[Editor's Note: While this article is about the fear of writing, its insights and suggestions apply to other fears as well.]
Is writing supposed to be fun? Surely it's better to suffer. It will make our writing real, give it depth and integrity.
If we're not going to suffer, we should at least work hard. We should be disciplined. We should think about productivity. A writer is not going to have a career to speak of unless he or she is producing at least 1,000 words a day, right? It's really a number crunching game, if you get right down to it. Or so the rumor goes.
Every writer has a personal tale about the hardships of writing. And we all know that writing is a lonely business. Martin Myers made this sense of alienation adorably quotable when he said, "First you're an unknown, then you write one book and you move up to obscurity."
But this swallowing gulf is no laughing matter. As we chart our descent into the netherworld of writing, honk if you know the story already.
Outside, the sun is shining and the robins are happily pulling up worms. Inside your snug little home you're staring into the abyss. The terror of facing that empty page is only surpassed by the numbness of your decomposing mind.
Moments ago, you were a lively specimen of resourceful humanity. Moments ago, you were finding ways to speed through your chores and your commitments in order to allow yourself some precious writing time.
But now that you're seated in front of your favorite writing implements, you uncover the bleak truth. You have nothing to say. You are less inspired than the lowliest drone sorting microchips on the assembly line. You are empty. Soulless. Mere space dust inhabiting a warm body. You have no right to aspire to that auspicious title, 'writer'. Where did you come up with the nerve to even think it?
OK, so you manage to convince your primal brain stem that these negative messages are melodramatic and overblown. You are not empty. You're not a zombie from the twilight zone. You even had an idea while you were waiting in line at the drive-up bank and now you intend to write it down. You're no lightweight.
In fact, you have some guts and you plan to use them. How can you not be a writer? It's in your blood. It permeates every neutron and every proton of your mortal being. It reaches all the way to your higher self. Even your past lives were all spent as Egyptian scribes or Atlantean poets.
Triumphantly, you break those chains of oppression. You commit some tentative words to the paper. One line follows another and voila! you have a paragraph.
You resist the urge to reread what you've managed to get down. You forge ahead and one paragraph becomes two, then three, then five. If the dog doesn't throw up and the phone doesn't ring, you may even write two pages today. You're doing it! You're writing. You've defied the laws of emptiness. You are a god of creation.
But the internal drag is taking its toll. Even as you defeat inertia to get those valiant words down on paper or typed onto your screen, you are faced with another self-evident truth: you're boring. Your writing would put insomniacs to sleep. You've seen livelier writing on the dishwashing liquid label that's peeling from the damp plastic bottle under your kitchen sink.
The rush of inspiration you felt in line at the bank is now in ashes on the page. You're embarrassed that you ever bragged to your friends about being a writer. Bragging leaves you no room to exit gracefully. Bragging leaves you with no pride and no way to resume a normal life. If you give up now, your friends will know what a weakling you are and they'll never let you live it down.
Why would anyone want to suffer this way? You sit there -- dripping with failure, pungent with the sweat of your fruitless labor. You realize that you go through this same horror scene every time you try to write. You start out on an innocent high and then you degenerate into a living hell.
When the hounds of hell finally regurgitate you, you're limp with defeat. Your skin crawls with self-revulsion. You look around you and observe the ordinary world. You can't help but notice that your family and your friends are not being consumed from within by this insidious tapeworm called writing. You long to veg out in front of the TV with the kind of serenity you see others reveling in as their birthright.
You look in the mirror and tell yourself to get a life. You decide to exercise at the gym whenever the urge to write strikes you next. That way you can put your nervous energy to good use, instead of doing all that unhealthy introspection. Instead of agonizing like a miser over what you have or haven't written.
The concept that writing can be fun is ludicrous. Experience has proven this beyond a shred of doubt. Fun for others, maybe, but never for you.
It pays to be in the right company. You'll be safe identifying with this story because I'm personally acquainted with these same hellhounds that have been playing with your emotions. I was not born having fun as a writer any more than you were, nor did I believe -- until recently -- that fun was even possible. I followed the compulsion to write because I had to, because it wouldn't go away, even when it was chronically buried in apathy and depression.
I considered myself a failed writer and even a fraud. I would go for long periods without writing anything. Which -- as you may know yourself -- is a death unlike any other.
What caused these painful dry spells where I would turn away from creative expression? It was fear of writing, that disease of the heart that no medical doctor has diagnosed or even recognized.
The disease may well be endemic everywhere, but we don't have the statistics or the studies to prove it. People are out there self-medicating against it. They're out there languishing in writing limbo. Experiencing periods of remission, then sliding into paralysis again.
Many people with this affliction lead outwardly active lives. They may be writing books. They may even be published authors. Others are out there in self-help mediums such as workshops and writing groups. They are practicing physical therapy, reading their work out loud in the weekly meetings, standing up to declare, 'I am an addict'. Writing is still frightening but they are finding ways to cope. Discussing the symptoms with others that understand this disease intimately can be therapeutic beyond measure.
The question begs to be asked. Is there a cure for fear of writing? Am I here to tell you've I've discovered the antidote?
"Quick', you say. 'Spit it out! I believe in faith healing! Heal me with your words!'
I am here to tell you there is no cure for fear of writing, except to feel it and use it in your work. The fear is part of the process and part of what deepens your cognition. The fear itself is not the poison. The slow poison is the paralysis that results from trying to clench around your fear and isolate it. You can't purge it like a cancerous cell, unless you are prepared to lose an essential function. You can't purge your fear and find a lasting cure because it's something that belongs to you.
When your fear is embraced and acknowledged as an integral part of you, it becomes transformative. It becomes a moving energy that informs your work and gives you the courage to accept yourself.
There is nothing I can tell you that will do as much for you as your own process of embracing the fear. When you empower your fear, you will see the myths drop away. Haven't you always been told that if you 'buy into' fear, dire things will happen? You will become a 'negative' person. People will shun you. Your negativity will draw bad luck or even accidents into your life.
This old wives' tale originates from a simple but profound misunderstanding of fear. When the channels of what could be or should be evolutionary fear are shut down, peoples' lives are cramped and their potential has only limited energy to work with. Look around you for a day or two and observe this happening. There are examples everywhere, both within and without.
The fear itself is blamed for this crippling effect, rather than the continual reflex act of shutting down the flow of this energy. Fear has a bad name and we've been taught to control it or expunge it from our lives. We can carry on the tradition and shoot the messenger, or we can allow the fear to help us widen our boundaries.
Learning to allow your fear to vibrate is a surprising adventure. You will find beauty inside yourself that you didn't believe could be there. You will grow to like yourself more. People will want you around. Your experiences will bring you riches. And maybe best of all -- you will take off as a writer.
This article was excerpted with permission from
Milli Thornton's book "Fear of Writing", ©1999.
MILLI THORNTON was born in the Unites States and has been suffering from fear of writing for most of her life. She migrated to Australia with her family at age twelve. After 25 years in her beloved Australia, Milli returned to the United States. She is a recovering writer and she follows a daily program of fun, irreverence, and muscular word therapy in her ongoing struggle to live with her affliction. For more info, visit www.fearofwriting.com