Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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De-Stress Your Writing Life – Fear of Starting and Fear of Getting Something Wrong

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

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.

Working Through Your Fears

Your writing fears and barriers are caused by thoughts and influences that are unique to you, therefore the solutions to those problems will be unique to you.

So while this section may not touch on your exact problem, it will cover the most common fears writers face and consider some common solutions that you can tailor to your own needs.

Fear of Starting

This is often known as ‘white page fright.’ The symptoms are:

  • Difficulty sitting down to write. (This may subtly show itself in an extra clean and tidy house, or a sudden drive to do all those fiddly little jobs you’ve been putting off.)
  • Difficulty knowing where to start writing.
  • Constantly editing the first few lines of your writing to try and get them just right.

The cause of this fear is usually perfectionism.

It’s natural to want to do your best work and make your story shine, but before you can do any of that you need to get your words onto the page. For that to happen, you have to settle for whatever will come.

First drafts are usually messy. That’s their purpose. The tight sentences, smooth transitions and sharp plot turns often come later – either as you get yourself into the flow of writing or during the editing process.

Expecting your first words to be perfect puts unnecessary pressure on yourself – in fact, it is asking the impossible.

To help you overcome this fear, you might try:

  • Writing the beginning of your story on paper, perhaps using a pencil to remind yourself that these are just temporary words.
  • Crumpling the paper before you write so it doesn’t look too pristine to use.
  • Starting in the middle of your story, choosing to write a scene that particularly appeals to you.
  • Interviewing your main character to get to know them better. This may help you find their voice before you start.
  • Freewriting. Set yourself a timer and just start writing. It will force you to put words on the page.

Don’t go for perfect, just go for broke.

Fear of Getting Something Wrong

When writing fiction, there are many facts and figures that still need to connect with real life. Historical fiction and science-fiction especially require an attention to accuracy. This can all lead to a fear of getting something wrong.

Symptoms of this fear may be:

  • Excessive research. You may find yourself only writing a few lines before hopping on the internet to search for information.
  • Shying away from specifics in your story. Instead of describing details of your world, you use vague, all-encompassing expressions that may seem safer but don’t properly build your world.

A certain amount of information is important to creating a story that is plausible enough to suspending disbelief while still gripping the reader with intriguing twists. However, the danger lies in packing your story with so much extra detail that the characters and plot become lost in the extensive descriptions.

Making sure you have enough information without sinking too much of your valuable time into research is a balancing act that changes with each story you write. No matter what intriguing details you discover in your research, keep your focus on what is necessary to engage your reader.

To overcome this fear and successfully include the details necessary to your story, you might try some of these suggestions:

  • If your story will require lots of facts and figures, begin your research several months before you plan to begin writing your story. Perhaps start a folder or notebook to collect together the information you will need.
  • As you write your story, when you come to something that needs research simply leave yourself a note and keep writing. Come back later, after you’ve done your writing for the day or once you’ve finished your manuscript, and research the matter then.
  • Set yourself a time limit when researching.
  • Use resources that are reliable and accurate. Visiting your local library might be a wiser use of time than just researching on the internet.
  • Speak to someone who knows the subject well. You may find they can provide you details you couldn’t otherwise find. They may also be willing to become a beta reader for your project, helping you to catch inaccuracies.

Most importantly, don’t let the need for accuracy stop you writing. Remember your independent writer mindset – take action and ask for help if you need it.

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Add your comment below. How do you overcome your fear of perfection? Do you have any researching tips you can share?

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Right now I’m extra busy preparing my e-book for publication, 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.

I’ve you’ve found the above helpful, please either send the information on to a fellow writer you feel would benefit or leave a little donation in the kitty to help things along.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

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Is Hindsight Really 20/20?

Tourists in Rome

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

This post is inspired by the second chapter of Scott Berkun’s book The Myths of Innovation. Why not get yourself a copy and join in the discussion?

The second chapter of Berkun’s book deals with the myth that we understand the history of innovation. It has given me much to think about.

As writers, we are very connected to history. We research it. We recreate it in our minds and then in our words. We stand in awe of those that went before us. We form our words into articles and stories with the hope that they will transcend time and become part of history itself.

Our view of history is integral to our writing. But is it accurate?

For example, we assume that history is written in stone because, well, most of it literally is…isn’t it?

Using the examples of the Rosetta Stone and Gutenberg, Berkun highlights how our idea of history is coloured by the world we are surrounded by today.

He says:

[Gutenberg’s] influence, similar to the impact of the Rosetta Stone, owes as much to circumstances, world politics and chance as to his abilities as a printmaker.

So when we look back at history, are we really seeing with 20/20 vision? Or are there things altering our perceptions?

The Hues That Tint Our History

Whenever we come across a description of history, be it in a museum, book or the world around us, we need to keep the following in mind.

We Only See What Survived

Berkun uses the sample of walking through Rome today. There are various examples of masterful Roman buildings which have been standing for thousands of years.

But what we don’t see during these travels are all the buildings that are no longer standing; those which fell down or were torn down and then built over.

What survives today is a distilled version of history – the relics that stood the test of time.

As Berkun brings out:

History can’t give attention to what’s been lost, hidden or deliberately buried; it is mostly a telling of success, not the partial failures that enabled success.

History is Written by People (with Opinions)

We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘history is written by the victors.’ Or, as Voltaire said:

History is the lie commonly agreed upon.

Even the most careful of historians will still be commentating on the things they have researched, witnessed or discovered. The slant of their words can be influenced by what interests them most about the subject and what connections they are looking to explain.

We cannot help but let our opinions colour how we read things and what we write.

