Facing the blank screen can be as terrifying to me as walking onto a stage without a script. My heart pounds, my hands sweat, I feel an urgent need for a glass of water, or a Coke, or anything that will delay my going out and falling on my face…
Fear is a very real barrier for writers. It’s the voice–which sounds like the twin sister of the inner critic–that says “What if this stinks? How can I do this idea justice? What if I fail?”
Something never attempted (or completed) cannot be screwed up. Of course, the Fear Whisperer doesn’t say that. It says you’re too busy to write. Or you’ll work better after the kids are in bed. Or in school. Or DONE with school and off to college. Or when you’re retired. . .
It’s not limited to starting a book, either. The Fear Whisperer is especially vocal in the middle of a novel, when the going gets tough. And if a book is never finished then it can never be rejected. It’s not a flop, it’s just “the book I’m going to finish someday.” Same goes for submitting it to an agent or editor. Nothing ever earned a rejection from the desk drawer.
But nothing ever sold from the desk drawer, either.
So how do you get over Page Fright? I haven’t figured that out yet. (Even now, that horrible expanse of thrilling, terrifying possibility awaits me.) But here are some things that help me muscle through it:
- Avoid the blank page. Start typing nonsense on the page until it’s not blank any more. “I have not idea what to write,” over and over again often works for me. Or, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” I type until the nonsense morphs into something meaningful.
- Start a new chapter before you wrap up the session. Don’t stop writing at the end of one chapter. Start the next, even if it’s just a paragraph, before you go to bed.
- Or stop just before the end of the chapter. This is especially helpful if you know exactly what happens next. If you don’t know what happens in the next paragraph, stop in the middle of the last one.
- Reward yourself. Save your Starbucks run until after you’ve written two pages, or five pages, or whatever you need to do. I work with Smarties on the desk beside me. When I write a page, I get a Smartie. Or sometimes, when I type a paragraph, I get a candy. Or a sentence. Or, heck, sometimes when I write a word. There are days like that.
- Keep your butt in the chair. Don’t go for a snack, don’t go get the mail, don’t do anything that will keep until you’ve put something on the page. (Unfortunately, I have developed the ability to teleport. One minute I’ll be sitting at my desk, staring at the screen, the next I’m standing in front of the pantry scarfing down Annie’s White Cheddar Bunny crackers, with no idea how I got there. It’s a little terrifying, actually.)
Unfortunately, the only really way to deal with the Fear Whisperer is, like the Internal Editor, just to drown her out with the sound of your fingers tapping the keys. And the only way to get started is to jump with both feet.