way, I’m trying to make writing into the way I find the thread of whatever thought seems most important to the Inspirer right now, and then following it down the hole, into the doorway, and through the secret garden.

My hope? When writing becomes no more than God-directed thought, then when I write I’ll be praying without ceasing.

So every day, this is what I need: scheduled time to practice finding the words, time to write them down and to shape them, and even before that, the time to live and to read.

That’s it. Three things to focus on. Writing just one true sentence. Thinking about the input and output. And first stopping, and then going.

If there’s more to it than this, I haven’t found it yet. This is just the process for me; and I need this affirmation regularly that this is how I overcome the fear.

And regardless of how long it’s taken me to get here, I can believe once again there’s still time to create that next work I’ve been sensing it’s time to release.

What helps you face your fears as a writer? Do you find release in your process?

For the higher purpose,


2 Responses to “When You’re Afraid, Focus on the Process”

  1. suzee branch says:

    mick, i can’t believe i never heard that thing about hemingway before. i’ve always sensed or even known that once i have ONE sentence, the rest never ever fails to come along. but getting that one sentence can be a bitch. now i am challenged by the idea of one TRUE sentence. aha! another layer. thank you. it even sounds like fun, that search.
    suzee B

  2. “…no one is born a writer. What they experienced made them become one. Writing is born of living and reading–good INPUT makes good OUTPUT. So becoming the writer you want to be is not much more than becoming a good scavenger. When you’ve processed enough life and words, you’ll know what to write and how.”

    DUDE. So good :)

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