Even our own memories of our personal history can become distorted by emotions, interconnecting events and the passing of time.

History is Usually a Boiled Down Version

The past is complicated – filled with people, events, customs, beliefs, languages and other elements either now long dead or irrevocably altered. It’s also littered with uncomfortable truths and confusing facts.

Think about the effort it takes for you to understand all the complications of just one person in your current life. Now imagine a history populated with billions of such people.

We can’t hold all of this complexity in our head, and so we look to historians to provide us the simplified version.

Our Concept of History is Coloured by Our Present

The Rosetta Stone and Gutenberg’s printing press are prime examples of how the present alters our perception of the past.

The Rosetta Stone has become such an instantly recognised object in our time, not because of what its makers originally intended it for (a message from a pharaoh to his people), but because of what it was used for when discovered in 1789 (as a key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics).

In the same way, today we hold Gutenberg up as the first to succeed with movable type in Europe. However, during his lifetime he wasn’t hailed as a hero, in fact he barely made ends meet.

The world we live in today adds a rose-coloured tint to our view of what came before. Our understanding of what resulted from history gives the past a feeling of inevitability – as if everyone back there recognised the future importance of people, objects and events as they happened.

How Should We View History?

It’s natural to feel wonder when we look back at the relics of a past empire or the first steps of an innovation. But, as Berkun says, we should view them as wonderous:

not because they’re magical, otherworldly things…Instead, we should be inspired because these artifacts connect our personal struggles, glories, fears, and passions with those of the people who made the things we’re so quick to put on a pedestal – that’s the true power of history.

Hold that thought in your mind for a minute. ‘These artifacts connect our personal struggles, glories, fears and passions with those of the people who made the things we’re so quick to put on a pedestal – that’s the true power of history.

A Writer’s View of History

How does all this apply to writing?

It’s easy for us to read classic works and be left in awe by great writers of the past. We may even go so far as to idolize them and their accomplishments. However, they dealt with the same fears and struggles, highs and lows, that we do.

Instead of using their words to set them apart from us, we should use them to see the similarities between what they faced back then and what we face today. We are continuing to carry the torch of words that the writers before us once held.

Our understanding of history is flawed, but that doesn’t make it worthless. There is still plenty to be learned, as long as we remember we are seeing the past through tinted lenses.

We ourselves are not divorced from history. In fact, we are making history right now. What are you doing with your piece of history?

Other people and things are also making history. Just think:

  • How would you recognise a modern day Gutenberg?  What would he be doing now?  What technologies would he be using that maybe you aren’t?
  • What would the modern day equivalent of the Rosetta Stone be?  Is there some writing medium that effectively blends cultures the way this stone did (albeit unwittingly)?
  • What are the writing equivalents of ‘Roman artifacts’ lying around today that date from just a hundred years ago?

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Have you read the second chapter of The Myths of Innovation? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you haven’t read it yet, let us know your thoughts on this post, especially the questions at the end.

P.S. Of course, this is only a very high level overview of what is contained in Scott Berkun’s book. If you found this content interesting, please get your own copy and start reading.


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Turning Over an Old Leaf

A friend of mine gave me a wonderful present before I left for China. A beautiful black journal with intricate floral patterns. But it was the second part of the present that meant even more.

She also gave me a dark blue, hand stitched cloth pocket with a pink plastic flower to button it closed. Inside the pocket were pieces of blue and purple cardboard, each with an inspirational phrase to be used as a heading for a journal entry. I smile every time I see the gorgeous packet.

I’ve taken the contents out several times, laying out the cardboard pieces and reading each carefully. Then I gently tuck them back into the pocket and button it up.

I had the pouch a whole month before one day I happened to turn it over. There, on the other side of the pocket, was a heart-shaped piece of floral material appliquéd to the other side. I was pleasantly surprised to find yet another instance of my friend’s thoughtful handicraft, and yet thoroughly flabbergasted that I’d used the pocket multiple times without ever seeing it.

This occasion brought a saying to mind. We’re always being told to ‘turn over a new leaf,’ but how often do we remember that old leaves are sometimes just as interesting on the underside?

Discoveries in the Familiar

Having given this more thought, it occurs to me that there are so many opportunities to discover new things in the familiar and ordinary.

Have you ever uncovered a new fact about an old friend? Perhaps you never knew they played the flute, spoke French or taken the Trans-Siberian Railway. Why not ask to look through your friend’s photo albums or old school trophies? A friend of mine once leant me a story she’d written during school. Both myself and my friend made discoveries during that read through which lead to many more writing adventures.

What about the history of where you live? Ever wondered about the name of your street? What did the area look like ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Fifty years ago? I kid you not, there are things to discover about your little corner of the world – no matter where you are. And often those discoveries result in a new appreciation of your surroundings. Can’t move house? Why not move perspective instead?

And how about the words you use every day? Try using an etymology dictionary (for example the Online Etymology Dictionary)  to look up common words. I guarantee the results will be surprising. Here are some words to get you started: demonstration, hazard and quarantine. I warn you though, the study of etymology is addictive! If you feel you’ve got a pretty good idea of the origins of words, try playing this game.

Remember the books you used to read and movies you used to watch when you were young? Dust off your personal copies or pop into your local library and find familiar titles. You’ll discover meanings and connections your younger self completely missed.

So, how does this all work in with being creative? Well, Creativity feeds on discovery. The more curious you are, the more fodder you provide. Train yourself to see possibilities everywhere and you’ll never run out of discoveries.

Have you turned over any old leaves lately? I’d love to hear about what you’ve found.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art