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Move Beyond Fear: Find and Keep Your Writing Voice in 10 Steps

This guest post is by Sean M. Madden of Mindful Living Guide.

I’ve been teaching creative writing, along with mindful living, for years now. And I can say, without hesitation, that fear is ubiquitous. Its presence, more than anything else, stops writers in their tracks.

All seems to be going along beautifully, words and ideas are flowing, characters and plots are taking shape, and wham! a certain self-consciousness seeps in. The flow slows to a trickle, we begin to falter, and, worst of all, we judge ourselves harshly, comparing our present writing to our glory days. Or we compare ourselves against other writers, those in our midst, or literary greats of times past.

Just a few minutes ago, I finished up an informal discussion which I was leading on the web. The talk shared the exact title of this article, and one of the participants is a long-time student of mine. He’s the sort of guy you’d never guess would be fearful of losing his writing voice. He’s a confident and successful middle-aged businessman, and he’s led an unusually creative life. He’s gigged as a singer-songwriter, owned and managed art galleries in London, has a lovely family, and travels widely.

Yet Alex has a lingering concern—the very one detailed above, whereby his writing seems to get off-track, falters and he starts doubting his abilities, whether he’ll manage to write with ease as he once did.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take which, if heeded, will do more than help us to find and keep our writing voice. These steps can help us to move beyond fear and to live more creatively.

Ten steps to help you move beyond fear and find and keep your writing voice

  1. Acknowledge your fears: don’t pretend they’re not lurking there behind the scenes.
  2. Face them: Face your fears with a simple, uncomplicated awareness of the corresponding bodily sensations. In other words, notice how your fears (and thoughts generally) make you feel, physically.
  3. But don’t feed them: As with online trolls who get their jollies trying to wreak havoc, your fears will lessen and eventually fade away if you stop engaging with them on their terms.
  4. Recognize that your fears are illusory: You can smile at their devilish innocence.
  5. Simply put pen to paper: Write through your fears. Write down whatever comes up.
  6. Notice our tendency to negatively compare ourselves with others: These crippling, judgmental thoughts are another illusion, another trick our minds play to limit our naturally creative selves.
  7. Realize that action trumps fear: When things get tough, go for a good long walk, take a yoga class, return to your breath. Do such things as these on a daily basis and things will not get so tough so often.
  8. Write down your inner truths: Do this with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice.
  9. Take heart knowing you’re not alone: We, all of us, feel these fears. Don’t believe otherwise.
  10. Trust in the process: Nurture an awareness that everything, even fear, can be a great teacher!

What fears tend to squelch your writing voice, and what strategies do you use to overcome these fears? Please leave your comments below. Let’s get the conversation flowing.

As a Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide, Sean M. Madden offers Writing, Literature & Mindful Living courses and workshops — and one-to-one guidance — worldwide. He’s also the creator of the new #mlmon and #wpthu communities. To keep apprised of Sean’s live web-based writing workshops (Next Up: April 8 & 15) and other online and in-person offerings, sign up to the MLG newsletter. You can also follow (@SeanMMadden) or  email him.

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Comments

  1. JanBierens says:

    Good post and I think it’s important to understand your fears, whatever they may be. Real or imaginative. Keep believing in yourself. Doubting yourself is normal.
    Don’t choke on them and be convinced about your knowledge. After all, you didn’t start out being a singer, writer, blogger or whatever for nothing.
    When you need to write, read a lot. Listen to music that sets the mood for you. Dare to step away sometimes.

    • Thank you for your comment, Jan.

      Yes, it’s important to be aware of our fears, to acknowledge their presence, but not be undone by them. And if we want to write, it is good to read, but not to let the reading stand in the way of our writing.

      We’ll never read all the books we’d like to get under our belts. There’ll always be the pull to read more, to do more research, before taking that courageous step to write.

      But it’s important that we begin putting pen to paper — right away, without waiting to be given permission. We simply write, and honor whatever arises.

