As every religious leader, politician and writer knows, fear is a powerful motivator.
However, if you want to live long and prosper—or at least dread work a bit less—it helps to light more edifying fires under your caboose. Fear as fuel will get you only so far.
Drew Magary, formerly of Deadspin, wrote an essay recently on “How to write 10,000 words a week.” In the piece he offers pointers on how to stop fearing the blank page, and how to win the ongoing battle with productivity and creativity that we scribblers know all too well.
It all starts with an attitude adjustment.
Forget the notion of mastery
As Magary puts it, “Too many writers have been taught to be afraid of writing and have had their voices suppressed as a result.” Does that sound familiar?
Every writer wrestles fear, stress and anxiety, often to the point of incapacitating insecurity. The good news is that none of us are “masters,” and no one has this writing thing “figured out.”
Magary cites George Saunders, who says, “Part of the job, then, is to be cool with that—with the notion that you are never going to master writing. The only mastery is getting increasingly comfortable with the idea that you are never going to be a master.”
That’s oddly comforting, isn’t it? There’s no need for perfectionism, because “perfect writing” doesn’t exist. There’s no “right” way to do it, and there’s not a specific formula to follow. Your job is to steadily spill words onto the page.
Magary extols the virtues of the “horrible first draft.” “Even in rough form, you’ve given yourself clay to mold into something interesting and beautiful. That’s writing,” he says.
The key is to be ready whenever lightning strikes. Whether you keep a notepad handy or just type ideas as they flash and flow, don’t let those creative sparks escape. Jot down headlines, teasers and ledes; assemble bullet points you can flesh out later. This method of jaunty jotting prevents procrastination and thwarts writer’s block. It’s “how a blank page stops being intimidating,” Magary writes.
Facing your own fears
So, what is it you’re afraid of, exactly? Is it failure? Perhaps it’s financial anxiety? Are you worried about how your words will be perceived, received or judged—or that you’ll be found a fraud or impostor? Does the editing process infuriate you or hurt your pride?
Magary offers a reminder that edits—“altering your sacred texts”—shouldn’t be feared or loathed. Edits act as a “vital sentry, interrogating your writing and divesting it of needless contraband.” It’s true—editors are not your enemy.
Submitting yourself to strenuous edits can be painful, but it forces you to confront a hard truth about writing: It’s not about us. When we write, we should do so to edify, educate and empower our readers.
Aside from making our writing more useful and persuasive, adopting that subtle shift toward a more reader-centric mindset might be the most potent antidote for overcoming fear. As Magary advises: “Once you start writing with a reader’s mindset, a lot of the ego and insecurity disappears. That’s when writing becomes an act of giving.”
That’s how you start writing without fear.