This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday. Today’s post is part of the chapter on Discovering Your Writing Fears and Barriers.
Fear of Committing
As soon as you decide what you’re going to write, you start narrowing down possibilities. If you set your story in Italy, then your main character can’t climb the Eiffel Tower. If you decide your story takes place in the 1980’s, then you character can’t pull out their smart phone to solve a problem in the third act.
Letting go of some of those possibilities can be difficult and at times the worry of what you might be missing can hamper your writing flow.
Fear of committing to the story may cause symptoms like:
- Difficulties making story decisions.
- Trying to include too many details, characters, places or plot points in your story.
- Not wanting to start the story in case you can’t do it justice.
While it’s true that you have to let go of some possibilities as you create your story, the fact is that’s an integral part of any creative process. Imagine a sculptor not wanting to chip away at the marble in front of him because he doesn’t want to limit his options. The sculpture will never emerge if he never commits to actually chipping something away.
The advantage you have as a writer is that words are far more flexible than stone. The decision you make when you start a project can always be changed later on down the track. The key is to actually make a decision and get started.
You’ll find that as you commit to your decisions and narrow down your possibilities, your unique story will emerge. The more you limit your options, the stronger the story will become.
In order to do this, you can try:
- Clearly describing the world you’re setting your story in. What location have you chosen? What year? Is it real life or fantasy?
- Interviewing your main character and asking pointed questions. Find out where they were born, what their favourite movie is, how they feel about politics, why they dress the way they do. This specificity will give your character their unique voice.
- Taking tangents in your drafting phase. If your interest is taking you in a different direction to where you expected, follow it. Allow yourself and your characters to go off on tangents every now and then to explore possibilities. You can always remove the chapters later, but you may find the exploration reveals something new and interesting.
Words are not stone. You can always go back and change things if you wish. But narrowing down your options and making clear writing decisions is very important to the creative process. So start chipping away and see what you discover.
Fear of Criticism
No one likes to be criticized, but as writers we need feedback in order to improve our writing skills and our stories. This is not always a pleasant experience and we may find our writing process slows, or perhaps stalls altogether, as the possibility of criticism looms.
The fear of criticism may cause you to:
- Avoid finishing your stories.
- Dread sending your stories to beta readers.
- Take offense at suggestions people make about your writing.
- Become depressed when presented with areas where your story could improve.
- Procrastinate in sending out submissions.
- Feel overwhelmed at the prospect of people reading your work.
It’s normal to feel sensitive when it comes to people’s opinions on your creations. After all, you’ve spent a lot of energy, time, and emotion in your writing and so you understandably feel attached to it.
An important part of overcoming this fear is understanding the difference between helpful feedback and destructive criticism. We’ll go into this in more detail in a later chapter, but here’s the simple definition.
Helpful feedback is when someone points out an area where your writing could improve and may also suggest ways you could go about making the changes.
Destructive criticism is where someone pokes holes your writing and makes derisive remarks about your abilities as a writer. It is not specific and it does not provide solutions.
At first, it may be difficult to distinguish between the two, especially when we’re feeling emotional. So when you receive someone’s response about your writing, try the following:
- Read through their comments without passing judgment. Just take in the information they’ve given you.
- Take time to mope if need be, but do not respond to the person. Your feelings may be hurt by some of the suggestions. Acknowledge the hurt, and even allow yourself some time to sulk if necessary, but set a deadline. Be it an hour, a day or a week, when your moping time is up then move on.
- Read through the comments again, this time with an eye for what improves the story. You may even ask for a second opinion from an experienced writer or reader.
- Note down any points that may be valid. Remember, you don’t have to make every change that’s been suggested. As the writer, you have final say on what happens, but at least spend a little time considering the point.
- Disregard points that make direct and hurtful comments about you as a writer. Helpful feedback focuses on the words, not the writer.
- If you notice someone continually provides unhelpful criticism, avoid asking them for feedback in the future. You don’t have to be a martyr to your writing. If you don’t enjoy someone’s feedback, find someone else you can work with.
Think of each round of feedback as an opportunity to polish your work and to learn as a writer. Remember, as a writer you’re always learning. Receiving feedback is a good way to keep that process going.
Add your comment below. How do you deal with feedback or criticism?
My writing is my living, and I’m currently working under some tight deadlines for upcoming fiction projects, but I take time out of my week to publish this because I made a promise to you, my readers, that I would post here every Friday.
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