The Barrier of Fear

When it comes to writing fiction, a big hindrance to idea development is fear.

Ever think or hope that you have a good idea for a story but you’re afraid of it? Are you afraid to believe?

Maybe you lack the belief that it’s good enough to write or good enough to be published. Maybe you don’t think you can do it. 

Maybe you don’t feel you have the skills necessary.

Maybe you’re just psychologically skittish at the prospect of really coming up with something worthwhile.

Maybe you’re unsure you have what it takes to commit yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to a long fiction project such as a novel.

Whatever the reason, fear can throw a roadblock across our path and stop our potential project in its tracks.

Now, it’s easy for me to quote FDR (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”) and it’s easy for me to tell you to just get over your doubts and insecurities. As the Nike ad used to say–in another context–“Just do it!”

But if you’re floundering in a morass of uncertainty, you need a rope to drag you from it–not a pep talk. So here’s some rope; grab on!

The best way to conquer fear of writing is to gain confidence in your technical skills.

You gain confidence in your technical skills by studying and practicing the writing craft. Pore over the technique books of Jack Bickham and Dwight V. Swain. Follow their advice as best you can, then mark up a chapter or short story by one of your favorite authors and see if you can identify how viewpoint is established or how characters are introduced vividly.

Have faith in your idea.

The Bible defines faith as belief in something unseen.

So do you have faith in your own story sense? Do you think you have a good idea?

Have you tested it along the points I mentioned in my last post?

If it passed those questions, and if it’s still alive in your head and heart, then run it through screenplay teacher Robert McKee’s tests:

*Does your idea have inherent conflict in the situation?

*Is your idea original?

Inherent conflict makes your job as a writer so much easier than if you try to stick conflict onto a bland situation.

Compare the following:

A. Two men–rivals at work and in love with the same woman–are unexpectedly trapped in a malfunctioning elevator.

B. Two men–team members and close friends from childhood–must suddenly come to grips with their feelings when their beloved coach dies.

Neither idea is a bad one. A skilled writer could put together a story from either scenario. But B is going to require a lot of revision because it lacks inherent conflict. The situation is emotional, maybe stressful, but dealing with it will be like trying to push a soggy noodle across a cutting board.

As for originality, all this means is questioning whether your idea is identical to seventy other stories already out there on the shelves or whether you’ve come up with one slightly different aspect than the pack.

Consider the premise of an English child leaving home and going to boarding school.

Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Nicholas Nickleby, A Little Princess, and Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone.  Identical premise; all different from each other. They stand out from countless forgettable imitations. Sara Crewe is a girl, her home is in India, and she falls from riches to rags. Harry Potter is attending a boarding school for wizards.

So does your idea have a little twist or a different angle that will set it apart? In the 1920s when Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd came out, a number of critics yelled “Cheat!” But everyone else was thinking, “Wow!” The book is still in print today, over 80 years later, and its plot twist is still stunning those who read it for the first time.

You don’t have to be brilliant. You just have to offer something slightly different from what everyone else is doing.

So, if your idea doesn’t conform to what other authors are doing, don’t squelch its individuality! Don’t lose your nerve!

Instead, believe in your idea and have faith in it. And if your faith feels utterly blind, that’s okay. Learn to take creative risks.

Maybe you feel no faith in your premise whatsoever. In that case, pretend to have faith by carrying on anyway.

Scared or not, you proceed, one page at a time. And you don’t quit until you can type “The End” at the conclusion of your draft.


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6 responses to “The Barrier of Fear

  1. Hi I am Scott Lee, an analyst, consultant, speaker, strategist and writer on topics related to digital content technology.
    Interesting post!
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  2. Can I hire you…for a day…to stand in front of me and read this post as if it were a rallying battle sermon. I jest in good faith, this was a hell of a read. Thanks.

  3. Thanks, Deb. Great post! My greatest fear is not writing because I know I have to eventually stop and I’ll just be mad when it happens. Sometimes I won’t write because of it. Weird, eh?

    • No, that’s not weird at all. It’s very natural, given that you don’t want to drop your story, you don’t want to fail with your story, and you don’t want the frustration that getting stuck will bring you.


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