I’m just back from the first writing retreat of the year with a really lovely bunch of writers. We had a few chats over the week about the value of time away from normal life to think differently, and for me that brought up the way we think the same things over and over, and how these things we tell ourselves and the emotional responses they provoke become ingrained.
And we don’t often think very often the way we think, but it’s critical. In fact, I’d say mindset is the number one thing that stops most of us doing the things we want to.
A couple of times I’ve been asked to think about what I would be doing if I knew I couldn’t fail. But actually, that’s the wrong question. Even if failure weren’t a matter of perspective rather than a fixed thing, it can be valuable to see what doesn’t work, and you can’t expect creativity to flourish if your prime driver is to avoid mistakes.
Isn’t a better question: what exactly are you afraid of?
- What if I write a novel/academic paper/blog post and nobody reads it?
- What if it gets hideous reviews?
- What if nobody wants to publish it?
- What if I can’t even finish it in the first place, what if I don’t have any ideas?
- Or what if I’m a terrible writer?
- Or what if I’m hugely successful and everyone starts to hate me or I get online abuse?
This landscape of fear is different for every writer, and the kicker is that becoming ‘successful’ doesn’t necessarily get rid of them. I know writers who have achieved what looks like a dream-come-true for most of us, and they still have the same fears they had when they started. Are they good enough? Can they ever write another word worth reading? What will people think? That’s because fears bear no relation to reality. It’s fuelled by what we say to ourselves over and over. These things float around the back of our brains and stop us from doing things, and we tend to just sort of accept them as the reality of the situation regardless of how likely that the bad outcome we fear actually is.
When you put writing off (something everyone does sometimes), what’s going on inside your head? What are the semi-conscious fears and thoughts that come up time and again, unchallenged?
Try making a list of 10 fears you have about your writing.
List another 10.
Then think about what your life would be like if you weren’t afraid of those things.
Imagine yourself plucking those fears right out of your head… gone. You’ve shifted to a new landscape where there’s nothing but neutral calm instead of fear. Or spend a few minutes imagining feeling secure enough, happy enough with yourself to not dread any of those bad things you fear or just not care if they did happen. If you removed fears and those repetitive negative thoughts, how would things be different? How would you be different?
And if you weren’t afraid, if you could get some headspace think and feel differently, what would you write?