Overcome fear and uncertainty

7 ways to overcome fear and uncertainty about writing

Sarah NewmanNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of our excellent Writer’s Circle coaches and screenwriter, Sarah Newman. I’ve been thrilled to have Sarah as a coach over the last year and a half, and her group participants absolutely adore her (as do I). She brings a compassionate, listening spirit to her coaching and she is an excellent role model with her strong writing work ethic. In her own writing, Sarah primarily works on TV pilots and features.

Today Sarah has written about several clever ways she and her group members have discovered to get themselves unstuck, past any fear or uncertainty, and stay in action with their writing.

Take a look and see what might work for you!

7 ways to overcome fear and uncertainty about writing

by Sarah Newman

One of my favorite aspects of working as a coach with the Writer’s Circle is how my group participants and I learn so much from each other by sharing our writing processes and challenges in our online progress logs on the Writer’s Circle site. 

Through this work together, we’ve learned a great deal from each other about how to get going with our writing in spite of any  fear, doubt, or uncertainty we’re facing.

Here are seven of my top methods to keep the writing moving that we’ve embraced in my group:

1. Work outside the document

One of our favorite ways to overcome fear or uncertainty with a section of writing is by working on it “outside” of the main document.

When I use this technique, it might look like opening a new blank document (sometimes I label mine “scrap” to really take the pressure off) or putting pen to paper. I find this gives me a greater sense of freedom to try something out and to write more boldly.

When working on rewrites, I’ll sometimes take a scene I’ve written and paste it into a new blank document to experiment with combining it with another scene or to make changes and cuts. It feels less set in stone and safer, knowing the original version is there if I want to revert back to it.

One of my group participants put her own twist on this by doing what has come to be known in our group as a “literal cut and paste”, where she’ll print and cut out sections of her chapter and move them around to assess the flow and to determine where cuts or additions can be made.

2. Have a conversation with yourself on the page

Some of my participants and I find ourselves ruminating on our projects in our morning pages or keeping a project journal to record thoughts and reflections. Having a safe place to explore our writing can lead to important insights and breakthroughs.

We journal in response to questions about content, like:

  • What’s the worst thing that could happen to my protagonist at this point?
  • What would be the most interesting location for this scene?

Or we dialogue with ourselves about issues coming up for us around the writing itself, by answering questions like:

  • Why am I shying away from digging deeper here?
  • What initially drew me to this project?
  • What do I need in order to keep going?

It’s about having a conversation with yourself and writing out all possible answers, no matter how silly some may seem. We find that this process helps us get past our inner critic’s judgments and back into the flow of writing.

3. Remind yourself that no writing is wasted

We have a “no writing is wasted” motto in my group.

Whether we end up changing the material or cutting it completely, it still has value in moving us forward . . . even if it feels like it moved us backwards or sideways!

Trying something, anything, is often better than trying nothing at all and can get us going again with our writing. Mistakes are valuable. Those “wrong” turns often lead us to the “right” path.

4. Sit with the mystery

It may be uncomfortable at first as the cursor blinks tauntingly, but the process of writing itself often generates connections and ideas that will help us find our way. We don’t have to have all the answers up front.

I love when my group participants report that by sticking with it and giving themselves permission to just write, they were able to have a breakthrough.

Reframe your self-doubt and uncertainty as a call to adventure with possibilities to explore.

5. Walk it out

And then again, sometimes it can be helpful to know when to get up and take a break.

Going for a walk is a common practice in my group. My participants often report finding inspiration out in nature.

For myself, I find many ideas are born and problems solved while I wander the streets of New York City. Not to mention the added bonus of overhearing potential tidbits of dialogue. :)

6. Make friends with a timer

Solo writing sprints are part of many of our writing routines, in addition to the daily scheduled group sprints through the Writer’s Circle. With the help of our trusty timers we fight the good fight against procrastination and resistance. On days when it’s difficult to start, perhaps we’re distracted or perhaps we’re facing a particularly challenging piece of the writing, we’re able to coax ourselves to get going by setting that timer for a small, doable amount of time.

I find I’ve become trained so well now that once I hit that start button, I’m off and writing, and I often find myself resetting it for more time.

7. Trust the process

Recently I noted how it helps to trust the process even when I can’t necessarily see it at work. This is true for my group participants as well. If we continue to show up and chip away, the writing naturally unfolds. As much as we sometimes want to get more done and hurry up to finish, patience with ourselves and trusting the process helps us remain consistent and see things through to completion, even when fear or doubt wants to lead us astray.