      If we’re feeling fear, the fear in that moment is a reality, even if the thing we might be fearful of isn’t necessarily a reality or our fear a rational-seeming response. A powerful way to begin to acknowledge, and then move beyond that fear, is to put pen to paper and to explore it on the page.

      Thanks, again, for leaving your comment.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  2. Dorci says:

    I think it’s just basic insecurity that waters down my voice. Just another term for fear. I feel so incompetent that I read, maybe even more than I write, about how to write and take on so much that it doesn’t even look like my writing anymore. There’s much to learn, and I think part of it is what to adopt without starting to sound like someone else. So, shut up, fear and insecurity! I will be me and that is a good thing.

    • Hello Dorci,

      I think what I wrote in response to Jan’s comment, above, is applicable here as well, both with regard to the nature of fear, or insecurity, as well as to reading.

      And as with reading, there’ll always be so much more to learn — an insatiable amount.

      I find it useful to remember that the Latin roots of the word ‘educate’ point to a drawing out of one’s self, rather than a cramming in of more and more so-called facts, particularly of the sort which may not serve us, the sort which, unfortunately, pass as the building blocks of education in this day and age.

      A lovely bit of advice from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: “Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.” I would suggest, further, not so much “of thought” but “of awareness”, the simple, uncomplicated witnessing of our world within as well as without, and noticing how these worlds might inform one another.

      Thank you, again.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  3. This is a very informative 10 step process. I guess with us newer writers who still have much to prove or have not yet found our “writing voice” will say it’s easier said then done. I mean some of us do acknowledge our fears, don’t know how to face them most of the time, and we definitely feed them. But I guess the more we practice the better we’ll become “in trusting in the process”.

    • Thank you, Courtland, for leaving your above comment.

      As you say, it’s easier said than done. Acknowledging our fears is never easy, but it’s far better in the long run to face them, to acknowledge their existence, than to place myriad distractions between us and those fears.

      They’re there, they’re our reality when we’re feeling them. That we feel them is a part of our basic intelligence, our inherent wisdom. The fears — and the corresponding physical sensations — are trying to get our attention, trying to tell us that there’s something within us which needs paying attention to in order to begin to be processed in a healthy manner.

      As you suggest, it can take practice — years, decades of practice — to begin to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. I would suggest it’s a practice without end, the bringing of our awareness to the whole of our reality, moment to moment.

      It’s never easy, but the underlying fears are there, and impacting us (often in distinctly unhealthy ways), whether or not we take a few moments over the course of our day-to-day to begin to acknowledge them, see what we might learn from them, and, again as you say, to learn to trust in the process, the ceaseless unfolding of life, of new challenges, etc.

      As with anything, the more we do it, the easier it is, whether it’s bringing that simple awareness to all within this present moment — and allowing everything in, all the myriad sensations, thoughts, emotions and so on — or putting pen to paper and nurturing a courageous sense of curiosity on the page.

      Thank you, Courtland.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  4. Francesco says:

    Well I think that “silence is gold” so If I had to follow my rational mind I would not speak at all. For even when we speak with a friend we may have feelings of inadeqaucy, or uncertainty about what we are going to say. So you just speech your mind one time without trying to adjust or modify what you have said (or written). Trust your inner wisdom. Trust your creativty. And then move forward.

    • Yes, Francesco. And to spend a little time in silence each day to simply rest, rejuvenate ourselves, and to allow those feelings of inadequacy, or what have you, to be there, to trust that there’s something to be learned even from those feelings, if we stop and listen quietly.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave your comment, and for giving voice to your own thoughts.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  5. Taline says:

    Good advice. I sometimes get stuck and I’m my worst critic and so it takes me longer to write something because I go over it too many times.

    I get over it by letting go and realizing that I’m not perfect and there are people out there that actually like my writing style and content. If I have one loyal reader, then I’m pretty happy :)

    • Hello Taline,

      As with all everyone has said, above, simply continuing to write and to let go. That’s a huge thing — sometimes hugely difficult, but also hugely empowering.

