Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 21, 2014

Is Fear Freezing Up Your Creativity?

by Jenny Hansen

"There isn’t any secret. You sit down and you start and that’s it."
~ Elmore Leonard

Churchill_Success_PhotopinLast month, I took a course with Margie Lawson called Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors, which I would recommend to anyone.

Margie might have geared the course toward writers, but I've already talked a painting/designer friend and my non-writing cousin into taking it as well.

Within the first week, I identified 5+ things that will make me more productive forever. Certainly, I wasn't feeling like things could be worse.

At the beginning of her course, I stumbled across an email draft of my 2013 goals. (Coincidence? I think not.) It was an appalling moment, looking at that list, and realizing I'd only accomplished one.

The agony... Out of seven fabulous goals, I'd pulled off...ONE.

Where I wanted to wallow, Margie made us examine our previous goal lists to find out WHY we were falling short.

The most important thing I learned from all those 2013 goals?

I am not a "yearly list" kind of girl.

The goals are too big and they overwhelm me. I get lost inside them, and then I feel like a hideous, pitiful loser (I told you this process is not logical). I had the same issue with quarterly goals, although it wasn't quite as bad.

The simple act of only putting down a few small goals per day freed me, and it launched my frozen creativity into orbit. I didn't have to try to figure out some huge list, I just had to do "these two little things."

On the days when I was really smart, I'd write for 20 mins before I did anything else.

Here was my list for January (and only January):

  1. Complete Margie’s DSDB class.
  2. Write at least 15 mins of fiction 5-6 days a week – shoot for 30 mins.
  3. Meet with friend on the 9th to make a first steps freelance plan.
  4. Submit 2 queries for freelance work – doesn’t matter where.
  5. Sign up to teach ONE online course to begin no earlier than mid-to-late February.

I couldn't believe it when I achieved every goal. Every. One. The most beautiful thing about my new plan is that I get $hit done and then I feel better about myself.

Margie's material is proprietary so you have to take the class if you want it (she has packets too), but I will share one little thing that described my old approach to goals:

A Negative spiral. Or – How to set yourself up to FAIL:

  • Make a big, overwhelming list
  • Attempt a few items
  • Allow yourself to be distracted, do other things
  • Regarding your list items – Fail
  • Become depressed
  • Ignore list
  • Misuse time
  • Accomplish little
  • More depression

Yep, that was ME the first week of January...feeling like a failure. And it wasn't logical.

Then I met with one of my pals who's a successful freelancer, and she tasked me with creating a writing resume for the freelance endeavor I described above. I had to list all the writing stuff I do and put it in resume form.

It was like pulling teeth. I hemmed, I hawed. I hadn't published a book yet, or even an "official" freelance assignment. That ugly small voice in my head asked me who the hell I thought I was. I felt completely out of my depth.

At the end of my first draft, my change coach (who holds me accountable to for all this) had to remind me of like 5 things I'd forgotten. By the time I was done, the list and it's descriptors were TWO pages.

That's not "accomplishing nothing."

I was exhibiting what Margie calls "faulty thinking." (Focusing on my shortcomings and ignoring my successes.) What about the 600 posts I've written for More Cowbell? The SocialIn Network blogs I do every Friday? My work here?

I'm coming to the realization that it doesn't really matter what I didn't do, it matters what I WILL do.

My previous thinking was undiluted crapola. FUBAR. Spotty on the logic. And I had this spotty thinking because I was scared. I think that's the dark suffocating place where most spotty thinking comes from.

We did a series on fear a few years ago here at WITS called "The Fear Thowdown" and it's always been my favorite. I think we’ve covered common writers’ fears REALLY well -- you'll have to let me know down in the comments.

There was Laura Drake’s post – Fear of NOT Succeeding – that started the  Throwdown. Laura worries constantly about running out of time before accomplishing her goals.

Fae Rowen answered the challenge with a beautiful post called, “Fear of Success” where she shared that she fears not meeting expectations and submitting work that is less than perfect.

D.A. Watt balanced both sides with “Are You A Head Case? Fear No More!” Deb worries about dropping the ball in her personal list of responsibilities and spreading herself too thin trying to be “Super Me.”

