From FRAB to Fab (part 1): the oft-forgotten culprit behind writer’s block
I’m back! Happy 2013, everyone! I had an excellent (and incredibly productive) holiday season, and I am just so excited to tackle this new year.
As I promised back in December, I’ve been working on a series of blog posts that specifically address the “fear factor” in writer’s block.
I feel pretty awful for not only never having addressed this before–the idea that fear is a major source of writer’s block–but also for never having acknowledged that it’s a possibility at all. But I’m here to tell you now: fear can be a major contributor to a writing standstill.
Now, I should preface this series by saying that I “believe” in writer’s block. I’ve heard many authors argue there’s no such thing, but I disagree. Writer’s block isn’t Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny–it’s an actual affliction with actual causes (that I’ve discussed in depth before here and here and likely in many other posts of which I’ve now forgotten).
I get writer’s block and I’m not just making it up for attention or as an excuse for low productivity. So while other authors might not have a problem with writer’s block, I want you all to know that it’s definitely a thing for me and many other writers.
Ahem. Moving on.
Fear doesn’t only cause writers to stop producing–it can impede any creative flow, and I think it often does. Sure, laziness can get in the way. Or a simple lack of what precisely needs to happen next to get the ball rolling, but more often than not, I think the culprit behind any creative block is that nasty, no-good, ever-lurking fear.
Fear is one of the most common causes of an artistic block of any kind.
But since we often forget about fear, dismiss it as simple laziness, or simply don’t speak of it (since no one wants to admit to such a weakness), we never deal with the fears. As such, so they continue to pop up and keep our words/art/creativity from flowing.
Want to know if YOUR creativity is suffering from a Fear-Related Artistic Block—or a FRAB for short?
Well, let’s start with a few simple questions:
- When you sit down to create, do you find it hard to slip into creative flow? Or, in other words, do you need a while “to get in the zone” or find that you’re constantly looking away from your project to check email/glance at your phone/stare at the wall?
- Do you wish that you could be more productive with regards to your creativity? I.e. is your daily/weekly/yearly output at the level you’d like it to be? Or do you suspect you could produce more?
- Do you look forward to your creative time each day/week/year/whatever?
- Are you happy with your creative life?
If you answered “no” to ANY of those questions, then I’d say you’re possibly dealing with a nasty ol’ FRAB.
But let’s dig deeper–just to be sure. I want you to go through the lists below and make note of which–if any–of these symptoms apply to you.
Symptoms that are easy to spot:
- You don’t feel like writing, even though you’re pretty sure you love your story.
- You sit at the computer, thinking you’re really going to write this time…but then you don’t. You check your email 4,321 times and refresh Pinterest 3,690 times.
- You spend more time thinking and talking about your book than actually writing it. This is fine up to point, but there is a point after which you’ve passed the “acceptable talk time”. For me personally, that’s anything over a month.
- You know you’re not just lazy because you’re BICHOK-ing every day…but every. Single. Word. You. Write. Feels. Like. Crap. And it’s just agony getting any words out.
- You know you’re not just writing the wrong thing because you feel this story is right and you’ve daydreamed for hours and the appeal of cookies just isn’t hacking it.
Symptoms that are NOT so easy to spot:
- Whenever you sit down to write–or even think about sitting down to write–your chest kinda caves in and your stomach knots up. You might power on through that feeling…or you might go do something else instead.
- There are SO many more important things that need doing RIGHT NOW. The laundry, for one. And the dishes. And alphabetizing all of your bookshelves. And of course you mustn’t forget about cleaning out all the vents–they’re just filthy, they are!
- You think you might need a new computer. Or a new program. Or a new writing space. Or just a new set of pens. Whatever it is that you need, it’s different from what you currently use to write with–and you simply can’t write again until you have a new program/office/playlist/pack of highlighters.
- If you have deadlines, you wait until the last minute to start that new book that’s due in–yikes–three weeks. Or, you frequently miss deadlines that you could have met if you’d worked a little bit everyday.*
If you checked off ≥2 symptoms from the first list and then ≥1 symptom from the second list, then you’ve got a FRAB on your hands.
But that’s okay. Do not panic.
For one, you’re not alone (I have quite a few FRABs that get in the way of my creativity).
For two, I’m going to show you how I deal with the FRABs and how you can work through them too.
But I’ll give you hint to entice you back next Monday: the first step to stopping a FRAB and reopening your creative flow is to stop trying to fight the damned thing. Instead, we’re going to figure out what our FRABs are and then we’re going to befriend them. Trust me, I know how hippie-woowoo I sound, but it works. It really does.