      When we write, we can let go of that heavy creative/artistic burden of being clever, abiding by all the rules of our school days, and, instead, simply put pen to paper and honor whatever comes, to keep the pen moving, to let it meander where it will, and not try to control it.

      Our writing will be fresher, more alive, and we’ll enjoy the process more, and we’ll be far more likely to put pen to paper again, sooner, if we allow our writing to flow as unhindered as possible without handing over the reins to our internal editor, or censor. As with our fears, generally, we can simply acknowledge the presence of that pesky internal editor, smile at her cartoon-devilish ways and keep moving our hand across the page, letting the ink spill to form letters, words, paragraphs, and the occasional doodle!

      Thank you, again.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  6. Bobby says:

    This is some really helpful advice, thanks. I’m coming back into writing after a substantial break and I can definitely feel those old fears starting to creep back up on me. One of the methods I used to break through these tricky times is to write down my thoughts as I speak them in my mind, it’s then a lot easier to go back and edit as it’s already down on paper. You don’t have to form the perfect piece of writing in one go.

    • Exactly, Bobby. Wonderfully said.

      Another thing which is particularly helpful is to ask ourselves questions, regarding whatever our underlying situation is in any given moment — whether we’re feeling fear, wondering how best to move forward with a difficult situation in our life, considering what to focus our time and energies on in any given day, or what strategy to follow with our business to achieve a certain objective.

      Asking yourself open-ended questions — literally writing the question down, perhaps multiple times, over and over again, or in varying ways, until some semblance of an answer begins to arise — and then following, exploring wherever the pen takes you, honoring whatever arises.

      Thank you for leaving your comment.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  7. Thank you to all who’ve stopped by and taken the time to read this article.

    I’d also like to point you to two new pages on Mindful Living Guide, new since sending ProBlogger my updated author’s bio last week. Created, in fact, just yesterday, and both highly relevant to the topic of this article. Do stop by and consider joining us this Monday and Thursday, and all those thereafter …

    1) http://www.mindfullivingguide.com/p/mlmon.html

    2) http://www.mindfullivingguide.com/p/wpthu.html

    Also, there are two live web workshops coming up. One next Sunday, 8 April, and another the following Sunday, 15 April. I’d love to have you join us for one or both of these. You’ll find more information here:

    http://www.mindfullivingguide.com/p/creative-writing-course-workshop.html

    Again, with warm regards,

    Sean

    • By the way, I should probably add what the above two pages are. Briefly, they’re two new pages I’ve just added to the Mindful Living Guide website, as introductions to two new online communities which I created over the past couple of weeks, though have been considering for quite some time:

      The first page — hashtag: #mlmon — is for Mindful Living Monday.

      The second page — hashtag: #wpthu — is for Writing Prompt Thursday.

      For more information about these exciting new communities, click on the links in the above post.

      We’d love to have you join us for one or both of these, whether you’re brand-new to mindful living or writing, or a professional writer.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  8. Well i does acknowledge my fear but still cannot face them. they somehow keep coming right in front of me and irritate me every now and then.

    • Hello Tushar,

      By acknowledging your fears — simply bringing your awareness to them, ideally in a quiet place at home, outside in nature, or some other peaceful place — you are, in that very moment, facing them.

      We needn’t stare them down like a raging, wide-eyed bull. We simply witness them, with quiet equanimity and humility, recognizing we needn’t have the answer, and likewise that we are not omniscient nor omnipotent beings. Simply witnessing the fear (or whatever thought, feeling or emotion is present), allowing it to be there, neither pushing it nor wishing it away; rather, witnessing it, honoring it (even the uncomfortable things which might arise), and recognizing that whatever we’re feeling is being felt because of the unspeakable intelligence of our bodies, of our entire beings.

