Facing Fear and Tackling Writer’s Block

As promised for NaNoWriMo, I’m organizing all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.

During week 1, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox, and in week 2, I dug deeper into the more advanced tools at a writer’s disposal. Week 3 was for The Productive Writer, and this week, we’re moving onto fear, writer’s block, and passion.



Fear & Self-Doubt


Writer’s Block & Motivation


Letting Go


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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.

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From FRAB to Fab (part 3): the science of fear and why fighting won’t help

In case you missed the first parts in this series on overcoming artistic blocks, here are the links:

Read them first, and then come back here. 🙂

So as I mentioned last week, we’re going to be avoid getting aggressive with our fears, and instead, we’re going to try a “let’s all play nice” approach. I won’t pretend I came up with this method entirely on my own–it was actually sparked by a few outside sources.

The Science of Fear

The first spark that led to my FRAB-busting method was the book Maximize Your Potential from 99U (I’m unhealthily obsessed with 99U and I highly recommend their books), and in particular, this lines:

“When we think about risks, we think about failure. When we think about failure, we start to get scared. When we start to get scared, our brains send out signals to get the hell out of there.”

-Chapter 4 introduction in Maximize your Potential

I read that line, and it was like a light bulb exploded over my head. The scientist in me couldn’t help but consider all the implications of such a statement. Think about it with me:

As animals, we are hardwired to avoid things that put us in danger. Back in the caveman-day, those dangers were sabertooth tigers or blizzards. Nowadays, they’re more like eating undercooked meat or walking down sketchy alleyways at night.

In other words, you could walk down that empty alleyway by yourself, but is it worth the risk? Probably not, your brain tells you. So you choose a different route home and your survival instinct might’ve just saved your life.

But what if the outcome isn’t physical (like getting food-poisoning from undercooked meat) but rather emotional (like embarrassment in front of others)? Can your brain tell the difference? Or does it just try to protect you either way?

Short answer? Nope. Doesn’t know the difference.

“The primal fear center in the brain, the amygdala, lights up, sending chemicals coursing through our bodies that make us physically uneasy, emotional uncomfortable, and in short order, spent.”

-from the essay “Leaning into Uncertainty” by Jonathan Fields,

in Maximize your Potential

Basically, our brains are just trying to protect us from whatever it is that scares us. A long time ago, it was rational, life-threatening stuff. These days, it gets way more emo.

Yet whatever artistic-related fears you’re grappling with, they are nothing more than your survival instincts at their finest. My fears simply want to keep uncomfortable outcomes at bay–be they Salmonella or embarrassment.

And what “uncomfortable outcomes” am I so afraid of? Here are just a few of the biggest, deepest ones:

  • failure
  • rejection
  • looking stupid in front others
  • wasting time I can never get back

Of course, as it turns out, humans expect failure to suck way more than it ever does, so we end of fearing failure way more than we ever need to.

“But science is also revealing that these fears are not only counterproductive, they are overblown. It turns out that humans have a strong tendency to overestimate both the pain of failure and how negatively others perceive our mishaps.”

-from the essay “Demystifying the fear factor in failure”

by Michael Schwalbe, in Maximize your Potential

Ah, so our brains want to keep us safe, but they aren’t very good at gauging the SCALE of a risk. Heck, for many people, the thought of speaking in public is ten thousand times more terrifying than being caught in a tsunami. But only one of those events is likely to kill you…

Logical? No. But we already know fears aren’t logical. Which is why logic almost never works on combatting them–or it doesn’t work for my fears, at least. These guys have been crippling me for decades, so it takes a bit more than mere rationalization to get them on my side.

Making Peace with your Fear

This is where my second invaluable source came into play: the blog Fluent Self, specifically this post, this post, and this book (which I haven’t read, but just reading about it opened my eyes. I imagine, if you can afford the cost, it is very helpful. Havi Brooks is a wise, wise lady).

What I read was this line (from this post):

The only way to get the fear to dissolve is to interact with it. Just like you, it wants to be noticed and cared for.

Your fear needs to know that you are taking steps to keep yourself safe. So give it some reassurance.