Of Fear and FRABs: Homework Assignment 1
1. Do you wish you were more productive or could maintain a longer creative flow? Do you need to work through some current artistic block that has you pulling your hair? If so, write down what it is that you want changed in your creative life. Be clear. For example, these are my current mission statements:
I want to write more books each year.
I want to easily reach the creative free-fall I used to experience when I first started writing.
I want to feel good about the art I create–not like it’s all crap that the world will laugh at.
2. Those sentences are my FRAB mission statements, and whatever you write down will be your FRAB mission statement(s). Keep them somewhere you can look at often because those words are the fuel that will power you through the more uncomfortable and frustrating parts of this series. When the going get’s tough, the tough look at their mission statement and remember why they heck they set out to do this in the first place.
3. According to the symptoms checklists, are you suffering from a FRAB? Or maybe two? If so, join the club and let’s get a dialogue going in the comments! Or, feel free to email me personally: susan @ susandennard . com
Now head on over to Part 2 in the FRAB series!
*Note: sometimes authors get deadlines that really are unmeetable, even if you work everyday and start way ahead of time. But if you look back on your time-usage and you sort of know deep down that you could’ve met a deadline with better time management, then you’re possibly facing a fear-related writer’s block.
January 13, 2014 @ 3:18 pm
Thanks for this post. This is exactly what I needed to read today! I’ve been dragging my feet on revising the book i wrote for NaNo and I’ve been struggling to figure out why!
January 13, 2014 @ 3:51 pm
So glad it’s good timing. 🙂 I’ve had very similar struggles with my NaNo project, so I feel your pain!!
January 13, 2014 @ 4:05 pm
Gah. Yeah, I definitely have the FRABs. I wonder if men face the same thing (or admit to it), but I’m always worried that I’ll be found out as ‘not a real writer’ and that makes me scared to write, because then there will be positive definite evidence that I CAN’T write, and then I start worrying about all the people who believed in me that I would be letting down…and there’s where the spiral starts! And I know, really, that I can write. I’m just paralyzingly worried that I can’t. Right now, I’m doing well (after a month of procrastination – urgent laundry, window cleaning etc)…but I know all it will take is a comment, or mistake, or bad dream even, and I’ll be back with blank page-itus. THANK YOU for writing this. I’m bookmarking so I can come back and read it (again, and again probably).
By the way, the most recent method I used to get around this, is to only permit myself to write a paragraph of my WIP for several days. As soon as I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to write more, I was gagging to write. My brain is weird.
January 13, 2014 @ 4:25 pm
Ah, yes. I know that FRAB well. As I’ll share in a few weeks, that’s probably the hardest FRAB for me to fight. It’s a nasty one…And I’ll get into this more as well, but my go-to method is to write 1000 words every morning at 5 AM. No matter what, weekends included, a 1000 words a day keeps me going. Something about that consistency and routine–and the fact that I don’t allow myself to look back or change what’s written (that’s what revisions are for!)–helps me power on and keep the FRABs at bay. But you know what? If avoiding your WIP for several days works, then DO IT. Whatever method gets that FRAB out of the picture is a good method, imo. 🙂
January 14, 2014 @ 5:32 pm
Great post. Fear is definitely what’s been keeping me from writing the ending of my current WIP. Just the post I needed to read today.
January 14, 2014 @ 11:26 pm
Yay!! I’m glad it was well-timed, and good luck!! 😀
January 15, 2014 @ 5:13 am
One of my goals for the new year was to get back into writing since I didn’t write anything in 2013. I had finished a story I’d begun when I was in uni in December and started a new one in April, got about two chapters in and then nothing. I can check off so many things off of both of those checklists and just thinking about it is making me a bit anxious, lol.
I just don’t know what is causing my FRAB, which might be one of the things I put down on my missions statement. You can’t stop something if you don’t know why it’s happening.
Great post and look forward to reading the others!
January 16, 2014 @ 8:12 pm
First off: I’m going to talk about finding the fear causing your block on Monday. Hopefully that helps. 🙂
Second off: Ahhhhh, I know the anxiety well. You are not alone. But if I can figure out how to deal with it–not get rid of them, but accept them and work with them so that I can still create freely and happily–I KNOW you can too. <3333
January 16, 2014 @ 4:28 am
I like that there now appears to be a term to diagnose how I’ve been feeling all October-December of this year. FRABS seems like a pretty accurate summary of everything! It’s seriously been a difficult time since I’ve felt stunted, and discouraged, and just annoyed at all the writing I’ve been (making) myself do. Ugh.
January 16, 2014 @ 8:15 pm
Yes, yes, yes. “Stunted, discouraged, and just annoyed”–> that should be the theme song for FRABs. ‘Cos that’s exactly what it feels like.
