After writing on the side for twelve years, all while holding down a job or running my own business, I became a full-time writer at age 44 and discovered that…wait for it…I could not write.
Yep. After dreaming about becoming a full-time writer and creative for years, I finally had the opportunity to do it and I could not write.
It made me mad.
And ashamed of myself.
I felt fear every time I sat down to write. Every time. I’m super consistent that way.
My fear of writing didn’t show up as the shakes or nervousness. (Well, a little.) My fear showed up as an overwhelming urge to do anything else except write. I’d rather do laundry, clean the bathrooms (ugh!), reorganize my bookshelf (again), or even dust my extensive collection of stuffed animals than sit down and write.
Can you relate? Well, my friends, I’m glad you can. Because this avoidance thing? It’s just procrastination. And, you know what procrastination is? Procrastination is fear in disguise.
So, if you’ve been avoiding writing for days, weeks, years, know that you’re in good company. Most of us are on the same cruise ship right there with you.
But, there is hope.
After 18 months of struggling with fear and writing, I discovered a technique that helped me consistently write five to six days a week. I didn’t come up with this on my own—my therapist and I co-created it—and after practicing this technique for eight weeks, I finally made writing a habit.
Sound the horns and start the ticker tape parade! It took me a year and a half to make writing a habit. I’m no longer ashamed of that fact. In fact, I’m proud of it.
That’s why I’m revealing what I did in hopes that it will help you with your fear and writing. There are seven steps. But don’t worry, they’re all simple steps.
Ready? Here we go
Step #1: Pick a time of day to write.
For me, the best time of time is after breakfast and before lunch. My therapist first suggested that I pick a specific time of day, like 10:00am, but when I tried that, it made me want to avoid writing even more. So, it worked better for me to set the goal that I would write sometime after breakfast, but before lunch. I can do this because I have a flexible schedule. If you have a set schedule, you will want to pick a specific time for when you will write.
Step #2: Sit down and write.
Okay, let’s be straight here. This is the hardest step. Sit down (or stand up if you have one of those modern stand-up desks) and write. No surfing on the web. No ruminating. No organizing your desk. Sit down, my friend, and WRITE. Oh, and when you do, write down the time that you started writing. This is important.
Step #3: Link your writing with something else.
To make writing a habit, it helps to link it with other things that are comfortable for you that are also habits. For example, I found that I liked linking my writing with my morning routine because my mind is fresher in the morning. I wake up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, meditate for ten minutes, take a shower, and write. That’s five things that I do before I write. It may seem like a lot but once it becomes habit, it feels natural. That’s what you want—for writing to feel like a natural part of your day’s routine.
Step #4: Set an end time for your writing.
This is needed if you’re on a set schedule and need to do certain things (go to work, drop off kids at school, etc.) at certain times. Pick an end time that works for your schedule. If you’re starting out, consider an end time for fifteen minutes after you begin. Too short? It’s not. I remember reading about a woman who wrote for ten minutes a day, and in a year, she had finished her novel. So, don’t sniff at only ten or fifteen minutes a day. Those minutes add up. Personally, I don’t set an end time. Instead, because I’m an extreme J in Myers-Briggs and love to complete things, I set a goal to finish a chapter (if working on a book) or a set number of scenes (if working on a script). When you finish writing, write down the time you stopped.
REMEMBER: Write down the time you start and the time you stop every day that you write. This is important for the next step.
Step #5: Send an email with your week’s writing times to someone who cares.
This is key. Choose a friend, family member, or another trusted person to email once a week with your writing times. For me, that was my therapist. At the end of every week, I’d email my therapist with the days of the week and how much I wrote each day. My emails looked something like this:
Sunday, March 3, 10-11am, 60 minutes
Monday, March 4, 9:30-11:30am, 120 minutes
Tuesday, March 5, 11am-12:30pm, 90 minutes
Wednesday, March 6, 11:30am-12:15pm, 45 minutes
Thursday, March 7, 12-12:30pm, 30 minutes
Friday, March 8, day off
Saturday, March 9, 10:30am-12:30pm, 120 minutes
It’s nice if your trusted person emails back with “Great work!” or something like that. But, they should not critique or ask questions about your writing times. This is more an exercise for you to see how much you wrote each week and to be accountable to someone besides yourself. This step is crucial and super helpful. Having to email my therapist once a week kept me accountable to myself and to her. It’s a great combination for establishing writing as a habit.
Step #6: Each day is a new opportunity.
Do not beat yourself up if you miss a day…or two…or three…or even four. Every day is a new opportunity to start fresh. If you find yourself overwhelmed with feelings of avoidance, write for ten minutes. Still feel like avoiding it? Write for five minutes. The amount of time does not matter. As author Jeff Goins says, it’s about “frequency, not quantity.”
Step #7: Don’t give up!
Even if you skip a whole week or two (or ten!) and feel so guilty that you want to give up the whole shebang…DON’T. Remember Step #6. Each day is a new opportunity. Forgive yourself and begin again.
I hope this technique helps you as much as it’s helped me. Feel free to adjust the seven steps to fit your life and your personal preferences.
But I want you to know that even after being a full-time writer for three years, I still encounter fear all the time. In fact, I had fear before writing this article. It’s always with me. But I don’t fear fear anymore. Fear is my friend, and it’s your friend too. You don’t ever want to get rid of fear. It warns and protects us when we’re in trouble.
However, when fear comes in while you’re doing something emotionally scary but not dangerous—like writing—don’t panic. Recognize it like the old friend that it is. Acknowledge it, then put pen to paper or place your fingers on the keyboard.
You are not alone. You can do this. Write on!
PS: While I no longer write every day, when I’m working on a project like a novel or a script, I do. After finishing a project, I take a few weeks or months off to rest and rejuvenate. I’ve learned that I can fall right back into the writing habit when I need to, and it’s made all the difference in the world.
Peg Cheng writes emotionally honest, culturally relevant, and suspenseful stories that tell the truth about everyday people facing difficult problems. Before this, she worked in 35 jobs including fabric cutter, bus parts counter, biohazard sanitizer, and public toilet researcher. Along with storytelling, Peg revels in adventures with her husband Marcus, laughing with people, hugging stuffed animals, and helping fearful writers. Visit Peg and her creations at pegcheng.com.