I spoke on the Fear Factor of Dreams, summing up the other posts and discussing how our dreams can both help and hinder us.

Finally, if you're suffering from faulty thinking, I recommend that you pick yourself a Coach who will slap you around when you need it.

I ensured my success by picking Laura Drake as a Change Coach (yes, our Laura here at WITS) and she's been a rockstar. She sends me Facebook inspiration and encourages me to keep going. She calls and harangues me when I haven't sent her words for a while. She calls me on my faulty thinking.

Writing is often a lonely business, and no one can do it for you. But they can help. Your writing team is vital to your success while you figure out how to get out of your own way.

How do you approach goals? What kinds of faulty thinking do you suffer from? What's the #1 "goal avoidance" behavior you engage in? Who holds you accountable?

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA, on the SocialIn Network (which serves 2.5 million people), or here at Writers In The Storm.

photo credit: gareth1953 the original via photopin cc

61 comments on “Is Fear Freezing Up Your Creativity?”

  1. This post gave me shivers, Jenny. I hope you don't mind my saying this here, but you were very open, and I have one more perspective, as your coach, that might help someone else who is reading this.

    You and I have been friends for what, 7 years? I had NO idea you felt this way. Oh yeah, I knew you sucked at goals and time management, and that you wanted to get better, but I didn't realize how deep it went, or how you flogged yourself about it.


    Well, keep in mind, people, when you look around you and everyone seems to be humming along, and you feel like a loser compared to the super-stars around you - we ALL have inner demons, chewing away at our self-esteem. You're not going to find someone more outwardly assured than Jenny, and yet she's just given you a glimpse behind the curtain.

    Some days, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other.
    But guess what? Put enough of those days together, and you've gotten a LONG way!

    If ya'll (practicing to be a Texan) can put up with seeing me in a too-tight cheer leading skirt, I'll continue to shake my pom-poms (and other stuff that an old lady shouldn't be shaking) for you!

    GOOOoooooo TEAM!

    1. I'm going with Laura on this ... never would have pegged this. Me? Big time! You? Never. Laura has her hands full poking both of us out of the self-poop muck. 🙂

    2. See, this is the problem with being good at your day job, even as you chase your dreams. I am confident at work and in the classroom. I know what I'm doing there and all the steps to get it done. But with writing, it's been a tough journey.

      Before January, I "wanted" really badly, but I don't think I "believed." Those 15-30 minutes chunks really DO add up to a book, or two or twelve. But I had to believe it.

  2. I think my fear of writing crap gets in my way, stops my fingers from typing. I can see the scene but am not quite sure what to say, so say nothing. Until something goads me into action, and then I sit down and the words finally come. But breaking through the resistance is hard. My avoidance technique tends to be to do something admin, figure out how to do something different online (like host an event on Facebook), or clean out my email inbox. I'm be productive, but not doing the primary thing: writing the next book. That said, I'm getting offline now and putting words on virtual paper. Thanks for the reminder, Jenny, to do the important tasks first, one step at a time.

    1. Breaking through the resistance is evil, isn't it Betty. My kitchen is NEVER so clean as when I don't know how to write a scene. But I learned something in my 20-30 mins a day last month. Even when it's going slow and tortuous, all those sessions really add up if you keep going. 🙂

  3. Great and honest post. I really need to think more clearly about my plans and goals and make them achievable so as it feels good to reach them and not impossible 😀

    1. Harliqueen, you sound like me. The goals become more important than the work...and there's very little joy in that for me. Especially when I miss on the goals. Those tinier steps make me feel like a rockstar.

  4. I just recently became a "goal-oriented" person, so I'm kinda new at this. However, fear definitely plays a major role in wether I obtain my goals or not. I somethimes back out of goals I've made because I'm afraid I won't succeed in reaching them. Kinda self defeating behavior, right?

    1. You need Margie's class, Billy! Seriously, the SDBs as she calls them are like big fiery dragons in our minds. They are very hard to slay, but she provides great lessons to help you do so.

