Monday, January 30, 2023

First, deal with The Fear

by Suw on January 30, 2023

Welcome to Why Aren’t I Writing?, my new Substack newsletter! Over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to explore all of the things that get in our way when we want to write, including, appositely, the fear of the blank page. Which is what I’ve got right now.

I shouldn’t. I’m an experienced blogger and journalist. I’m used to sitting down with a blank page and a deadline and having to fill one up before the other expires. And yet here I am, sitting at my desk, filled with The Fear.

What if no one is interested in what I’ve got to say? What if I run out of things to talk about? What if my writing is boring and no one reads to the end? What if I don’t have enough time to do this newsletter justice? What if people think I’m full of shit? What if no one subscribes and I end up talking to myself?

Right now, it feels much easier to stare out of my window and watch flight KL717 from Amsterdam to San Jose pass by at 29,000 ft. (According to FlightRadar24, it turned around just south of Cork and began heading back to Amsterdam. I wonder why. Google doesn’t know. Twitter hasn’t mentioned it. Probably a mechanical fault. I’ll check back on it later.)

The Fear is, fundamentally, a fear of public humiliation. It’s something I used to talk about extensively when I worked as a social technologist helping companies develop adoption strategies for social media. We are all terrified of looking like an idiot, of being judged and found wanting. Rather than take a risk we freeze, we procrastinate (KL717 is currently over Colchester), or we avoid the task completely.

In the context of software adoption, the key was to ensure everyone was properly trained, that they had trusted people they could ask for help, and that the company’s aims for using this new software aligned with their employee’s personal aims – help people do what they want to do anyway and the tools you use become irrelevant.

In the context of one person sitting down to start a new project, well, there’s very little between me and utter terror. Only my ego, which tells me that I’m an articulate person with useful things to say, but which I rarely believe, encourages me on. My self-doubt, on the other hand, is telling me to select all and delete.

(KL717 is in the middle of the North Sea.)

I shall persevere, not just because I think this is a topic that a fair number of people might be interested in, but because I want to know more myself. I have learnt how to get past my demons and write, and I’ve been particularly productive over the last few years. But it hasn’t got any easier. I still struggle when faced with a blank page. And I still feel like I need someone to give me the A-OK before I publish an edition of my newsletter or a blog post.

I have wanted to be an author since I was a child but, despite being told that I was good at writing from pretty much the moment I picked up a pen, I internalised the lesson that normal people can’t make a living from writing. Especially not women. Especially not women writing science fiction or fantasy. Especially not women from the arse end of nowhere, with no network and no contacts and no mentor.

It’s not easy to throw away this ‘head trash’ that I’ve been carrying round for the best part of 40 years. Indeed, it’s a process, a recovery that requires daily effort.

(KL717 is coming in to land, 2 hours 30 minutes after it first took off. I suspect there are going to be some very pissed off people alighting at Schiphol shortly. Maybe one of them will tweet about what happened.)

So if you want to write, but aren’t, I understand you. I understand the fear. I understand the self-doubt. I understand the procrastination. And, as this newsletter progresses, I hope to develop a better understanding of these problems and their solutions. I’m optimistic that I can help you get past them too.

(KL717 has landed. No one on Twitter has said a thing.)

I’ll be publishing a new issue of Why Aren’t I Writing? twice a month and asking questions such as, What is confidence and where can I get some? Can I get rid of my impostor syndrome? And, What’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and which one should I cultivate?

So if you want to conquer your writing gremlins, sign up now and don’t miss a thing!

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