The Fear of Writing

In this article, Megan Corbett explores procrastination and the fear of putting pen to paper. Megan is first and foremost a passionate reader, with a particular love of high fantasy and sci-fi. A blogger and bookstagrammer in her spare time and a full-time content writer during the week, she can often be found with a pen behind her ear and several notebooks on her desk, struggling to find the right word to use.

Don’t worry, I can see the irony. I’m literally writing about how much writing scares me, how I’m too afraid to put pen to paper.

If it’s any consolation, I’ve been procrastinating over this piece for a while now. Every time I’ve looked at the blank document, I’ve thought ‘maybe I should check my email’ or ‘I need a drink first’ or even the classic ‘I’m just not in the mood right now’. Anything that will get me away from having to decide on the next word.

That’s the shape that my fear of writing takes. I could pretend it was a lot of other things, I could tell myself I’m too busy or it’s not a priority, but I know the reason I don’t write more is because I’m scared. I fill my evenings and weekends with other things just to get away from the feeling that I could be writing. I convince myself that if I don’t have the time, then it’s not my fault I don’t write… right?

Procrastination can take many forms and we all fall prey to it at one time or another. Sometimes we even procrastinate the things we want to do, things that make us happy.

The psychological reasoning behind procrastination isn’t something I’ve spent any time learning about, I’m afraid, but what I can tell you is that procrastination often makes us feel busy in other ways. We prove to ourselves that we’re still being productive so it doesn’t matter about that thing we’re putting off.

So yes, I procrastinate.

As if to demonstrate this point, I am 200 words into this piece and have picked up my phone at least four times – and that’s not to mention the other tabs I’ve been flicking through on my laptop.

So why am I distracting myself from something I want to write?

Let’s rewind.

I wrote my first storybook at eight-years-old, proudly taking it to school to show my teachers. I continued to write as I went to secondary school, speaking to English teachers about the stories I wanted to tell and the books I wanted to write. It’s hard to say when I stopped, but it was somewhere around the same time exams started happening and my future seemed to rely entirely on my grades.

It was like all that creative energy had expelled itself and instead all I focused on was the work that would get me somewhere. And now, it sometimes feels like that’s all I know.

The idea of writing for pleasure now feels like a waste of time and energy. Unlike working towards exams or, now, working in order to be paid and, you know, feed myself, the idea of working at something like writing fiction feels like a pointless endeavour. Like something children spend time doing.

Again, I see the irony. I run a book blog, read two to three books a month, and absolutely adore losing myself in fictional worlds. So clearly writing fiction is not pointless. But it’s never earned me money. It’s never upped my follower count or got me 1000 likes.

So when I do write, I stick to non-fiction. I know people sometimes read my book reviews or opinion pieces. I know writing about my struggle to find a job straight after university was relatable. I know people skim-read the tags I fill in.

And that brings me some comfort. After all, the one thing worse than somebody reading your writing is nobody reading it.

I can feel productive about writing non-fiction because even if only 2 or 3 people read it, someone has read it. When it comes to fiction? There’s no guarantee anyone will choose to pick it up.

That’s the crux of it, really. The fear that all writers experience: it’s the impossible balance between never wanting people to read your scribbles and needing the whole world to listen to your words.

What if I put all of my energy into writing a book and no one likes it? What if no one understands my poetry or appreciates my prose? In many ways, that would be worse than never having written it in the first place.

You can’t fail at having an idea, people can’t tear it apart because an idea – even a fully-formed one – will turn out different when you manifest it into something real. But once something is created, you can no longer change it to please people. It is what it is, and people will criticise it (not because it’s bad, necessarily, but because it doesn’t fit their taste).

When a writer doesn’t know what to write next or is hesitating to start a new project, the fear isn’t of what they might create in that moment, but of a time, much further down the line, when someone might not like it.

So I suppose the next logical question is how do you overcome that fear?

I wish I knew the answer. I suppose I could say something cliche like ‘write it anyway’, but sometimes the fear runs so deep that you can’t just write it anyway. Sometimes the idea that it won’t be good is enough to stop you entirely.

And that’s kind of where I am in my writing journey. I’m still scared to start writing fiction again and it makes me sad to think of all the half-formed ideas I’ve had and never done anything with, but maybe that’s how it goes sometimes. Maybe you don’t act on the ideas you have but find a new way to express yourself. I’ve taken to non-fiction writing in a way I never could have imagined and joined the amazing book community on Instagram. Every day they inspire me to read, to take photos, to express my passion for books in an uncompromising way.

And maybe one day, I’ll learn to carry that energy into my fiction.

You can read more of Megan’s writing on her website or follow her on Instagram.

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