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Fear: I want to write, but …

She says: “I need help finishing this manuscript. I’ve been working on it, off and on, for almost four years. I don’t know where to go next.”

What she means: “What if I suck? What if no one reads my book? What if I’ve wasted four years on this already?”

He says: “I’ve never written a novel before, but I have this great short story that I want to develop into something. It started as just a few hundred words and I’ve developed it to about 2,000. But now I’m stuck. I’m not sure what to do. I really want to write this, but I’m pretty much convinced nothing more can be said.”

What he means: “What if I suck? What if no one reads my book? I feel stuck and blocked and have no idea where to turn.”

She says: “I’ve always had this idea to write fiction. For the last 20 years or so, I’ve only done non-fiction and deadline writing, but I’ve harbored this dream of penning my own novel. Recently, it’s been bugging me deep down that I haven’t done something about this. But I have kids and a husband and a full-time job. I’m just not sure I will ever have the time to write what I want to write.”

What she means: “What if I suck? What if no one reads my book? What if I actually follow up on my lifelong dream and it turns out to be a disaster?”

Whoa. I’ve been there.

Fear is the voice in your head that lies.

“Putting yourself out there could be embarrassing,” it says. “If you take time to follow your dream, it could be a complete waste of time. Other people in your life might be unhappy if you’re not as available for their needs.”

Fear – albeit ridiculously normal – sucks.

In 2001, I took my first reporting gig at a prominent newspaper. I was in the midst of a divorce, raising an infant, miles from family and friends. The stress of a dissolving marriage with a tiny baby is more than enough. Add that I was nearly a decade older than my Ivy League colleagues and, in my eyes, lacked the experience and skills, and I was downright terrified.

Fear convinced me that my boss was sure to discover I was a fraud, that I couldn’t write. And then I would lose my job, my house and possibly my ability to take care of my son. What’s more, I allowed those thoughts to bind me so tightly, I couldn’t write a word without deleting it five times before committing to it.

I messed around with my words and my self-confidence so much, my work became garbage. It was under-reported. Details were missing because I spent more time dealing with the fear of writing than I did on my job of reporting.

It did not get better with time. A few months in, I became paralyzed, completely blocked – desperate to do my job and simultaneously scared to death of actually doing it. Every day, I expected to be called into the corner office and fired.

I earned my BA in journalism in 1995, and had hopes of reporting for a living since I was a teenager. I’d dreamed about this job for almost 15 years. I knew my anxiety was holding me back. But I didn’t know how to fix it.

Screw that.

Then the strangest thing happened. The fear bottled up inside my gut turned into complete and utter indignation. I got real.

The job I wanted – talked about, envisioned and ultimately begged for (that’s another story) – for more than a decade was in my lap, as though someone had hand-delivered a pretty pink box with everything I ever wanted inside. Yet I was letting my fear take it all away.

Um, no.

I was going to write. I was going to feel the fear and do it anyway. Even when it meant taking notes during an interview with a particularly powerful politician while my hands shook. Even when it meant knocking on the door of a woman whose car collided with her boyfriend’s, instantly killing him. The higher the stakes, the better. I became known for thorough reporting and exceptional deadline writing, the very skills I struggled so much with in the beginning.

What I inadvertently learned was a quirky, yet universal thing about fear: The only way out is through. I was good enough. Smart enough. Talented enough. But it took the risk of losing my dream job and my lifestyle before I would examine those fears in the light.

And it wasn’t that scary after all.

You can do this.

It’s so easy to get stuck thinking in terms of how things should be. Of how we want to be perceived. No one gets married planning for a divorce later. No one takes a job expecting they can’t do it. But when the shit hits the fan and the pressure explodes all over you, remember you still have total control. You choose how to respond.

Forget everyone else. You want to write? Then write.

You don’t need help to become a writer. You’re either literate or you’re not. What you need is a boost in confidence. You need to believe in yourself.

What if I suck? What if no one reads my books? What if I do it wrong?