Again, a lightbulb burst into a thousand shards over my head. If I talked to my fears–if I explained to them that I wasn’t nearly as exposed to risk as they believed–then maybe I could convince them to step aside for a bit.

Then I read Havi Brooks’ example conversation in this post, and I saw exactly how it was done. You just REASON WITH THEM. Show them the steps you’ve taken to safety-proof yourself, and they back off quietly.

Of course, it was much easier said than done, and I found that I had too many different fears weighing me down. Though they almost always revolved around EPIC FAILURE, they were definitely separate kinds of fear. So I poked some more around Havi Brooks’ website, and I stumbled on her book Monster Manual. Now, as I mentioned above, I haven’t read the book, but just reading the page ABOUT the book was the final link in my FRAB puzzle. (You guys might want to give her book a try; it might have way more helpful insight to offer than I have.)

What I figured out was that I needed to identify each of my fears, and then I needed to name them.

Yeah, I realize it sounds super hippie-woowoo, and trust me: it felt very strange to me too. BUT I swear there’s something incredibly effective about anthropomorphizing your fears. You can even go so far as to give them a face. Yes, my fears do have names and faces–and I’ll share two of them below. That way, you can see how this whole anthropomorphizing a FRAB works, and you can see what MY fears are like (and hopefully see you’re not alone).

Two of my Creative Fears

CaterpillarDisneyMeet FRAB #1: Humbert.

Humbert is a nasty little fear who crops up a lot in my creative life–and it always mumbles the same thing:

Everyone else writes better than youYou can never write as well as them, so there’s no point in even trying.

I bet at least one of you reading this post knows that FRAB. It’s a pretty common, I think–especially among creative types.

And before you ask: no, I don’t know why I named the FRAB Humbert (or why he’s male)…or why I imagine him looking and sounding like the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Maybe because Humbert has absurdly high standards, and that darn caterpillar is super pretentious and snobby…?

Which is sort of our how my FRAB is too. Humbert doesn’t want to bring me down–he WANTS to keep me from making a total fool of myself. He looks at everyone else’s success, beauty, power, wealth, and triumphs, and he just doesn’t want me to fall on my ass because I aimed too high.

Now, if you’re not sure whether or not you’re being plagued by a Humbert-like FRAB, then skim these questions below:

    • Do you ever say nasty things about other people in your creative field? If yes, how often?
    • Do you ever catch yourself feeling jealous of other people in your creative field? If yes, how often?
    • Do you ever speculate on the hows or whys of someone else’s success–and then chalk it up to better luck than you have? If yes, how often?
    • Do you ever say/think, “If I just had what X-artist had, then I’d be happy”? If yes, how often?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions–and then went on to say, “pretty often”, then I’d say you’re definitely dealing with a Humbert-like FRAB.

But don’t worry. I’ll show you EXACTLY how I “play nice with Humber” next week. (Sorry to make you wait! I would do it this week, but this post has already gotten mondo enough.) In the meantime, remember: for all Humbert’s expensive tastes and lofty ideals, he isn’t actually judging you. He’s trying protect you.

GollumNow let’s meet FRAB #2: Giles.

Giles is one of those FRABs that is very closely related to Humbert–and that oftentimes pops up alongside Humbert. The difference with Giles is that he’s nastier than Humbert–darker, meaner, and much, much harder to reason with.

In my mind, he looks and sounds like Gollum–maybe because Gollum is sometimes Frodo’s friend (when he has the power to withstand the pull of the Precious) yet is mostly just Frodo’s antagonist. But at the end of the day, isn’t poor Gollum just another victim of the One Ring’s nasty, evil, deep-seeded power?

Well, so is Giles. He’s just succumbing to the weight of embarrassment and shame. He doesn’t want me to feel the pain of failure.

So what is that Giles tells me?

You are not and will not ever be good at writing.

Pretty straight-forward, huh? Yet unlike Humbert, which is very much a comparison-based FRAB and only  seems to appear when I’m on social media or glancing at a magazine cover, Giles is a fear that always lurks in the back of my mind. And let me tell you: Giles can be crippling when it comes to my creative flow. There is nothing that will stop a story from pouring out than the certainty that everything I write is crap.