  5. Fabulous post, Jenny!

    I'm a goal person. I have my yearly goals, my monthly goals, and of course, daily goals. And yes, I flog myself regularly for not accomplishing everything I think I should accomplish.

    This though ... I loved, LOVED this --> "Writing is often a lonely business, and no one can do it for you. But they can help. Your writing team is vital to your success while you figure out how to get out of your own way."

    Thank you!! For the honest post and for being on my writing team. 🙂

    1. I love being on your team, Orly! And the idea of all those goals kind of gives me the willies. I'm trying to focus on the day right now, then I'll branch to the week and month. Some day I might even get the quarterlies. 🙂

  6. Wow...and I thought I was the only one! Overwhelming goals shut me down. I'm trying to simplify so I can be more creative and not worry about the outside forces that sabotage my every forward step. Mostly, it's me. I let my fears take over. So, fewer goals, more productivity. My first one for today is to give my fears a break and say hello to accomplishment. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Emlee, I just had this talk with my sister yesterday. You're NEVER the only one. It just feels like it when you're in the middle of the "failure death spiral."

      There's a lot to be said for, "I'm starting TODAY." Even if you've had 3 of those this week. 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing all this wealth of information. I'm with you about yearly goals. Too intimidating and besides life is not static...goals can change and take a left (or right curve) depending on the achievement of past goals. But monthly goals. That makes a lot more sense to me.
    And yes, look at all you've done. Bravo!

    1. You are welcome, Carol! And good luck in your goal making. I had a lot of fun looking at the notebook Margie made us keep for the class and seeing all the little daily goals. 🙂

  8. Thank you all for sharing this information. I too fail to give myself credit for what I have done, instead dwelling on everything I want to do and haven't. Thank you all for these tips and encouraging words.

    1. You're welcome, Barbara. And that's a very common self-defeating behavior, as Margie pointed out to me. She (and Laura) also showed me how to get past it. But it takes work.

  9. These days, mostly due to health issues, I plan goals by the week. Hubby worries that I'll overdue and it's easy for me to give in and say okay, I won't do that now -- when I know I can do it, should do it and know I'll actually feel stronger for the doing. But I find that if I make a weekly list and then cross off items in whatever order they are done, that the goals get done. So whether we do it by the month or the week or the year, we all have to discover what works and what doesn't. For me the weekly goals are working now. The weekly goals will help me "toward" the three or four larger goals on the one-year list. 🙂

    1. You know I'm a fan of those smaller goals. I feel like, in the end, they're going to save me. I can deal with "small." 🙂

      You're fighting a big fight right now, and that's going to take a ton of energy. But, isn't it nice, to feel like you're still taking time for yourself and your dreams? That's what it feels like now when I tackle goals.

  10. Jenny, of course you know that so many of us relate to this in a big way. Ah yes, I can put myself down with the best of them. Did it so well, I let my work sit fallow for decades before I faced the fact that it wasn't going anywhere if I didn't move it. I am a big list-maker. Then I proceed to ignore the list or I recycle it daily under a year has gone by and an item from January is languishing in mid-December 🙂

    Again, WITS has proven to be the place we all need to come for our weekly fix, for inspiration and to find liken-souls.

    1. Decades is a long time, Florence. That took major guts to pick them up again. You and I will keep at it!! Wanna "pinky swear" that we'll finish and submit?

  11. Jenny,
    Thanks for your honesty. You've summed up my feelings today. Letting myself get overwhelmed by an intense writing course brought insecurities to the surface My wise coach told me to use what sticks and relax. That I was one of many who felt this way. She's right! Also, I'm learning to build play time in my schedule. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Coaches are the bomb, aren't they, Patricia?! I'd have never made it through that course last month without Laura.

      And I've noticed a trend that adding on skills, or making changes, almost always brings out our insecurities. It's good that you recognized it and talked to someone whose opinion you valued. *sending you a virtual high five*

  12. How do I approach goals?
    This year I choose one word to summarize my goal. That was word was 'Keep'--as in I will keep writing; keep submitting; keep working on revisions; keep learning the craft of writing. Then each day I make a note of how I've worked on this goal.

