From FRAB to Fab (part 4): the best laid plans of FRABs and men

From Frab to Fab-4As I promised last week, we are finally going to befriend the FRABs (Fear-Related Artistic Blocks) for good. No more yelling at them or shoving the poor guys aside–we’re hugging them close this week.

In fact, we’re not just embracing our FRABs, we’re going to learn from them and use them as fuel in our current creative endeavors. But first, make sure you’ve read the first posts in this series (and at least looked at/thought about the Homework Assignments):

Seat belts, Airbags, and Backup Plans

As I discussed in last week’s post, our fears are here to protect us. They know how much we hate the sting of failure, so our fears try to keep us from that sting by basically getting in our way. If Giles can keep me from writing, then there’s never any chance I’ll make an ass of myself or watch my book fail.

When you get right down to it, our FRABS have our best interests at heart. But we can take care of ourselves, right? As I mentioned last week, though, our brains way overestimate how much failure/judgement/embarrassment will hurt–and that’s a bad thing. Our FRABs are basically trying to put us in a carseat when a seat belt will do just fine.

So we need to make a figurative carseat–or a back-up plan, in other words. If we show our FRABs that we’re prepared for a car crash–that we’ve got everything covered to make driving as safe as possible–then the FRABs will often slink away.

To give you an example, I’m going to take my FRAB, Everyone writes better stories than I do, and I’m going to assume that this is is true. That I am indeed the worst writer on the planet and every single living thing (my dogs included) can writer better stories than I.

Now I’m going to make a seat belt (i.e. a protective measure to soften the pain of my fear coming to fruition):

    • Since everyone writes better than I write, I will revise. No matter how bad this draft is, there can always be another draft.
    • Since everyone writes better than I write, I will reach out to my critique partners. They will read this book before I ever release it into the world. I trust their feedback since they are a part of All Those Other Writers Who Are Better Than I.
    • Since everyone writes better than I write, I will take workshops and study the craft of writing. I will especially focus on learning from authors’ whose books I adore.

USUALLY, those protective techniques are enough to keep my fear away. But sometimes even a seat belt isn’t enough in a car crash–and safety measures aren’t always strong enough to calm your poor FRABs’ overprotectiveness.

So now I make an airbag (i.e. my back-up plan for the worst case scenario). You know, just in case my writing is so much worse than everyone else’s that it’s not salvageable.

    • If everyone still writes better than I, then I will hire a professional, freelance editor with legitimate references/experience.

Bam. That’s it. Worst-case scenario. The car has crashed, the manuscript has failed, and it will still be okay because I will pay someone to help me fix it. I’ve never had to do it before, but that doesn’t mean I won’t one day. (You hear that, Humbert?)

Let’s try this again, but let’s approach one of my biggest, scariest fears: I am wasting time and should have a “real job” with guaranteed results and a steady income.

Okay, if I assume that I really am wasting my time and that the worst is going to happen–no one buys my fiction and I never sell another book/series in my life–then what can I do?

    • Seat belts: Stop writing fiction for money and use my blog content as a foot-in-the-door for making writing-advice books or workshops. I can continue to write fiction, but I won’t rely on it for money.
    • Airbags: Get a part-time or full-time job as a cashier/waiter/whatever the heck I can find. I will write fiction purely as a hobby again, when I have the time. Or I can continue to write fiction a lot, but I won’t rely on it for income.

There. Plain and simple. Failing to sell another series clearly won’t kill me, I have a safety net–an airbag–in place in case the time ever comes.

Remembering the Rewards

So we’ve got our “seat belts” and “airbags”. Now–if we stick with the car analogy–we need to figure out our “end destination.” In other words, where are we trying to go? What is our end reward for embracing the possibility of failure/car crash/lifelong shame?

There are two types of rewards that can come from clearing up a nasty FRAB. The first is the immediate reward–the pleasure of production. If you’re like me, then creating makes you happy. Thus, when you’re not creating because a FRAB has you clogged, you’re not happy.

But there are also long-term rewards for befriending your fears. Remember how I made you identify mission statements in week 1’s homework assignment? I told you to write down exactly what your fear blocks your from achieving/doing.

These were two of mine:

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.

Those mission statements were essentially my goals–my end destinations. My fears were blocking me from creative free-fall and a sense of pride–and I wanted that to stop!

So what did I do? I transformed those goals into rewards. They’re no longer end destinations but A BEACH VACATION OF AWESOME. If I can navigate the road sans car wreck, I’ll get to lounge beside the Caribbean and work on my non-existent tan. (Now is that a carrot to dangle in front of your FRAB’s nose or what?)

Rewards are what I will have when the FRABs and I are in harmony. I will no longer “want”, but instead “have”. So, I need to rephrase my original mission statements to look like this:

I easily reach creative free-fall like I used to.

I feel good about the art I create.

Simple as that. Those rewards were my beach vacations–they’re where I knew I could go once the FRABs and I were working together. Somehow just seeing them written like that made them all the more tangible to me. All the more worth working for.

And let me tell you: last summer, I really realllllllly wanted to reach creative free-fall like the old days. But it wasn’t happening for me and hadn’t in months. I was so frustrated. I thought I was a hack. I thought I had burned myself out for good. I thought my life was doomed to forced, miserable drivel.

But then I made friends with Humbert and Giles and all the rest of my FRABs, and I can honestly say that I now easily reach creative free-fall like I used to. And even better, I feel good about the art I create. Does that mean I think my writing is great? Not necessarily, but I know that it’s the best I can make it. And once a project is done, it’s done. I set my eyes on the next story. I set my eyes on the next reward and celebrate the rewards I’ve already earned.