Not sure if you’re suffering from a Giles-like FRAB? Scan these questions–and answer honestly!

    • Do you ever think or feel that your creative endeavor is just a giant waste of time? If so, how often do you feel that?
    • Do you ever think or feel that if your project isn’t “perfect” it’s not worth doing? If so, how often do you feel that?
    • Do you ever feel incredibly enthusiastic for a project, only to then find yourself stalling after (or perhaps before) you begin? How many projects do you have like this?
    • Do you daydream about being an authors/illustrators/film-makers/(insert creative field here) but never quite take the first step?
    • Do you ever feel like giving up on your dream? If so, how often?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions–and then went on to say, “pretty often”, then you’re definitely dealing with a Giles-like FRAB. As am I…and as are most creatives, I suspect.

From FRAB to Fab: Homework Assignment 3

1. Read through your mission statements from week 1. Are there any more goals you might have uncovered since you first started this workshop? For example, I have a new mission statement that came up since I wrote the first post in this series.

I don’t want to feel guilty anymore about taking breaks. I want to reach the end of each week, knowing I accomplished as much as I could.

2. List the negative outcomes from which your creative fears are trying to protect you. (Like I did above, starting with “failure”.) Think back to the last time you experienced that negative outcome. Was it as bad as you thought it would be? Or did you actually move on pretty quickly…?

3. Do you think Humbert and Giles are getting in your way? Try looking at your other FRABs (from week 2’s homework) and anthropomorphizing/naming them. And as you do so, remember that they aren’t the enemies. These FRABs actually have your best interest at heart.

Now head over to the final part in FRAB to Fab series. I’ll share how I safety-proofed my life so that, when I find myself having a chat with my FRABs about their over-protectiveness, I can point to all the defensive strategies I have in play. Then I’ll share exactly WHAT I say to Humbert and Giles and all the rest of my well-meaning FRABs.

Also,  over on Pub(lishing) Crawl, I have the first in a new series about increasing your creative productivity. It’s a continuation on the FRAB series since there’s nothing like routine and high output to help keep the fears away. 🙂

And as always, feel free to comment  below or to email me privately (susan @ susandennard . com).

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From FRAB to Fab (part 2): finding the fears that hold you back

Last Monday, I introduced the nasty FRAB–or Fear-Related Artistic Block. A lot of you responded well–either in the comments, via twitter, or by email. Thank you for all your replies. It honestly bolsters ME to know that I’m not alone with these nasty ol’ FRABs, and your personal stories and feedback also help me guide how I approach the rest of this series.

(Also, you might notice I changed the series’ name. I didn’t not come up with that amazing new name–it was crafted by the wildly clever Diyana Wan. THANK YOU, DIYANA!!)

To summarize last week’s post: Sometimes our creative flow gets cramped (or maybe–if you’re like me–it’s not just sometimes but oftentimes) and the cause isn’t just laziness or a simple I-don’t-know-what-comes-next-in-my-project. The culprit that keeps us from getting our stories on the page or our hearts on the canvas is that old, always-lurking enemy: fear.

Before you read on (and potentially waste your precious creative time), head back to my first post and run through the checklist–just to make sure you even have a FRAB. If you already know or suspect that fear is holding you back, then read on–because this week, we’re finding our fears.

And we’re not just finding the fears–we’re articulating them and getting really up-close-and-personal. If we don’t know which fears we have festering inside, we can’t make friends them…

Yeah, you read that right:

We’re not fighting our FRABs.

We’re making friends with them.

I used to be all about “punching fear in the face.” I used to think that facing a fear head-on and telling it to piss off was the best way to power ahead. I thought that if you smashed a fear hard enough beneath your boot heel, the triumph of proving a fear wrong would be enough to banish the fear forever.

Nope. Sorry. Not the case at all.