      That we are capable of feeling such emotions, for example, demonstrates what intelligent and finely tuned instruments our bodies are. They are early-detection, early-warning systems which are attempting to get our attention so that we may address the underlying situation, and our bodies may begin to let go and, thereby, process whatever it is which has brought about the emotion, or what have you.

      Thanks again, Tushar, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  9. Great post, Sean!
    One thing that I have the tendency to do is compare myself to others. I catch up on blog reading every Sunday (today) and when I come across a writer that is really great and has a popular blog, I will be tempted to make the change. I remind myself that my followers read my blog, because of me and if I stop being me, then I lose my readers.

    One thing that I do is try to always recognize when it’s time for a break. I take pictures, go to the movies, read a book, or take my dogs for a walk. Once I get my blogs out of my head, then I can reset and start again.

    Kimberly

    • Hello Kimberly,

      Thank you for writing.

      I think it’s true to say that we all have a tendency to compare ourselves with others. I see it all the time in my classes. It’s a ubiquitous phenomenon that not only is everyone comparing themselves with everyone else, they’re also almost always negatively comparing themselves with everyone else.

      We’ll start sharing our writing from any given writing session, and folk will almost instinctively begin to preemptively apologize for what’s about to be shared, undercutting whatever has arisen on the page. I’ll usually quite quickly interrupt the preamble, and ask them to simply read what they’ve written, to allow it to be what it is, to honor whatever has passed through them and onto the page.

      And, lo and behold!, others are touched by the piece of writing, or by the courage displayed by the person who penned it and then had the guts to share their intimate thoughts and feelings with others. And, so, the only person in the room who was judging it negatively, harshly even, was the person who wrote it. Then we move on to the next person, and we get virtually the very same thing, and so on.

      You don’t have to be in these classes long before it begins to dawn on you that we’re terrible judges of our own work, that in a way it’s sort of blasphemous of us — presumptuous, to say the least — to undermine what has passed through us onto the page. What has passed through us is a part of us, of who we are in the moment of putting pen to paper; and, to harshly criticize those reflections of who we are is to undermine our own selves.

      As you say, it’s important to give ourselves a break, to walk away from our writing, take a good, long walk, spend some time with non-judgmental folk, say hello to, and stroke, a horse in a nearby field, our dog or cat, to lie fallow in a field, letting the sun warm our hearts and our spirits.

      And when we return to the page, to let that writing session stand on its own, to not compare it with other writing sessions, nor to compare ourselves with other writers. We’re all unique. No one will ever say exactly what we might say in any given moment. We need to learn to embrace our individuality, while continuing to recognize, too, our common heritage as human beings, or as intelligent beings, period, very much including that aforementioned horse, dog or cat, or what have you.

      Best wishes, Kimberly, with your writing, and with your blog.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  10. Lark says:

    smile at their devilish innocence. Yes I can smile at their devilish innocence.

    INNOCENCE. My writing blocks, whatever they may look like right now, are not conniving monsters worthy of the rack. They’re just hangin’ out here because I invited them.

    DEVILISH. Need we say more.

    SMILE. Yes, I can.

    • Thank you, Lark. :-)

      The writing blocks are essentially just thought — thought which we can simply acknowledge, and then proceed to put pen to paper and write through. About anything, including about writer’s block itself.

      In the writing about writer’s block we might very well realize that there was never any such thing, that it was a devilish monster of our own making, built of our own expectations and, typically, a lack of putting pen to paper and writing, without fuss, without judgment. Simply writing the truth of our own experience.

      Thanks again, Lark.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  11. Becky says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. It has some great reminders. This will help me stay on track as I forge ahead with the blog that I started at the beginning of the year — http://www.RaceGirlTalk.com.  Thanks!

    • Thank you, Becky. I’m glad you’ve found the article helpful.

      I went out to your blog. It looks brilliant. I also enjoyed reading through your “About” page. I lived in Annapolis as well, from January 2002 through the end of 2003, the last eight months or so in Eastport.