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Sarah Newman ia produced screenwriter who writes original one-hour drama pilots, screenplays, and short film scripts. She studied dramatic writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and has worked various internships and jobs in the entertainment industry. When she’s not writing, reading, or watching story in all its glorious forms, you can find her on walking adventures around New York City and on Twitter at  @SarahAlexis4.

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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

chair

Get your ‘But’ in the seat and write

One of my all time favorite quotes about writing comes from Steven Pressfield, author of what has become my bible for writing, The War of Art*. In it, he says:

"There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance."

As a writing habit and motivation coach, I work with writers all over the world who face and tackle this resistance every single day as they struggle to sit down to write. Very often that resistance takes the form of the word "But".

  • But I don't have enough time.
  • But I don't have enough training.
  • But I don't know what to write.
  • But I'm not inspired.
  • But I'm not a good enough writer.
  • But I'm not in the right mood.
  • But I need to take care of all these other tasks first.
  • But I'm not making enough money yet to justify taking time to write.
  • But I don't have a laptop.
  • But I'm tired, I didn't get enough sleep last night.
  • But I'm too busy.
  • But my day job takes up too much of my time.
  • But I don't have a private space.
  • But my kids will interrupt me.
  • But my mom might call and need me.
  • But I'm bored with this project.
  • But I can't decide which project to start with.
  • But I'm stuck.
  • But I have writer's block.
  • But if I was a real writer, it would come easily to me.
  • But I have to deal with this crisis/emergency/major life issue first.

Guess what?

All these Buts are just stories. They are coming up for a deeper reason.

The deeper reason is fear.

Fear is what truly stops us from writing. The Buts are just the surface level rationalizations for fear. They are convenient excuses to keep your butt out of your chair and doing other things so you don't have to face the discomfort of taking on your dream.

Pressfield also says:

"Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work."

It turns out that actually DOING the writing is fairly easy. Most of the writers I work with find that once they are actually putting words on the page, they forget about the inner struggle and just do the work. In the Writer's Circle we run five weekly group writing sprints to help our writers overcome the resistance to sitting down to write (and to curtail the sense of isolation). My other favorite trick is to write first thing in the morning with a timer running. Pushing the start button gives me a "GO" that gets me into gear even when the Buts are loud and pernicious.

The thing to notice here is that fear is a beacon. It guides you exactly where you need to and even want to go, though you may not be aware of that wanting yet. The thing is, if it wasn't a big, big dream, you wouldn't be afraid of it.

No, I'm not talking here about naturally protective fear that keeps you safe from lions, tigers, and bears -- that's GOOD fear -- I'm talking about the kind of fear that's a holdover from when you were a kid, the kind that's trying to keep you safe from any kind of personal humiliation or risk. This is also the kind of fear that's keeping you "safe" from achieving your dreams.

I didn't quite mean for this to become an ode to Steven Pressfield, but he has so much genius on this subject I can't help sharing a few more of my favorite quotes from him about fear:

"Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it."

And:

"Figure out what scares you the most and do that first."

So it's time.

It's time to stop listening to the Buts, the fears, the doubts, and the rationalizations. It's time to site down and do the work, to coax yourself through the fear with lots of support and promises of rewards, to feed your own well of creative inspiration so you feel consistently nourished and ready to write, and to learn whatever you need to learn so you feel equipped to do the writing. But above all else, it's time to write.

Build the habit to overcome your own resistance

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer struggling to overcome your writing resistance, join the next session of our Writer’s Circle. We’ll help you build a regular, consistent habit of writing so the battle to overcome resistance each day gets easier. Plus, you’ll have a great community of support, working alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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bored

Bored with your writing project? Or terrified to face it?

One of the cleverest smokescreens in writing is creative apathy.

This is the point with a project where you suddenly get bored or lose interest in your writing. It tends to crop up at key stages in your writing project, like midway through or even just shy of the end.

When you hit it, you’ll start thinking maybe you’re just not that interested in this project and maybe it’s time to move on to something else.

But is that your highest truth?

I call creative apathy a smokescreen because it tricks you into thinking you’ve lost interest. It obscures the fact that you’ve encountered resistance to your project. It sends you off on a tangent, looking for other projects, wondering why you’ve lost interest, thinking maybe you never should have picked the project in the first place.

In my experience working with writers this creative apathy usually comes up as a response to either fear or creative burnout. The latter, creative burnout, comes about from pushing ourselves too hard or too long and becoming creatively exhausted. The former, fear, happens when we bump up against the places in our writing where we feel uncomfortable.