The first step is acknowledging you’ve got a FRAB, though. So kudos. It’s actually pretty liberating once you accept it. Then you can breathe and say, “Ahhhh, now I see why I am so stunted, discouraged, and annoyed.” Next week, I’ll talk about finding which fears are holding you back–hopefully it helps. <3
January 17, 2014 @ 1:39 am
I think FRAB may be what I’m suffering from. I’ve never actually been able to finish a book, because I always get to the point were I feel drained and blocked, and just plain sick of my idea. Then I abandon it for something shiny and new and the cycle repeats itself. I recently came to that point while researching my WIP, and I’m sick of feeling crappy about it and about myself. I think this might help me, so thanks for posting!
January 19, 2014 @ 11:58 pm
Aaaaaahhhhh, I know THAT affliction well. The SNI–shiny new idea. They’re just SO SHINY!
I’m definitely going to talk about that either in this series or a spin-off series after this about increasing productivity. <3
January 27, 2014 @ 11:38 pm
I’m definitely suffering from FRAB and have been for some time. I have lots of ideas that I get excited about and enjoy spending time planning…but when it comes to diving in and writing I just keep putting it off. When I think about it, my procrastination is a symptom of FRAB-I get paralysed with the fear that deep down, maybe I just have no writing talent. I’m so scared of failing that I do nothing-but I know that’s worse! If I don’t try to get a first draft down on paper I know I’ll never get it written. Thanks for writing this post and reassuring me that I’m not alone in my worries!
January 28, 2014 @ 12:29 am
You’re definitely not alone, and I hope my tips today (and final strategies next week) help you get the words on the paper.
The key is to not beat yourself up! Your FRAB just wants to keep you safe from failure and shame–it really has your best interests at heart! So embrace it. Thank it even. 🙂 You can see more of what I mean in today’s post. <3
Thank you for your comment, Anstice! I so appreciate you sharing.
February 1, 2014 @ 8:41 am
I wish I’d found this while I was a grad student. We call FRABs imposter syndrome. Most of the advice I found for dealing with imposter syndrome broke down to powering through it, which for me only worked for so long before I couldn’t stand the pressure of my insecurities and I’d have to stop. Just thinking about it’s making my throat clench up 😛
Thank you for sharing a more proactive approach to dealing with these kinds of insecurities. Great advice for any creative endeavor!
February 4, 2014 @ 9:04 pm
Hi Kristine! I definitely qualify imposter syndrome as a type of FRAB–it’s pretty rampant in the creative world. Or science world (I know I suffered from that particular fear a lot when I was a grad student). And like you said, if only I’d known to make peace with my fears back then. But alas, better late than never. 😉
I hope the FRAB-friendship approach works for you!! 🙂
April 15, 2015 @ 7:31 pm
A bit late to the discussion, but I’m so grateful to have found this post. I read your series on the productivity pyramid, and spent January falling into that blissful creative playtime daily. I set a goal of writing 750 words a day, and kept hitting over 1200 day after day, writing new things that surprise me and that I would never have written without that scheduled, routinized playtime. Most of all, it was fun – felt like I was tapping into some great creative consciousness that had so much to say.
Then February and Mach hit – with slews of rejections from the literary world. And I’ve struggled so much to even get a few words out. I’m spending all of my “writing time” dreaming about writing, but then my stomach clenches up, I stop breathing, and can’t write a word without wanting to erase it immediately. So FRAB sounds about right – and mine is a nasty nest of fear of failing to accomplish on the page what I dream about, fear that everything I write is crap, and fear that once other people read my work, they too will see it for the crap it is. I’ve heard the “there is no such thing as writer’s block” rap, mostly from male writers. It already feels better hearing someone say it is real, and knowing that someone else learned to conquer it. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.
April 19, 2015 @ 3:14 pm
Hey Tiffany! Not late to the discussion. 🙂 There’s never “late” for FRABs. 😉
And yeah–I feel you on the “routine working so well UNTIL” issue. I was so incredible last winter/spring…and then some stuff happened that threw EVERYTHING out of whack, and for months upon months, I was having to rediscover my equilibrium. Only now, nine months or so later am I FINALLY getting back to a happy/stable place–which is allowing me to, yet again, tap into my productivity pyramid.
Writer’s block is 100000% real, and there are different sources. Anyone who says otherwise is just…lying. Or else writing dry, cardboard words half the time. Sure, I CAN write everyday, but 50% of the words (or much more) will ultimately get cut. I can *feel* when the words aren’t flowing, and getting to the source of why is so critical.
I hope this series helps, and feel free to email me if you ever need a listening ear. <3