Fear of writing

How to overcome writers block and fear of writing.

Are you waiting for divine intervention to inspire you to write the COMPLETE and PERFECT article?

Well . . . you’ll wait forever.  First, there is no such thing as a complete article.  You might have 300 words or 3,000 words to cover your topic or interview.  That will NEVER allow you to write COMPLETELY EVERYTHING about that topic or that person.  If your editor asks for 30,000 words, that won’t be enough wordage to cover every aspect of your topic.  Even if you’re asked to write a 300,000-word book on the topic, that won’t be enough words either.

I had a student who announced to me that he was going to write the definitive article that would settle for all time the question of who assassinated US President John F Kennedy.  Impossible.  Whole government inquiries produce millions of pages of evidence.  Trillions of newspaper and magazine articles and thousands of books on this topic, has not stopped the never-ending flow of new words about JFK.

And PERFECT . . . who’s to judge that?  You?  Your grandma?  Even articles that win the world’s most prestigious journalism award, The Pulitzer Prize, have flaws.  No, the blunt truth is that if you want to write ONLY a complete and perfect article, it’s your neat way of avoiding writing.  You sit around plotting, planning, researching . . . all to write the COMPLETE and PERFECT article – which has never ever been done.

I send the table below to any student about whom I wonder if they’re suffering a bit of “fear of writing”.  I guess I send it to one-third of students.  I ask them to see if any of their actions or attitudes are listed here.

Actions of a new freelancer who procrastinates, fusses over unimportant issues and avoids writing for as long as possible (with excuses) Actions of a new freelancer who knows there is nothing to sell until an article is finished
Reluctant to tell an editor an idea for an article in case the editor steals it.  Knows an idea has no value.  Only a finished article may have value.  Editors have more good ideas offered to them than they can use.  They don’t steal ideas.  They simply want finished, publishable articles.
Wants to fully understand every tiny detail of payment, international, national and state rights, re-sale agreements, general contracts and copyright licensing rules.  Knows that he/she will learn all this as more and more articles are sold.  Has priorities right.  Knows none of the legal rules apply if there’s no article in existence.
Demands to know, in advance, exactly how much he/she will be paid. Wants firstly to be published.  Accepts that newcomers simply don’t get paid as much as proven freelancers with a reputation and track record.
Aims to be published only in Time, National Geographic, Esquire, BRW, The New York Times, Reader’s Digest or The Bulletin. Feels that being published in the top publications comes later, AFTER building a publishing history that starts with small publications.
Says “I am SO enthusiastic to get started my ideas overwhelm and I can’t concentrate.” Knows this is just fear.  Fingers must sit on the keyboard.  Must write something, even gibberish, just to get going.  Edits later.
Compiles lists.  Lists of ideas.  Lists of new words.  Lists of addresses.  Lists of this, lists of that.  Feels sure something is being achieved. Has one list only ? with two words on it: “Do it!”
Reverts to childhood excuses as bad as “The dog ate my homework”.  Had to work overtime, caught a cold, mowed the lawn, had to visit sick aunt, car broke down, cat got sick. Knows that in every person’s life, if it can go wrong it will go wrong.  Allows for disasters.  Schedules events.  Treats deadlines as “holy”.  Good time management becomes second nature.
Composes long and detailed communications. Writes letters and snail-mails them.  Faxes requests. Composes emails.  Anything to avoid actually talking to that human being important to the article. Goes straight for immediate phone contact, using best phone manner to get past blockading secretaries or other unhelpful people.  Will even walk in to target person’s place unannounced.
Waits until Monday for library to open.  Searches 20 books.  Reads documents.  Photocopies pages of material.  Surfs the internet for hours.  Prints off hundreds of pages of material.  Feels comfortable researching. Delays interviewing and writing. Instinctively knows how much research is needed which usually is not much.  Keen to do interviews as soon as possible and as quickly as possible, in order to get to the real job: writing.
Fills a Gucci gold fountain pen with Parker Quink Ink and sits in the Botanical Gardens, staring at the sky, listening to Beethoven, seeking divine inspiration while doing a slow, elegant longhand first draft. Goes straight to computer and gets something down.  No matter how badly written.  No matter how lacking in vital information or interviews.  No matter how much editing it will need.  Knows that until there’s a first rough draft in the computer, there’s can’t be a final polished article.
Shows final typed article to best friend, to Auntie Olga and to some 8-year-old.  Needs praise and reinforcement that it is “a great article”. May show it to a professional journalist (or tutor) for critique.  But knows that the admiring compliments of loved ones don’t lead to publication.

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