      I wish you all the best in your continuing to forge ahead with your blog.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  12. Ted says:

    Sean i just start a new blog http://businessmarketingpower.com tell me what you thank about it ?

  13. Believing in yourself makes your voice confident, and this in turn makes you more appealing for readers to spend time going through whatever you write. This is a great article indeed.
    Realizing what may hold you back in speaking your mind, or finding the right tone to address some problems, or even readers directly, can help a lot. Don’t be afraid of critic- this is crucial. There is no one there that does know everything; no one there that never makes mistakes. It’s better to write your mind and build that interaction, rather than waiting and never fully expressing yourself.

    • Well said, Slavko. Thank you for sharing this with the ProBlogger readers. As you say, when we begin to acknowledge, in writing, the truth of our own experience, and then begin to share this with others, our natural voice begins to reveal itself, as does our inherent style.

      Furthermore, the act of giving voice to the truth of our own experience is a supremely powerful one — one which can, likewise, begin to make us simultaneously more courageous, more humble, and healthier … physically, emotionally and mentally.

      Writing can cleanse our beings of impurities much as yoga, a good, long walk, or a swim in the sea, do.

      Thanks, again, Slavko.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  14. Great post! #5 on your list is the best advice. Whether you have writer’s block, you’re scared to start, you don’t know where to start, etc., the best thing you can do is just write. Write anything to get into it, then go back and edit when you’re done. Heck, even write about being scared to write! Anything to get the creative juices flowing and that wall behind you.

    • Exactamundo, Andrew! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Thanks for sharing this with fellow ProBlogger readers.

      With warm regards,

      Sean

  15. Good atricle, congratulations from SPain

  16. I regularly engage in number 8, writing my diary in a blatantly truthful manner. No thinking, just write. Whenever I am experiencing fear or stumbling blocks in my mind, this process helps me to connect with my inner truth. As the fearful thought is crystallized in writing, suddenly I own it and it no longer owns me. And of course number 9, journey to success feels lonely, but do take heart that we’re not alone in this journey. Success!

  17. For me the best way to get past fear or anxiety of writing is just to get started.

    Staring at that blank screen and blinking cursor for too long just fuels the doubts. The sooner you start writing – something, anything – the quicker you’ll become absorbed and forget your fears.

  18. Thank you, Chanuka. You’ve hit the nail(s) on the head.

    I appreciate your having read my article, and for taking the time to share your above thoughts with others.

    With warm regards,

    Sean

  19. In summary …

    You guys are good! I needn’t have bothered to write this article … you all know this stuff already. :-)

    Of course, you’ve all been under the tutelage of Darren Rowse, writer-blogger extraordinaire, no doubt for quite some time. So no wonder.

    Anyway, I’ve greatly appreciated having the opportunity to write for ProBlogger again, and to read and to reply to all of your fine comments. Thank you.

    With warm regards,

    Sean

  20. martha says:

    It has been years since I last wrote for myself.It got me through some of the toughest times in my life.And I believe that your right embrace your fear is better for a person in the long run.For me it was my belief that true bravery was the ability to accept your fear,acknowledge it and move beyond.Reading this kinda makes want to write again

  21. Good post and I think it’s important to understand your fears, whatever they may be. Real or imaginative. Keep believing in yourself. Doubting yourself is normal.
    Don’t choke on them and be convinced about your knowledge. After all, you didn’t start out being a singer, writer, blogger or whatever for nothing.
    When you need to write, read a lot. Listen to music that sets the mood for you. Dare to step away sometimes.

  22. I think our best bet is to just take action because action kills fear. If we mistakenly decide to delay anything then our enthusiasm will decrease and our fear will increase. We really do not want that.

    Lets just do it because we are not the trailblazers. The trailblazing stage has been done. Lets just duplicate our upline, mentors and other successful peoples results NOW.

    Lawrence Bergfeld