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Writers Talk About Writing

How to Overcome Fear of Writing

Here's the most dangerous thing I've ever done: When I was about 25, I went on a spur-of-the-moment hiking trip with an athletic friend who was back in Vancouver, where I live, for a visit.

I didn't know where we were going, so I just threw on my hiking boots and grabbed a pack and the food I was asked to bring. There were four of us — two of them strangers to me. Apparently, we were going to hike the West Lion.

For those of you who don't know Vancouver, this is one of a pair of iconic mountains, less than an hour's drive from the city. I was fit but not prepared. None of us were. We had little idea how long it would take. We didn't have enough food. Our map was out of date. And after about four and half hours of hiking, there was a rope we had to shimmy down.

My friend had recently had shoulder surgery so he couldn't consider it. Another friend of his had been born and raised in Matthattan and wouldn't think about it either. So that left me — I've never been good with ropes — and the other hiker, a track coach.

I felt trapped but didn't want to lose face, so I forced myself down the rope. We walked briefly and came to the end of the trail and to the junction where you transfer onto the Lion. Here's what Wikipedia has to say: "Most hikers stop there as both the East and West Lion peaks require rock climbing equipment and expertise."

Damn, it was terrifying. While it was clear other people had crossed this junction without ropes (ropes were less common in those days), I could see exactly where hikers could fall to their death below. I looked at the track coach and said, "You go ahead. I'll wait for you here."

He looked at me, smiled, and said, "I've done this hike before. If you don't want to do it, we can just go back." Flabbergasted, I looked at him and spluttered, "but...but...." He shrugged his shoulders and said: "If you want to do it, you should."

Reverse psychology. It worked.

I started on the transfer but once sprawled on the Lion, I became absolutely terrified (I think I'd looked down.) The track coach, bless his manipulative heart, talked me through it. "Feel your fear," he advised as I clutched the side of the mountain. "Don't try to ignore it; just let it be."

Although I now recognize that it was a genuine mistake for me to do that part of the hike, I've always valued the formative lesson it taught me about dealing with fear.

My advice? Don't do dangerous hikes if you're not fully trained and don't have the right gear. But if you face fear relating to writing, here are five suggestions on how to cope:

  1. Don't think you can beat fear by ignoring it. As the track coach taught me, acknowledge your fear and even embrace it. Notice how and where it's affecting your body and make a mental note of these issues. Just doing this will be inherently self-calming.
  2. Remember to breathe. Many of us hold our breath when we become fearful. Unfortunately, his only magnifies any physical symptoms we're already feeling. Monitor your breathing and take deep, belly breaths. If you fear writing, learning how to beat writing apnea is one of the best things you can possibly do.
  3. Know that it will pass. No feeling — not joy, not unhappiness, not pride, not embarrassment — lasts forever. Awful as the fear may seem, you can be assured it will certainly go away, likely soon.
  4. Do your work, regardless. If you're tempted to let fear be your excuse for not writing, ask yourself what's the worst thing that could happen if you wrote. If the worst thing isn't death, then do it anyway.
  5. Make small adjustments that will reduce your fear. Give yourself a very tiny goal such as writing 50 words or for only five minutes. The Kaizen technique is extraordinarily powerful. Writing with a buddy can help as well.

I've suffered through my own share of writing fears — fear of the first article for my university newspaper, fear of my first daily newspaper story, fear of writing my book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better.

But, thanks to my ongoing writing practice, the fear has lessened so dramatically that now it's nothing but a distant memory. Wouldn't you like to be able to say the same thing?

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday May 13th 2014, 10:21 AM
Comment by: Thorunn S. (Reykjavik Iceland)
I'm sure your advice is spot-on, Daphne - it usually is. What I'm musing over is your assertion that you went on this hike with a friend, followed by your explanation that there were four of you, three of whom were strangers to you. Do I conclude that your friend was a stranger to you, possibly a Facebook friend, or do I conclude that you can't count?
Tuesday May 13th 2014, 11:42 AM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Oh my, I made a gaffe!! Can't believe I didn't notice this. You're quite right: I should have said two were strangers to me. [Now fixed! —Ed.]

You might also have wondered about my assertion that we didn't know how long the hike would take, yet the track coach had already done it before! This was true. There are several routes up to the Lion and we were taking the longest one and the track coach had done the shorter, steeper one, previously.
Tuesday May 13th 2014, 11:12 PM
Comment by: bluefade (Chagrin Falls, OH)
Great advice. By the way...you're grounded! Let's insert a / next to the word dangerous in your first sentence so it reads, "most dangerous/foolish thing I've ever done." As a father, I raised one eyebrow reading of your adventure and it reminded me of when my kids told me about skydiving! One false move and... well, you get the picture!
Wednesday May 14th 2014, 9:24 AM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Skydiving?! I would never do such a thing. Neither will any of my kids. I hope!

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