Are you looking in the wrong place for validation?

Only YOU can get yourself over the fear of writing

When you sit down to write, it could all go south. You might have nothing to say. Or you have tons to say, but it's all coming out wrong. Your writing is derivative. Juvenile. A farce. You come nowhere close to your daily word count goal, so the day's a waste. Why do you even try at all? This Jane Kenyon poem called "Not Writing" starts to resonate with you:

"A wasp rises to its papery
nest under the eaves
where it daubs

at the gray shape,
but seems unable
to enter its own house."

OR. Or. You could be amazing. The words might flow out of you. They're inspired. You motivate yourself. You say something new, in a way no one else has before. This is why you try. Because it could go swimmingly; that's always a possibility.

When you sit down to write, it could all go south. OR. Or. It could be amazing. You get to choose where fear lands, and let's just agree right now that your writing is more important. Push fear off a cliff, friend.

When you're afraid to begin, you let in fear, and it has you captive. Creatives have to create; they feel inauthentic when they don't. So where do you turn to find the validation that you're good enough at your craft?

Well. You won't like this answer, dearheart, but you have to turn to yourself first. Don't even think yet about editors, agents and publishers. Push them out of your head and over a cliff, down to a soft landing on a pile of mattresses.

Here's a little story. See, there were a lot of outside indications that I shouldn't pursue writing:

  • For senior year of high school, I was placed in the Honors English class. I had to request to move up to Advanced Placement English.
  • Of those in AP English, I was the only person -- in both AP English classes -- who had never taken an AP class.
  • Of those in both AP English classes, I was the only person not to pass the national exam.
  • Once in college, I retook the exam to test out of the basic entry-level English class required to all freshman, English majors or not. I didn't pass the test.
  • Once graduating college, I applied to newspapers and magazines across the country. I got one freelance job, and the magazine never used me again.

I could go on from there. We seem to remember our low-lows over our high-highs. That's fear being an asshole again.

We seem to remember our low-lows over our high-highs. That's fear being an asshole again.

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From The 5 Love Languages and simply living in a community on this planet, I know how important words of affirmation are to me. I look to those outside of me for confirmation or denial of my value, particularly my craft. But when your worth is based on a test score or the approval of others, boy, are you setting yourself up for a tough relationship with that craft. You know as well as I do that when you sit down to write, it's you and the page, so if you don't believe in the you part, how ever is the page part expected to materialize?

The trouble with comparing yourself to others is that there are too many others. Using others as your control group, all your worst fears and all your fondest hopes are at once true. You are good; you are bad; you are abnormal; you are just like everyone else.
— Sarah Manguso

Now, I don't happen to believe that everyone can be a skilled storyteller. Getting there is based on years of practice, experience and toil as well as an innate skill set, and I'd bet every writer says they're still trying to be better, always, no matter their accomplishments. I do believe that everyone can write, and there are some basic rules to get you there.

Who do you want to be? If writing is your salve -- you enjoy it and want to tell stories -- then whose approval do you need? Get on with it. Have fun.

If, however, writing is your vocation, then working on approving of yourself first and foremost is vital. It is your lifeline. You need it. Those words of affirmation have to come from you, sweets, because you might not get it from anyone else.

Once I began calling myself a writer, before anyone else labeled me as such, doors opened. Rather, I opened them. I landed more bylines. I won some awards. I picked and chose which projects called to me, and eventually, I left my unrelated full-time job to write around the clock. If you're just getting started on that journey or stuck en route, consider joining The One-Week Daily Writing Devotional. It's free, runs for seven days and serves as a daily opportunity for quiet reflection. Twenty minutes a day, you'll spend time with a few selected readings to unite your writing identity with yourself -- and hopefully begin developing armor against fear.

I still deal with fear, and you will, too. I actively work on flipping the script. That means when fear butts in and says, "You can't, why do you try, this is awful, give up," I say, "I might be amazing. Let's see."

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