I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scared of the unwritten word

I'm not generally a fearful person. Snakes don't bother me, and if I see a spider I simply kindly request that Charlotte find a new home...in the toilet. Heights don't freak me out too much as long as I'm standing on something firm – like, say, a mountain – and I don't even mind speaking in front of a crowd.

Rats, sushi and bungee-jumping do sorta creep me out, but they're easily avoided.

My to-be-written second book, though? Oh, the fright! We're talking newest-orphan-in-Miss-Hannigan's-orphanage terrified.

Each time I try to sit down to work on my new WIP, my fears multiply like a whiz kid in grade school practicing his times tables. I'm scared my characters lack depth. I'm scared I've got a tired, overdone plot. I'm scared my voice is lost underneath clunky scenes and clumsy storytelling.

In this state of fear, I've recently turned to my faithful standby: procrastination. 

You know, procrastination can actually prove to be quite productive. In recent weeks I've reorganized the items in my walk-in closet by season, color and frequency of use. I've tried out my new Stir Crazy popcorn popper (thanks, Mom and Dad) and enjoyed every buttery, salty kernel while delighting in my new Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dvd set. I've sat down with all my bills and my checkbook and attempted to rethink my budget. (Keyword, attempted. Remind me to marry a man with financial savvy.) Ooh, and I've even pulled out a business card from a local dentist's office and considered scheduling an appointment. (Note: I considered it. Didn't actually do it. Dentists bring out the “Waahh, do I hafta?” in me.)

All this...but I just can't face that blank screen.

I'm scared. At the root of that fear, I'm certain, is worry that I just plain can't do it...can't write this book.

Thankfully, the Bible has something to say about that: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” - 2 Timothy 1:7.

Fear – except for the reverent kind we're supposed to have toward God – never comes from God. Instead, He's given us power – which I think is often displayed through our talents; love – which is the essential ingredient in every single worthwhile pursuit; and self-discipline – something a determined writer can't be without. I may not feel brave in the face of a new story, but I can feel confidant that God will never, ever abandon me in this writing journey.

So, well, I can organize my cupboards or scrub the bathtub or veg out to another classic film...or I can take Timothy's encouragement to heart and write. 

I bet I'm not the only one who struggles with fear of the unwritten word. How do you overcome the blank screen terror?

Melissa Tagg


  1. I always have some anxiety when I start a new ms. But even worse anxiety when I send it off to crit partners. Guess I should let this verse sink in and relax.

    Thanks for the word. I needed it!

  2. Ahhh, Melissa,so appreciate your transparency today. :) For what little it's worth, I loved what you shared at DT earlier this year. I also know your story has probably grown and changed since then.

    Don't give in to the lies. Strike fear through it's cowardly heart and just write. I am still trying to navigate my first wip, haven't allowed myself to consider a second yet, but it seems like just writing and getting feedback from trusted sources could give some direction for improvement, when the time comes.

    Don't believe the lies. :)

  3. Thanks for your comments, Jesse and Jeanne! "Don't believe the lies." So powerful, Jeanne! :)

  4. I think free writing, just getting something down, is helpful. At least, then the screen isn't blank. Some of it may become useful.

    Author Janet Dailey, whose books sold over 300 million copies, wrote exactly nine pages a day, often stopping in the middle of a sentence.
    I used to think it was weird, but how useful to pick up the sentence the next morning and go on from there.

    I haven't managed that trick. I finish scenes so I don't lose any ideas. But it might be worth trying.

    Melissa, I'm sure your next book will be better than the last because you keep growing as a writer. Just give yourself permission to write a sloppy first draft, then REWRITE it.

  5. I love what comes through you here, and at Pizza Parties, and in life in general. You are so fun and it simply sparkles through--so not to worry.
    One trick might be to write/email a real or imaginary friend about where you're stuck or what you're dreading in currect plot stuck place, and I'll bet your comments end up being part of a foot-hold to ease your way thru the door. Copy & paste those and keep building. I absolutely know you have a great writing future in front of you, and also hopefully time for popcorn and friends, too.

  6. Snakes terrify me beyond measure!

    The blank screen is intimidating. For me the worst part of writing is the rough draft. I'm thankful for organizations like NaNoWriMo that help us to get the story down without listening to our internal editors.

  7. Your encouragement is awesome, Roxanne! Never would've thought of doing something like Janet Dailey's nine pages a day. I have been pretty good about setting daily goals and meeting those lately. It forces me into action.

    Full disclosure: this blog post was written a long time ago! So that WIP I was so intimidated by is close to done and another one percolating. So, it's both proof that the blank page CAN be overcome and rather good timing considering I'm close to starting a new one! :)

  8. Oh, thank you, Dee, for your kind words. Fun idea!! I'm going to have to give it a try next time I'm stuck! Unless a miracle happens and I never get stuck again...er, unlikely! :)

  9. You're right, Lisa - NaNo can be a great way to just force yourself to spill out that first draft.

    Which leads me to a promo for MBT WriMo...check it out, friends! http://www.mybooktherapy.com/editing/nanowrimo-at-my-book-therappy/

  10. I don't fear the blank screen. I'm more afraid of the edits. Am I correcting my grammar, or making it worse? Am I writing my voice right out of the sentence just to have it pass my eighth grade English teacher's inspection?

    I treat a blank screen like getting to know people and making new friends. Free writing conversations with your characters can help. Its kind of like going to a party where you don't know the people.

    But, Melissa, I have faith in you! I know you (with God's help) can accomplish anything!

  11. What scares me? Blank screens, not so much. But whisper the word synopsis and you'll find me scrubbing the toilet...or making that dental appointment...or anything to keep from the computer.

    Great post, Melissa! Very encouraging.

  12. Oh, Jennie, we should co-author a book. Because I love revising and edits. Once I've got something to work with, I feel so much better. But oh that blank screen...eek!

    Pat, I'm soooo with you. The synopsis scares me more than anything. I have a really bad habit of writing like half a synopsis and then retreating to comfort myself with Diet Coke with Lime and, like you, pretty much any distraction available. :)