This fear could be as simple as being afraid to do the hard work, not knowing what comes next, or not knowing how to solve a story problem. It can be triggered by not having enough information about how to proceed with a task.

The fear can also arise from beliefs about your ability and talent, like a belief you should already know exactly how to do something before you even try.

I find that many, many writers hold this idea that writing should come naturally. That it should be easy, and that if it isn’t, it is a matter of a lack of talent or ability.

Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success*, suggests that this belief demonstrates a “fixed mindset” – that we have everything we are capable of having from birth, that we cannot improve or increase our skills, etc. She contrasts this with a “growth mindset”, which says that we are capable of more if we focus on learning and applying ourselves.

I was struck by this comment she made:

“People are all born with a love of learning, but the fixed mindset can undo it. Think of a time you were enjoying something – doing a crossword puzzle, playing a sport, learning a new dance. Then it became hard and you wanted out. Maybe you suddenly felt tired, dizzy, bored, or hungry. Next time this happens, don’t fool yourself. It’s the fixed mindset. Put yourself in a growth mindset. Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”

What if the next time you feel bored with a project, you consider the possibility that fear is coming up and sending you into a fixed mindset place – the very opposite of creativity – and instead choose to believe that you are capable of solving whatever problem you’re avoiding, even if it means getting help, brainstorming longer, or doing research to help you tackle it?

In other words, what if you adopted a perspective that said, “I can do this, somehow, even if I can’t see how yet“?

Perhaps it helps to also hold the belief that if you conceived of the project, you are also capable of seeing it through.

Your turn

Do you fall for creative apathy or forge through it? What’s your approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

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cracked-earth

When you have nothing left

On my Writer's Circle we've been talking a lot about creative burnout lately. In our Western culture we work hard, driven by puritanical work ethics, cultural programming, keeping up with the Joneses, guilt, etc. It's no wonder we're exhausted. We push and push ourselves, expecting our wells of creativity, resourcefulness, and inspiration never to run dry. And then one day, we turn to the well and find it empty. No ideas. Maybe even a sense of dread and apathy.

The only way out is through

In a recent blog post, Mark Sanderson talks about his experience with this kind of creative depletion and how he recovered from it. Interestingly, his solution had to do with carrying on and doing the work no matter what. He said:
"Some call it 'writer’s block.' I call it sheer terror. When this happens you need to relax and continue to work at your process. I know this too well from experience, but it still proves true every time – the only way to solve specific problems is to sit down and focus on the work."
It seems the only way out is through.

It takes courage

Writing -- for that matter doing anything that calls us to step out of our comfort zone -- requires a great deal of courage. A willingness to be uncomfortable often. To sit in it, do the work, and get to the other side. No wonder we tend to procrastinate rather than facing that terror and doing it anyway.

Procrastination and burnout are close cousins

I've observed that procrastination plays a key role in creative burnout -- part of a vicious, intertwined cycle:   The reason we work past the point of endurance and exhaust ourselves is that we have procrastinated for so long that we are forced to push ourselves. And the reason we procrastinate that we are afraid. I love what Steven Pressfield says about fear in his book Turning Pro:
"The professional, by the way, is just as terrified as the amateur. In fact the professional may be more terrified because she is more acutely conscious of herself and her interior universe. The difference lies in the way the professional acts in the face of fear."
Coming up in future posts: Recovering from creative burnout and creating a cycle of creative renewal.

Tell me what you think

I love to read your comments on the blog. Warmly, Jenna      
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The deep vulnerability of being seen creatively

If you’ve ever felt called to doing something artistic or creative, you’ve probably also realized by now that it can be pretty uncomfortable to share that work with other people.
 
There’s a deep vulnerability that comes with sharing our voices, art, words, acting, performing and other creative expression that can be so unnerving that many people never quite get past the word “Go” and instead sit on the side lines, reluctant to put themselves out there.
 
  • I see it with coaches who don’t feel ready to make offers yet or put off setting dates for their workshops and classes.
  • I see it with writers who never quite seem to finish their writing projects or stall when it comes to developing plans to get their work into the world.
  • I see it with actors who are terrified of going to auditions and postpone calling their agents until they “feel ready again.”
  • I see it with artists who hide their work away in their studios and never make a sale.
  • I see it with entrepreneurs who can’t decide what their niche is or never seem to get all the details just right before they launch.
I have something to tell you.
 
This is all driven by fear.
 
Fear that you aren’t good enough, won’t measure up, don’t have something new to say, that what you say won’t be liked, think you’re being presumptuous to think you deserve a place at the table and more.
 