When you fight your fears by dismissing them or pretending you’re not afraid at all, you’re only brushing the fear beneath the rug. Temporarily. It’s like that one closet that everyone has*–you know the one where all your junk goes? That’s getting fuller and messier every time you crack the door to stuff in something else? One of these days, though, the closet will overfloweth, and when you crack open the door to hide one more unsightly sock or doggie chew toy before the guests arrive, the closet will reach its tipping-point…and an avalanche of stuff will crush you beneath its messy vengeance.

Obviously, the closet filled with stuff is a metaphor for that place we try to stash away all our fears. Now I’m not talking about your arachnophobia or your fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth (which is a thing–no joke–that’s called arachibutyrophobia). I’m talking about those deep fears that have to do with yourself. With your place in the world and how people perceive you. Those are the fears that can leave you so crippled with self-doubt, you want to vomit or cry or break something or maybe just huddle beneath a blanket and never face the world again.

Note: if you don’t have any fears like that or have already managed to deal with them, then why are you reading this post? You obviously don’t have any FRABs to befriend, and I am infinitely, infinitely jealous of your unwavering confidence. And you know what? Go. You. Rock that confidence–and maybe I’ll soon see you on the other side.

But if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have at least one gut-wrenching self-doubt–probably more than one. Most humans do. It’s both normal and totally okay. In western culture, though, we tend to glorify the tough guys. “Suck it up” or “don’t be a pussy” or “get over it” have been said to me more times than I can count. Worse, I’ve even said it before–to myself or to others.

Fear is seen as weakness, and no one wants weakness. “You should be strong” is what we’re taught, and as a result, many of us fake it until we make it.

But in my own desperation to be seen as “tough enough”–to fake confidence and strength until I start to feel them–I have spent my whole life shrugging off things that upset me. Smiling when I want to cry. Forcing a laugh when things I work really hard for fall through.

Yeah, well, thirty years of doing that hasn’t worked out so well for me. (Has it worked for you? If so, then see the note above.) The fears I think I’ve conquered, the zen and inner peace I thought I’ve honed–they always come roaring back eventually. Twice as loud and twice as mean.

I’ve tried rationalizing my fears too. And I’ve had plenty of other people try to rationalize my fears for me. But rationalization is really just another form of fighting a fear–of telling a fear it isn’t valid and to go back whence it came. But fears aren’t rational, so how could trying to rationalize them–trying to force them into submission via logic–ever possibly work? It certainly hasn’t for me.

And I know I am not the only person like this. As a culture, we have gotten really good at saying, “No problem”, that we start to believe that lie ourselves. But it doesn’t change the fact that oftentimes there is a problem.

So this week, to get to the bottom of our FRABs and keep them from popping up and hindering our creative flow, we’re going to figure out WHAT fears are stopping us in the first place. To start, I’ll share some basic fears.

Take note of any you suspect (or know) you might have.

Some General Fears

    • I am a failure–everything I try to do fails. As such, any new project I attempt will inevitably fail like all the others.
    • Everyone does this better than I do it.
    • I have no idea what I’m doing and one of these days, everyone is going to figure out that I’m just a fraud.
    • I have bad luck and that’s all I deserve.
    • Everyone thinks I’m a hack and they’re all laughing at me behind my back.
    • I’ll never get it right/perfect, and people will know.
    • I am wasting my time that should be used on something with guaranteed results.
    • No one cares what I think.

Contextualizing Those Fears in the Writing World:

    • I am a crappy writer and no matter how hard I try, I still suck. Why bother writing a new book just to watch it fail like all the others?
    • Everyone writes better stories than I do. Why even try? I’ll never be as good as them.
    • I don’t deserve the success I have. One of these days, everyone will realize it and my house of cards will topple.
    • My book has flopped/been rejected again/been overlooked by my publisher/etc., and that’s all I deserve because my book is crap. I am crap.
    • Everyone thinks my writing is terrible and they’re all laughing at me behind my back–or saying I don’t deserve the success I have.
    • I will never get this story perfect–be it the characters or the world or the research–and people will call me on it. There’s no point in even trying.
    • I am wasting my time and should abandon writing in favor of a “real job”.
    • No one cares what I think and no one will ever want to read what I have to say.

