Conquering the fear of not writing your story

The boring babbling that drowns passion

What separates writers from storytellers is that storytellers are great talkers and writers write. Writers write. That’s the reality of being a writer.

Ultimately it’s about getting words down on paper that will tell a story that will express the heart and soul of a writer, and capture the imagination of readers and audiences worldwide.

This might sound strange and rather obvious, but most aspiring writers fail to commit themselves to the writing process for the simple reason that they don’t write.

During 19 years of presenting workshops for writers and coaching writers throughout South Africa in Creative Writing and Scriptwriting, and working with writers on the development of their stories, I tried to solve this mysterious phenomenon and suddenly came to the realisation that there was a very good reason why most aspiring writers do not write.

Whenever encountering writers and always being bombarded by a verbal onslaught of the greatest story never written, it became obvious that the main reason why there is no commitment to the writing process is simply that those who fail to write would rather talk about their writing, than sitting down and write.

The moment writers step out of the comfort zone of a workshop, knowledge gained and insight garnered dissolve into a chase sequence where disorder reigns supreme.

Sudden inspiration becomes nothing more than a brief flirtation with genius, and motivation becomes just another reason to feel good about the desire to write, or having the opportunity to boast about literary talent.

When you ask a writer about the progress of ‘that great masterwork fuelled by passion’ the response is predictably the same:

  • I am too busy to write
  • I am still contemplating the concept
  • I have started working on some other project that has got absolutely nothing to do with the original inspiration to tell my story
  • I have lost interest in what once was the spark of a great idea
  • I have rushed into completing a draft that has been rejected because it’s unreadable and sloppy
  • I have shared my idea with friends/ family and they think it’s fantastic.

Aspirant writers love to talk about their latest project, or the great new idea that surfaced unexpectedly, or about the one that they have been working on indefinitely, or even one that has not yet surfaced and is floating around in their inspired mindscape.

For writers, it’s a natural human trait that provokes babbling and small talk.

Why does talking about it cancel out writing it?

Think about it this way.

You invite a friend you haven’t seen in years over for a visit.

You then tell everyone you know about it, and you conjure up vivid images of what you and your friend will be doing during the visit, places you will see, and perhaps even go as far as having the exact meals in mind. When the friend cancels it’s another story. The eagerly anticipated something is now nothing.

A worthwhile expectation is deemed worthless (and wordless).

  • Talking about your writing builds up excitement in the storyteller of something that has not yet materialised.
  • The expectation becomes emotional.
  • When the expectation does not happen it is replaced by disappointment.
  • This leads to another emotional experience: depression!
  • When the expectation is fulfilled but does not turn out the way you hoped it turns into a disastrous affair.
  • This leads to another emotional experience: Anxiety!

With all these negative emotions working against the creative process, it is understandable why the pleasure of writing turns into suffering and misery.

It is easy to combat negative energy.

Take control and turn thoughts into words that will then be turned into action.

In an ideal writing utopia, writers write relentlessly and dramatise events effortlessly, fervently transporting raw ideas into stories that capture the imagination of the world and transport readers to imaginative worlds where nothing is impossible and anything can happen.

It’s the instinctive creative nature of a writer that provokes writing.

“I have to have this release. I must write. I can never write. I will not be whole,” says South African author Rayda Jacobs, whose award-winning novel ‘Confessions of a Gambler’ has not only received huge local acclaim – winning the 2004 Sunday Times Literary award and the prestigious Herman Charles Bosman Award – but her inspirational story was optioned by Executive producer Costa Theo, who identified the award-winning novel and was instrumental in securing the project and bringing the film to life.

It is understandable why writers enjoy talking about what they aspire to write about.

  • It makes one feel good talking about your own work; there’s a sense of arrogance in showing off your ability to tell stories as well as your vivid imagination and poetic visual flair.
  • There is a sense of achievement in bringing your brainchild to life verbally; with every telling your creation seems to become more vivid until it eventually grows out of proportion and you are stuck with an empty bubble in a cartoon drawing that makes no sense.
  • What you are talking about is imaginative, what you are writing about is a completely different story.
  • There seems to be more fun in bar-hopping your idea from market to market, or producer from producer, than actually sitting down and writing it down so that it can actually evolve into another art form and you can start talking about something else.

The writing process has dissolved into verbal diarrhoea, discipline has been replaced by artistic chaos, grand ideas mutated into unfinished and wasted thoughts, and success has become a war zone where the only enemy is the storyteller.

  • You have become your own worst enemy in this endless pursuit to justify what you are writing about, crippled by the fear of rejection and blinded by the illusion of fame and fortune.
  • You are cheating yourself if you don’t sit down and write, and only talk about writing. You might have the ability to become a successful storyteller, but until you actually create something no one will ever know.  There will never be anything from you that anybody can actually read. Nothing. Zero novels. Zero books. Zero stories. Zero articles.
  • You are also cheating your readers and audiences out of an opportunity to delve into your mindscape and explore the wonderfully exciting world of your story.
  • Your potential audience is non-existent if they cannot read your writing, are oblivious to your creation and are enslaved by the stories created by other storytellers. While you think and talk about writing, the readers of the world will continue to read what is available, what has been actually written and published.
  • You can talk about it later. Write first. There will be ample opportunities during the development and marketing processes where you will have to retell your story a million times.
  • You can talk about writing all you want. No one cares. But until you write something you are not a writer.

Most writers live in a world where imaginative, unrealistic and non-existent realities dominate their existence.

In their sub-conscious minds they are constantly confronted by real-life truths most storytellers tend to ignore, but will always be hanging over them like a shadow:

  • Real-life routines and obligations override writing priorities: What we have to do and what we want to do never seem to balance out. There is this constant battle to prioritise real-life issues and justify being a storyteller and writing when we need to.
  • A canyon of missing information and facts has to be researched or experienced before writing can begin: What we know and what we think we know will cripple the story. There is a constant battle between being perfect and accepting our weaknesses.
  • The premise or concept is dull: What we think is exciting and what will excite someone else are two different worlds. There is an even greater battle between exciting another human being with our stories and boring them to tears.
  • The writing process is larger than the writer: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel and take shortcuts. Respect the process and you will reap rewards.
  • You are not shooting the film, staging the play, or publishing the novel: there is a huge difference between the writing process and the development process; when you are writing your screenplay it is not a film, when you are writing a play it still needs to go through the development and rehearsal processes before it reaches an audience when you write a novel it still has to go through copy editing.

Trying desperately to not allow life to intervene, unfamiliarity alienates passionate intrigue, or simply blinded by ambition, an inherent fear of the writing process sets in.

We have a blinding passion to tell our stories but are too afraid to write them.

We think our fear is connected to the writing process whereas the truth is that we are only afraid of ourselves; of the little imperfections that make us unique and give us our voice.

Shattered by the discovery of the writing process, always telling the whole world about their project, mostly complaining about the unfair treatment unleashed on storytellers, demanding the attention of those who happen to be caught in this intriguing web, most writers just give up.

And so does those who have to listen to the same scenario.

Over and over again.

The boring babbling drowns the passion that is supposed to amount to something, anything, as long as it is painfully transformed into written words that can be read and magically translated into another medium.

Turn your thoughts inward.

Don’t express your thoughts verbally.

Express it in writing, through words that will capture the hearts of readers.

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