How do I know this?
 
I know because I feel ALL of those things myself. Every single one of them.
 
The key is to not to let the fear stop you. I like to help you look directly and compassionately at the fears and old wounds that hold you back so you can move forward more comfortably and courageously. Usually those fears aren’t so scary when we nudge them out into the light.
 

An experiment

If you want to experiment with this, write down a fear that’s swirling around in your head right now (I’ll wait, and yes, I really do want you to write it down in black and white on paper).
 
Okay, now ask yourself, “Is this true? Do I know this for sure?”
 
Then ask, “How can I reframe this belief?”
 
Here’s an example:
  • The fear: “My script isn’t good enough.”
  • Is it true?: “No, I don’t know that for sure.”
  • Reframed: “I’m going to focus on the strengths of my script and do my best to make sure they shine.”
 
 
I wrote a blog post today about the difference between a spotlight Life Purpose marking and a spotlight Gift Marking. That question keeps coming up.
 
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter which marking you have or if you have one at all, really.
 
If you are called to the spotlight and you aren’t doing it — no matter how scared or reluctant you feel about it — you are going to feel unfulfilled, stuck, confused, spinning in circles, lost, and apathetic until you do it.
 
At the end of the day, one way or another, you need to do your spotlight work.
 

Expand your Spotlight Comfort Zone
With practical and spiritual tools to help you get there
In a safe, sensitive-friendly 6-week study group

If you want to summon your courage and step into YOUR spotlight, join my upcoming Spotlight Study Group, where we’ll have a safe, sensitive-friendly, small, intimate coaching group to clear up the fears, doubts, old wounds, and other obstacles to claiming your place in front of your audience — where you belong.
 
Starts May 1. Early registration ends Sunday, April 15th. Details are here.
 
 
Questions? Email my team.
 

Finding The Way Through Perfectionism — A Success Story

One of “my” writers in the Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle, Molly Yarrington, has taken on a brave and courageous challenge to raise $300 for charity by writing 30 poems in 30 days in the month of November.

Molly is a sensitive soul, a dreamer, a writer, a crew coach, and a poet with a passionate spirit — and like many of us (including me), one with a strong perfectionist streak.

Molly is courageously using this challenge and the support of the Writer’s Circle to push herself to publish a daily poem on her blog to overcome her fears around sharing her work with others and to tame her perfectionism.

“I have been a hermit poet most of my life.”

Molly says, “I have been a hermit poet most of my life, hiding my poems away and only sharing them with a select few best friends. When I took on this challenge, I made a commitment to write and make my writing public, daily.

“All the poems are fresh, ‘first draft‘ format. It is a rare poem I write in one sitting, so this has been a double challenge for me to share not only my poems, but poems I consider to be ‘works in progress.'”

From the inside of the Writer’s Circle (I’m writing this with her permission), I’ve watched Molly persevere through an incredibly busy time in her life to write a poem each and every day, sometimes posting with only minutes to spare, while we cheer her on.

It’s been inspiring to see Molly struggle with the feelings that come up around sharing such raw, deeply personal writing in such a public way, and do it anyway.

You see, when it comes to writing — or creating anything for that matter — we have to be willing to give ourselves permission to do it no matter what, and even to start.

And one of our biggest obstacles to starting is perfectionism, which is really fear in disguise.

Molly says it beautifully:

“Along with, and much more importantly than helping me develop a daily habit of writing, the Writer’s Circle has brought me an awareness of the real issues that have held me back, and believe me, they are NOT lack of time (though I did believe that was the primary issue when I began).

“Through my interaction with this amazing group, I have been able to see that what holds me back is nothing special — I share the same fears and concerns as everyone out there — and somehow, knowing I am not alone in this creative process, makes all the difference.”

The trick is to find ways to bypass that urge to perfect before we create something, and take the risk to get it out there.

Let Molly be your inspiration.

Find Out More About Molly’s Project

Read Molly’s poems here.

If you’d like to, you can support Molly’s pledge for the Family Literacy program of the Center For New Americans here.

Join The Writer’s Circle

If you’d like to have the support to overcome your inner struggles with writing, come join my Just Do The Writing Accountability Circle. The last day to register is TODAY, Wednesday, November 23rd for the session that starts on Monday, November 28th. http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Your Turn

How are you holding back? What are you ready to share? Tell us what you think.

 Jenna

Coming Attractions

~> November 28th. The next session of my Writer’s Circle starts. Sign up here. Get my Free Writing Tips series too, and get a coupon for a savings on your first session.