Obviously, this list is not even close to exhaustive. These are just the fears that popped in my mind as I was making this post. What other fears are out there? What fears do YOU have? If you’re willing to share in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

Or you can always email me privately: susan @ susandennard . com

OR, just make a list on your own.

From FRAB to Fab: Homework Assignment 2

1. Got your mission statement(s) from last week ready? Good. Pull it out. Look at it. Memorize it. It’s your fuel, remember?

2. Look over the list of fears above. Look at each fear closely and look at them honestly. Do you recognize any of them? All of them perhaps? If you have any fears that aren’t on the list, write them down (or share them in the comments/via email so I can add them to my list).

Also: think long and hard about this stuff. Spend time on it and dig so deep that it makes your chest hurt and your heart feel awfully exposed. Then, whenever you feel like turning away from the discomfort, look at your mission statement(s), remember why you’re doing this, and then dig a little deeper. You can do this. Get those fears on the paper.

And remember that these don’t have to be artistic-based fears. If you’re feeling brave, you can explore any personal fears that you think are holding you back.

3. Have you ever or do you currently deal with your fears by trying to fight or rationalize them? Has that worked well for you? Or have these fears that you thought you’d conquered only come back to nag at you later in life?


This week’s assignment is probably the hardest because it requires some uncomfortable self-honesty. But it’s worth it. I can tell you from personal experience that the payoff–that goal you set in your mission statement–can happen. So stay strong and then head to the next post, in which I finally show you how to do this FRAB-friend-making stuff.

*If you don’t have one of those closets or drawers or little nooks in your living space, then you’re clearly an alien.

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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 Blockor 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.

Speak up:



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Camp NaNoWriMo! We hold you in our hearts…

…and when we think about you, it makes us want to– Ah, Salute Your Shorts. A 90s gem, if I do say so myself. Ah, Camp NaNoWriMo, a 2013 gem, if I do say so myself. You guys know I’m a HUGE–like GIGANTO-BIG-HUGE-MONDO-ENORMOUS supporter of NaNoWriMo. I mean, I was even featured on their blog! Wha-whattttt! (No joke: that was a highlight of my life.)

The plain fact is, I love NaNo. There’s just something so INSPIRING about the camaraderie! About the intensity and deadline. Even if I don’t have anything that needs drafting, I participate in NaNo every single November.

Well, how lucky am that now that I do have something to be drafted (that ol’ epic fantasy WIP of mine ain’t gonna finish itself), it’s perfect timing for Camp NaNoWriMo! HUZZAH!!! (Read more…)

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NaNo Excerpt

So…I thought I’d do something SO OUT OF CHARACTER that (if I were reading about myself in a novel) I’d declare the protagonist inconsistent and throw the book across the room.

Yes, after seeing this amazingly inspirational post by Sara Zarr, I thought I’d…


…share an unrevised excerpt from my NaNo WIP.

Why?  Because I don’t want to be afraid of all the FAIL that goes into creating the eventual WIN, and I don’t want you all to be afraid either.

You may recall I’m working on two books right now, hoping for a combined word count of 50K at the end, and I thought I’d drop in an excerpt from my secondary WIP (the badly titled Purely Platonic).

It’s a YA contemporary–something I enjoy reading but have never written before.

It’s also in present tense–something I enjoy reading but usually suck at writing.

It’s also in A FIRST DRAFT state–something I would never, ever, under any circumstance share with anyone…yet here I am, sharing it with you.

Basically, this is just on REALLY BIG life lesson for me as I try to learn to let go of my fears and perfectionism. (Read more…)

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Writing Self-Esteem (the search for confidence continues)

I read this blog post by Juliet Marillier (one of my favorite writers when it comes to romance and love), and it inspired me to follow up on an old post of mine.

Writing Self-Esteem. We all suffer from highs and lows, and not even the writes who are multi-published, have quit their day job years ago, and have won lots of awards are exempt from fluctuating self-esteem.

So, after watching my self-doubts jump all over the chart (Fig. 1), I decided to sift apart the various sources.  What makes the Self-doubt Goblin surface? (Read more…)

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