    1. I adore these one-word focus points that I see so many of my writing pals doing. And I think that "KEEP" is a marvelous choice. Perseverance will get you a super-long way, Leanne. Keep at it!!

  13. Way to go, Jenny! Yep, I get overwhelmed very easily. But you're right, it comes down to making the day-to-day choices. That's all we have to worry about, really. 😉

    1. And see? I'd never have pegged you for an "easily overwhelmed" cause I see you moving mountains in your everyday life. It just goes to show you that none of us will EVER "have it all together." 🙂

  14. Like most writers, it seems, we beat ourselves up, set unrealistic expectations, and define "success" in ways that are unattainable without the planets lining up. Then we find out that people admire and envy us for out work ethic and talents. You're probably doing a lot better than you think.

    1. LOL, Eric. It's never "enough" from the inside, is it? If you're knocking out one type of goals, you sit there fretting that you didn't also knock down the other kind. Ah, the brain...

  15. Like you I find long term goals can be overwhelming - I just end up kicking myself for not doing them rather than achieving anything. I focus on short term goals and weekly patterns. Because I'm quite into games I also use HabitRPG, a habit-building webpage and app, to reinforce patterns of good behaviour and keep me on target. But as you say, overcoming the fear is a big part of even starting on that.

    Just this week I found myself wasting time dithering over which daily goals to follow first, wasting time and winding myself up. I had to remind myself that the most important thing was to just do something, fend of the procrastination and get on with it.

  16. I had planned to take this class - - but, well, a major life event happen. Will pick up the lecture packet.

    Thanks for your honesty, I'm sure most of us have struggled with goals.

  17. Yay, Jenny! It feels so good to get unstuck. I'm so happy for you! And thanks for sharing your experience with the class and how much it helped you. We all need a kick in the butt every once in a while. Including yours truly. Marcy Kennedy does that on a consistent basis. lol. 🙂

  18. Great post! My little in-person group wrote a goal on an index card last year at the beginning of the year and our self-appointed goal keeper put them away and pulled them out last November. My goal had been to finish a first draft of the story I was working on. When I wrote it on the card it was really just a "pie in the sky" because a lightning strike next door to our house had caused a great deal of our electronics to malfunction and I had just lost the first 3 chapters of that story. At the end of the year she passed back our cards. I had met my goal and had submitted the complete ms which was eventually rejected but the point was I had accomplished my goal.

    I have to confess I keep that little index card close and take when I'm feeling like a failure, I take it out and remind myself that I can succeed!

  19. This article was so inspiring to me, a newbie novelist, who waited until retirement years to even start, so overwhelmed by "life" that I set up obstacles for even beginning a novel. Yet, now that I have the time and space, I find that my self-doubts hold me back. How does one find a writing coach? Seems I would need one with a long reach and a good set of pom-poms/whips.

    1. Dot, everyone starts out all new and shiny. And scared. We all start out scared. My best recommendation for getting a coach is to take Margie's class. You'll find your coach right there, amongst the 50 or so people who take it with you. 🙂

  20. Jenny & Laura
    Great post! I needed the reminder that you can't eat the elephant in one bite--you have to cut it up in chewable size pieces.

    I have been postponing writing for a bunch of stupid reasons (I think). First telling myself no one will want to read what I have written.
    If I can't devote two hours or more to writing a day-- I shouldn't even start. It's a waste of time.
    I have so much revising to do that I may as well scrap the book.

    Your post reminded be of something Robert Schuler said-- "Success is never ending, Failure is never final."

    Thank you and happy writing!

    1. LOVE the elephant analogy, Carol. Those lies we tell ourselves stop us cold, at least they do so for me. I set a timer and tell myself: I only have to get through these 20-30 mins. That seems so be working for me right now.

  21. I thank the writing gods everyday that I partnered with my mother. Mathair is such a confident, secure person while I have a tendency to scrutinize myself and set unreachable goals striving to be perfect. She's constantly reminding me to be easier on myself and that I'm only human and will make mistakes. Failure is apart of being human. There will be times you fall down, we're just lucky enough to have someone that'll pick us up and dust us off.

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