~> November 29th. It’s my birthday! I’ll be holding a birthday sale for the entire week. Details coming soon.

 


~> Ongoing. Writing for the ProSeries class at ScreenwritingU. Today I worked on eliminating clichés from my script. Super cool.

~> Daily and especially Fridays. Sacred writing time. The Do Not Disturb sign is up. Except this week sacred writing Friday became sacred writing Tuesday because of Thanksgiving. :)

If You Love What You Do, Will You Love It ALL the Time?

Yesterday I went to an art store on my Artist’s Way Artist Date.

I found myself in tears over a 28″ x something stretched canvas that made me remember how much I’ve always wanted to try oil painting. I walked away from it quickly and then turned to go back to see what else there was to “see.”

I remembered my old boyfriend who was a “real” artist (Julia Cameron says shadow artists like to hang out with real artists and project their creativity onto their partners. Um. Here!).

I remembered how he had painted a picture of the girl he was cheating on me with and tried to pretend that it was just a gift for a friend.

On a similar piece of canvas.

I remembered how he had made me a painting a long time before I and I hadn’t liked it and didn’t know what to do about it. He never did give it to me, and I never did know how to handle it.

Double ouch.

And then the tears spiked again over a beautiful “artist’s marker pad” that was a perfect vehicle for the diagrams I’ve been wanting to do. (I brought it home.)

As I walked through the aisles of the art store, I was reminded of all the delicious art tools I already own, but that have been untouched for so long.

I wondered why I stopped doing the watercolors that delighted me so much once upon a time. Did I stop simply because I stopped traveling overseas so often? Had I lost the connection because I’d given up urban design work? Did it just start to feel too much like work?

All around the store I found reminders of my past creative endeavors (fabric dyeing, rug making, drafting and tracing, portfolios, yummy art supply containers) and so many possible future adventures. I thought about how I couldn’t afford to buy all the supplies so there was no point in learning a new craft.

But I also considered how much I love learning the tools of my craft — whatever it is — designing, drafting, drawing, coaching, website making — I am such the perpetual student. A true renaissance soul (or “scanner“). And how I wished I could just simply be a perpetual student (oh, wait a minute, I kind of already am) with a patron who wanted to sponsor all my wild ideas and wonderful projects (well, not so much that part, at least not yet).

Whilst all this transpired, I continued a conversation I’ve been having with myself for the past few days.

If I love what I do, will I love it ALL the time?

Will it ALWAYS feel easy and like I can’t wait to leap out of bed in the morning?

My screenwriting teacher often spoke of the pain of writing, the loneliness of it. That it would feel like swimming in a vast sea, just trying to get to the next “tent pole” in a script as if it were a buoy you could grab hold of to save you from drowning.

There are days when writing feels like a wretched chore. When it feels like I’ll never (ever) succeed at it, that my work will never be any good, and my ideas are not clever or brilliant enough.

But if they are my ideas, are they not enough? Isn’t it enough to write what I’ve been given, unleash my creativity as far as I can and hope for the best?

Plus, as a hand analyst, I’ve come to embrace the truth that our “hard stuff” — our Life Lesson — is the secret to breaking through in our lives. I look for where my fear comes up biggest and loudest, and go there. Is that always going to feel easy and flowing and delightful? I doubt it.

At the same time, there are days when writing feels like the most precious gift I’ve ever experienced.

A freedom to put words on the page and become one with them in the most amazing discovery of story and flow and ideas and energy that I’ve ever seen.

I figure there are good days and there are hard days.

What do you think?

~~~~~

In the spirit of Havi Brooks’ “Comment Zen,” I have this request:

Since I am exploring how to be more transparent, raw, vulnerable, and in my full, messy delicious creative energy in my posts, here’s what I would love to hear:

  • Your thoughts about this same subject in your OWN life. <— This is my favorite!
  • If my writing sparks something for you.
  • About your own stories, ideas, musings, and wonderings.

And I would love to skip:

  • You feeling like you need to take care of me, give me useful suggestions, or other well-meaning but unsolicited advice.

Thank you!

~~~~~

What’s Jenna Up To?

~> March 8th, 2011. My Artist’s Way Accountability & Support Group continues. We’ve just gotten started if you’re wishing you had jumped in. Details.

~> March 26th, 2011. First broadcast of my brand new Radio Lightworker radio show on Big Dreams. Stay tuned for details!

~> April 29th & 30th, 2011. My next Voice Your Vision retreat will be held in Berkeley, California. Specific registration details to be announced. A special savings will be available if you’ve already had your hands analyzed.

~~~~~