Better Writing: Understand the Problem, Live in the Solution

Life is full of obstacles. We all know that. We all have fears. We know that, too. Our fears can be real or imagined; they can be conscious or nonconscious.  Scientists say there are more than 50 types of fears, from fear of being unworthy to fear of rejection to fear of success, but the broad umbrella for them all is fear of failure.

The quality of our life depends on how well we understand, confront, and deal with obstacles.

Fear= Our “Go-To” Reaction

Whenever a problem or obstacle appears, our first response is fear, which is a natural response. After all, an obstacle is something that’s coming between us and what we want. Studies now show that we have three responses to fear: we can fight, flee, or freeze. Unless we are in danger of physical harm, fleeing or running away usually just prolongs the time it will take to solve the problem. The same goes for freezing.

So,we need to do three things: understand the problem, reframe it so we are no longer frozen with fear or want to flee, and assess our options so we can come up with a viable solution.

Here’s an example of a situation I’ve actually had nightmares about (maybe you have, too). You walk into class one day and find out there’s a test you didn’t know about. You can’t breathe, your heart seems to stop, and you want to run out of class instead of taking a seat. (Our bodies correctly respond to threats like this one, and we feel stressed.)

How to Combat Our Unrealistic, Automatic Fears

What to do? Luckily, there are several ways to counteract your stress response.

First, identify the thoughts you automatically had. Observe your panicky emotions, and try to be neutral. Take some deep breaths to calm your physical body. Acknowledge what is actually happening and decide how to best handle it. For instance,
If you had missed the last class so didn’t know about the test, could you ask the teacher if you can take a make-up test after you’ve studied?
Instead of berating yourself with thoughts of, “I’m so stupid” or “I’m going to fail,” ask yourself if you’ve studied enough so that you might do well on the test even though you didn’t know about it.
Acknowledge and accept that this is a difficult situation and do what is in your best interest at the moment.

Getting Real

In reality, if it were a really important test, it would have been scheduled and announced a few times, so you would probably have known about it. If it is a “pop” quiz or less important test, you will probably be able to offset the score with other test scores.

The point is to learn what you can from the experience but don’t overreact or generalize that you are a failure as a person.

This may be an extreme example and even unlikely to happen, but fears about taking tests are very common. If you have anxiety about tests, putting the test into perspective in your own mind and doing some deep breathing can help.

Scientific studies show again and again that with daily practice, we can replace our automatic brain responses of fear with more productive ones. It works!

Writer’s Mindset and the New Science

Writers have their own set of fears, and plenty of them. If you’ve been a writer for a while, you may be familiar with some of these issues:

  • Fear of rejection
  • Perfectionism
  • Doubts about your ability
  • Procrastination
  • Need to be validated
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of judgment
  • Dissatisfaction with your work
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Starting but not finishing
  • No one will read my work

…and that’s only some of them. Really, it’s only natural to feel some of these things. Writing is a solitary profession—it’s just you and the page. And no matter how much research you’ve done or experience you’ve had, you are still creating something from nothing. That’s stressful.

As we know now, fear-based responses like the ones above are the “go-to” reactions of our safety-loving brain, so we can now look at our fears and decide objectively which ones, if any, are valid. We can then reframe the fear more realistically.

For instance, if I’m doubting my ability to write, I can remind myself of my books, posts, and articles that have been received well in the past. I can tell myself there’s no reason the responses should be any different for my current project.

If I’m afraid of being judged or even rejected, I can counter with the thought that some might judge my work negatively, but others will appreciate it. I can also remember—rightly so—that if the criticism is valid, I can learn from it. That makes it a win for me.

Set Yourself Up for Writing Success

If you worked in the corporate world (or still do), your daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual duties may have been set for you. As a writer, you are on your own to decide what to do and when to do it.

Even if you know your big goal, such as writing a book, you still must chunk that down into doable portions that you will consistently complete. That can be overwhelming, especially when you have all the other duties involved in running your own business. A lot of writers put writing on the back burner until months go by with no writing accomplished.

The key is to start small and commit to it. Choose a time during the day or a word count that you will complete each day. Then stick to it, no matter what. It could be 30 minutes or 500 words, whichever works best for you. (That means 30 minutes of writing only.) If 500 words or 30 minutes will be too much for you at first, start even smaller and build. Consistency is the key.

This solves two problems at once: you’re getting your writing done, and you’re retraining your brain to see writing not as something fearful, but as a task you accomplish and even come to enjoy.

You will probably feel some resistance at times, but remember that your brain thinks it is keeping you safe, and go on with your writing.

Track your progress daily, review it weekly, and be sure to reward your efforts. Once your brain sees that you are “all in” with your writing, it will begin to change. Your brain will gladly do what it comes to feel is safe behavior for you. That’s it’s number one goal, as proven in many scientific studies.

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