Putting It All Together & Actually Talking to Your FRABs

It can get so exhausting when we have to shush our FRABs all the time. Which is why I keep saying: make peace, not war. If you offer your FRABs the path of least resistance, they’ll take it. Plus, if you’re not fighting to keep a fear a bay, but instead welcoming the fear in, you’re using less energy. And even better, the more comfortable you become accepting and even liking your FRAB, the less often it pops up to creatively block you.

But I should mention: it takes practice. I catch myself shushing my fears or avoiding them all the time still. I have to be actively aware that I’m fighting the FRABs, and then make a conscious choice to chat with them instead.

Now let’s take Humbert as our example conversation. Whenever I start to feel that nagging sense that some other author has written or is writing better than I what I can produce–and has more success because of it–I do two things:

First, I recognize that the FRAB has appeared. I know Humbert is lurking because I get this sense of discontent in my chest. And usually, that happens when I’ve spent too much time on Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, etc.

Whenever that feeling appears, my next step is to acknowledge out loud what I am afraid of. Basically, while Humbert is pontificating about how much I fail compared to other authors, I nod my head and say, “Heyyyyy, Humbert. How’s it going? Yeah, yeah–I hear you. Those other writers are way better than me. They’ve written better books and have more success than I can ever dream of having.”

Finally, I tell the FRAB that it’s all okay, explain my back-up plans, and finally offer the reward. “You know what, Humbert? It’s okay that they are better. But you know what else? I’m TOTALLY prepared for this. I have my critique partners all lined up for this manuscript. Plus, I saw some workshops through the RWA that I’m going to sign up for. That way, I can improve my manuscript with my CPs’ help and improve my writing through the workshop. And the best part, Humbert? I’ll enjoy my writing while I’m doing it, AND because I’m happy, I’ll write more. And you know what that means? It means I’ll write more books in a year! All because I have this back-up plan together thanks to you.”

Usually, if I’ve taken the time to say all that, the FRAB has already vanished into the ether (for now). And if not–if I still feel that nagging sense of discontent–I’ll go through all the steps again. And again and again and again. I go through the steps as many times as it takes to get me back in the writing free-zone. Or, if that’s not working, then I move to my rituals (which you can learn all about in my new series).

But honestly, the sense of security I have from my seat belts and my airbags helps immensely to appease the fears and keep me FRAB-free.

Using FEAR as Fuel

When you have you safety measures and back-up plans in place as well as your shiny rewards gleaming ahead of you, an incredible thing starts to happen: you stop worrying as much.

Maybe just a smidgen less to start, but each time you remind your FRAB that “you got this”, you feel a bit more empowered. And you remove a teensy bit of pressure from what you’re creating. Because it’s all good! If the worst-case scenario happens, you know exactly what to do–and you also know you’re not there yet. The car hasn’t crashed. You also know that you don’t want to be there, stuck in a ditch on the side of a road*.

So you work a bit harder. You focus a bit more–because now you’re determined to avoid calling in the big airbags. You’re not proving your fear wrong but rather proving to the fear that you really do got this. By growing your skills, pushing yourself to your creative limits, and always reaching for better, you are in constant motion. And being in constant motion, removes the pressure from right now–which in turn relaxes your fears even more.

And of course, relaxed fears allow you to create more freely–to enjoy the creative process again. A short term reward of the best kind–which in turn makes you forget about your fears for longer spans of time so that you ultimately push even harder against your creative limits…and relax all the more.

Constant motion and constantly pushing yourself for more is what ultimately keeps the fears away. It’s what transforms fear into fuel–and transforms you from FRAB to fab.**

From FRAB to Fab: Homework Assignment 4

1. Take each of the fears you listed in week 2 as well as your anthropomorphized FRABs from week 3. Figure out your “seat belts” (or back-up plans) in case your fears are right. Now make your airbags (plan of last resort) for that worst-case scenario in case even the seat belts aren’t strong enough to catch you.

2. What short-term rewards is your FRAB keeping you from? And what about long-term rewards? Look at your mission statements from week 1 and rephrase them as rewards. So for example, one of my missions statements is:

I want to write more books each year.

If I rephrase that as a reward, it looks like:

I write more than one book a year.

This is what you tell your FRAB when you are trying to gain when he/she/it comes calling.

3. Talk to your FRABs. That’s right. Talk to them. Either write the conversation down or have it out loud (that’s what I usually do since they pop up kind of often). Tell your FRABs, “It’s okay. I got this.” And then show them how you got this. Show them your seat belts and your airbags, and show them all the rewards you could reap if they’d just relax a bit.

4. If you’re still having trouble, check out my new series on increasing writing output. Rituals and routines (which I touch on today) are incredibly powerful for sidestepping a FRAB and creatively free-falling despite the fears.

This week’s homework assignment doesn’t end–you get to enjoy talking to your friendly FRABs for the rest of your life. But the more you make peace with them–and the more you can tell them “it’s okay”–the less they’ll nag you. Plus, the more creative momentum you build, the harder it is for them to even find time for lurking. 😉

And of course, my new series will help you learn to build your creative momentum and increase your output.

A final note: Thank you. I know I thanked you all before (and in multiple social media outlets), but I just have to say it again. Thank you for sharing your stories with me, for offering your own ideas, and for helping ME beat my FRABs. As I mentioned in the comments last week, one of my fears (I call her Juanita now) is that no one cares what I have to say–that I am blasting a bunch of embarrassing stuff into the ether that no one will ever read. But all your emails and comments have shown me that that just isn’t true.

So thank you. Truly, thank you. And remember: you can always email me if you need a listening “ear” (susan @ susandennard . com).

*This seriously almost happened to me in the most literal sense last night. Our car DIED while driving on an icy road, and neither my hubby nor I had our phones with us. But we got the car to briefly restart and putter us home…

**Thank you again, Diyana, for this amazing series title. You’re a genius.