Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Behind the Block: Overcoming Fear to Write

By Rochelle Melander, @WriteNowCoach

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Fear can hold you back, but you don't have to let it. Rochelle Melander shares thoughts and tips on overcoming the fear that's keeping you from writing.

Rochelle Melander is a speaker, professional certified coach and the author of 11 books for adults, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) and Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity.

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Take it away Rochelle…

Have any of these blocks kept you from conquering the blank page?
  • Perfectionism (I have to make this piece perfect before I can share it.)
  • Excuses (I can’t find time to write.)
  • Procrastination (Before I can write, I need to clean the house, take a class, finish this research.)
The Fiction University blog is packed full of tools to overcome every one of these challenges. But when the tools don’t work, it’s often because these blocks are hiding a deeper issue: fear.

Wait! Wouldn’t fear feel like we’re facing down a dangerous beast? Wouldn’t we have a racing heart, sweaty palms, and a flopping stomach?

Not always.

Though each of us experiences fear in different ways, we all get the same result: we don’t write. Or, if we write, we don’t share our work. We hide behind excuses and blocks.

So how do you know if your obstacle or writer’s block is really fear? If you have reviewed and solved your external challenges to writing (e.g., found a time and place to write), tried multiple tools to get over blocks and write (e.g., eliminating distractions), and still feel blocked, chances are you’re dealing with fear. 

(Here's more on Battling the Doubt Monster: Ignoring Nellie the Naysayer)

Here’s the thing: if our core issue is fear, then strategies are less likely to work. 

We can have the best software, the perfect schedule, and an ideal outline—and we’ll still procrastinate. Why? Because fear hurts. It feels uncomfortable, and we’ll do whatever we can to avoid feeling it.

When we went to Disney World, my family challenged me to go on a roller coaster. They chose a small one at Animal Kingdom, one that was suitable for ages 3 and up. I climbed into the ride, making sure my safety belt was tightly fastened. And then I reassured myself: you can do anything for a few minutes. The ride started out fast and never let up. I screamed and swore because, dang, the twists and drops had left my stomach and my courage back at the starting gate. But it was over fast.

It’s the same with any emotion: they pass through us quite quickly—in about 90 seconds. Jill Bolte Taylor wrote about this in her book, My Stroke of Insight:
Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run. (Jill Bolte Taylor, p. 153)
This explanation gives us the perfect solution to overcoming fear. Next time you show up to write and feel afraid—don’t avoid it. Feel it. Ride it out for 90 seconds and then get back to writing. If you experience one of the roadblocks above—perfectionism, procrastination, or excuses—and suspect it’s fear, try writing. If it’s fear, it’ll roar louder. Let it. Feel what’s happening.

Feeling fear is tough. Trust me, I know. I’ve dealt with it my whole life. I’ll do whatever I can to avoid it.

Still, if you can take a deep breath and feel the fear, it will go away more quickly.

Know this: you don’t have to white knuckle it. Fear often feels like someone has literally removed the ground beneath our feet. We feel like we’re falling, arms flailing, with no safe place to go. Getting grounded can help counter this feeling. 

(Here's more on Psychological Trump Cards That Cripple Us)

Take off your shoes and let your feet feel the ground. Imagine yourself growing roots into the earth. Other grounding exercises include hugging a tree (I’m not kidding!), wrapping four fingers around our thumbs on both hands and holding this hand position while breathing deeply, holding a comforting object like a stone or stuffed animal, or noticing concrete sensory details about your surroundings.

Pro tip: Feel the fear with some kindness toward yourself. Talk to your anxious inner child the way you’d talk to any child who was afraid.
  • You are safe.
  • You are okay.
  • This feeling will pass.
Fear tends to show up when we’re doing something new, working on a project that means a lot to us, or writing about something that’s very personal. That’s normal. So if the fear appears, acknowledge it, feel it, and keep writing.

Most of the people who’ve accomplished great things or written amazing books have experienced and overcome fear. You are not alone. And you are not stuck. You can overcome the fear and write.

(Note: This post is adapted from a chapter in Level Up, Overcome Fear to Write Now.)

About Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity

Do you struggle to:
+Find time to write and create
+Ditch distractions
+Overcome self-doubt and fear
+Believe in your strengths
+Silence the inner critic
+Stop procrastinating and write
+Focus on your work

What if you could find a simple solution to every one of these challenges?

In this book, you’ll discover YOUR perfect solutions. In our guru-obsessed culture, it’s tempting to think that if we follow the routines of successful creatives, we’ll be just as prolific as they are. But when it comes to creative productivity, a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all guide can’t help everyone. Each person has distinct needs and deserves a unique solution.

In Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination, and Increase Productivity, you’ll tackle quests to help you discover your ideal work rhythms, design a life that supports your productivity, and overcome any obstacle you face. Instead of playing someone else’s game, you get to design the game, create your own playbook, define the rewards, and reap them all! You’ll also adopt a secret identity, recruit allies, identify villains, and celebrate your epic wins. Because you’ll be using a gameful approach to shaping your creative life, taking on these quests won’t be a chore. You’ll relish investigating your life and playing with possibilities.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound | Kobo |


  1. Perfectionism drives me nuts! I've been writing for years but still haven't published. It's always "this scene could be better," or "I haven't researched enough yet," etc. I don't know where this comes from. I don't have some horrible childhood story. Nobody scathingly critiqued my work growing up (or even in adulthood), but still I hold back. I've got some great story ideas. But no one will ever benefit from them until I let them fly.

    1. I know how hard this is. And I applaud you for writing forward. I don't think we need horrible experiences to be perfectionists. But perfectionism can cause us to procrastinate--especially when it comes to finishing and submitting our stories. I am sending you encouragement to share your stories!

  2. This was me earlier today. I'm doing NaNoWriMo and my most recent scene was the midpoint scene. It was a scene inspired by some real life situations. It means a lot to me. So fear seized me and I procrastinated almost two days before finally sitting down today and writing it. Several times at the beginning, my fingers didn't want to continue typing. I kept pushing through. Once I passed the initial fear, I went on and wrote the scene in two sittings, ending up with 4806 words.

    Your words struck true gold. Thank you for this bit of advice. Going forward, I'll remember the 90 second practice 😊😊

  3. Yay! ! I am so glad you did pushed through the fear and wrote anyway! Thank you for sharing this.