The beauty of writing is you cannot do it wrong. Even when you jot down complete and utter crap, you’re teaching your brain to develop creative muscle and training yourself to say what you want to say. That’s HUGE. That is saying yes to your voice. And that is more than most people do in a lifetime.

Think about how incredible it would feel to write that novel, short story, or thing you’ve been dreaming about writing for as long as you can remember.

Fantastic. Beautiful. Purposeful. Vital.

Just write.

• • •

If you want help polishing a manuscript or breaking out of your writer’s block, check out my four-week writing course, or contact me for a consult.

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If you love a writer …

Today, I offer you a delicious guest post from author Eileen Flanagan, originally printed at her place in July 2009. It appears here with permission.

After ten years of writing around my children’s schedules, I have a book coming out soon, and friends have been asking what they can do to support me. I’ve been touched by their offers and yet reticent to ask too much, especially of busy people in a tough economy. At the same time, the online writers groups I belong to are a buzz day and night with authors trying to figure out how to publicize their work before the entire publishing industry goes bankrupt.

So, as a community service, I’ve decided to write up ten suggestions for all the people who love a book author who’s been fighting the publicity odds. (Fellow writers, feel free to forward this link or add your own suggestions in the comment section.):

1.   Buy your friend’s book. If you can afford it, buy it for everyone in your extended family. If you can’t afford it, ask your local librarian to order a copy. In fact, you can suggest it to your librarian whether you buy a copy yourself or not.

2.   Don’t wait until Christmas or Hanukkah to pick up a copy. How it does in its first weeks determines whether a book will stay on the bookstore shelves or be sent back to the warehouse to be shredded (along with your friend’s ego). Try to buy it as soon as it’s published, or better yet pre-order a copy, which makes your friend look good and gets your friend’s publisher excited about the book’s prospects. An excited publisher will invest more in publicity, while a bookstore that is getting advanced orders is more likely to stock the book on its shelves.

3.   Friends often ask where they should get the book, which is a tricky question. In the long-term, it is in every writer’s best interest to support independent booksellers (reader’s too, actually). If you don’t have a favorite one yourself, you can go to IndieBound to find one near you. When a book is newly released, however, it may help your writer friend more to buy it through a big chain, so they keep it stocked where the most people can find it. Likewise, a high sales rate on Amazon can get people’s attention, and if your friend’s website links directly to Amazon, she may be part of a program where she makes extra money when someone enters Amazon through the link on her website and then makes a purchase. I personally have links to several booksellers,  on the theory that it’s good to spread the love around.

4.   If you genuinely like your friend’s book, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, mention it on Facebook and Twitter, and recommend it to your book group.

5.   If your friend’s book is sci-fi, and you’re more of a Jhumpa Lahiri fan, say something like, “I’m so proud of you for following your passion,” and skip writing the review.

6.   If your friend is a good public speaker, recommend her to your church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, kid’s school, Rotary club, etc. If you live far away, your friend might get to come visit you and write it off her taxes.

7.   If you have a website or blog, link to your friend’s website. The more people who link to her, the better she looks to the search engines, which may help people who don’t already love her to find her book. To be really helpful, don’t link on the words “my friend,” but on whatever keywords your friend might be using to find her target audience. (For example, I would especially appreciate people using the phrase “Serenity Prayer” to link to my page About the Serenity Prayer.)

8.   If your friend could legitimately be a reference on some Wikipedia page, add her as one, with a link to the most relevant page of her website. Authors can’t tout themselves on Wikipedia without getting a “conflict of interest” badge of shame, but there is nothing more fun for a writer than discovering a spike in her search engine traffic due to a link posted on Wikipedia. It’s kind of like having a secret Santa.

9.   Don’t ask your friend if she has thought about trying to get on Oprah. Trust me– she’s thought of that.

10. If you pray, go ahead. It couldn’t hurt to pray she gets on Oprah.

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“Say My Name” is available on Amazon. Don’t forget to click “like.”