Bypassing the Writer’s Fear Zone

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I told myself that I need to write, and my mind’s response was: “I don’t feel like it.”

“I don’t want to write now.”

“I don’t have the energy to write now.”

And I wonder at that, because at my desk job I will always get the work done, no matter how tired I am or how intimidated I am, or how annoying and taxing it is to me. If I took a contract, I will do the job, and I will do a first-rate job.

Why is it that my brain tells me I do not want to write now, and suggests sleeping or cleaning or whatever online media to engage in, rather than write? Any other job, I would have never fussed around on online media, or stayed in bed, or delayed.

I want to write more than anything. It is vital to my being. I am not lazy when it comes to professional employment, why am I finding it hard to convince myself to work?

Is fear is at the bottom of this? (*spoiler alert: it is)

If I had a contract, or a deadline from an employer, I would do the job and do it well. I would not putz around. I might be terrified, or anxious, but I would still do it. Why am I letting my fears and anxieties rule me in this case?

Because it seems like there is no deadline, and I’m the boss.

 

My friend and I had a very interesting discussion with a young professional at Starbucks the other day. He had seen my headscarf, and asked if I were Muslim. He had never heard Jewish Orthodox women cover. In fact, he had never gotten a chance to have a conversation with an Orthodox Jew. My knowledge of Arabic is pretty much limited to the realm of hospital lingo from volunteering at the ER, so our conversation was in English. The three of us had to work hard to bridge languages and assumptions. We discussed Monotheism, religious law, and the development of faith based lifestyle in the modern world.

One of the questions he asked us, as a person of faith himself, was: why do you do this? What binds you to this lifestyle?

And it makes me think of the choice to follow a “binding” faith. A pathway I was both born into but also consciously chose to continue.

There is no deadline to a Torah life, at least not an explicit one, for most of us, Thank G-D. Most of us don’t get to talk directly with the boss, either. Not in voice and words at least. Not me.

Why do I do this? Why do I choose this, day after day?

Is it a social construct? I’m sure part of it is. Would I still be doing this if I were not married to a religious partner, or if I were single? It’s really hard to know. Every rebellion I had somehow stayed in or veered into the realm of my faith. Is it guilt? Probably. But if I did not believe in it, I think the guilt would not have been powerful enough. Is it comfort? Probably, in part, though no one can claim that the Modern Orthodox life is a very comfortable one. It is taxing, and demanding, and mindful.

 

There are still aspects of my religious life that I find hard to do on my own initiative – like prayer. I do better in a structured group setting. Torah learning? I used to be able to initiate learning on my own, nowadays I find it is much easier for me to engage in learning because I want to teach. Once I have the commitment to other people, it takes less mental effort for me to do the task. In fact, if I want to do the task, I find it helpful to make a commitment to other people in order to get myself to do it.

When I do have a  contracted writing commitment, it is  easier for me to get myself to do the job.

The catch is, of course, that acquiring such contracts depends on a writer’s ability  to produces outstanding finished pieces of work first.

Is there a self hack to get into that mindset?

I like to go back to “14 year old Tali” for advice about writing, because I was a freaking word making machine back then, despite anxieties and inhibitions.

So, what had worked for me then, when I was able to write just pages upon pages of good stories?

I wasn’t afraid of my writing future. I was afraid of a trillion other things, to be sure. But I knew and believed that I would be a published writer.

I still believe that. I believe that despite the voice of anxiety. I just can’t help but believe.

The fear is actually about the “when” it’s going to happen. Which is ironic, because the fear keeps me away, in a personal exile, away from redemption.

I think the faith mechanism that I should focus on is writing, out of faith that G-D has given me this ability and this goal. If I’m wrong, I’m fine with having had spent the time working on it. But 14 year old me did not doubt that she was going to do this, so I’ll stick with that.

It sounds preposterous, assuming, to say it. If you aren’t familiar with my anxiety and with the various creative tools I use to battle it, then you would assume I’m full of myself. I’m trying to do the opposite, though. I’m trying to be less indebted to my own ego and more in line with what I believe G-D entrusted me with. It is presumptuous to teach, or to open a business, or anything. What I need to keep on my mind is that even if we’re not perfect we still try to do the very best right thing.

So if I believe G-D entrusted me with the ability to write and publish this novel, how do I get myself to work?

I make it my biggest mission. I have to wake up every day thinking of how to best accomplish it. I have to go to sleep every night thinking of how to conquer it, and where to start the next day. I need to breath it and drink it and eat it. It must take precedence, monetarily, over other self focused expenses and time wastes.  I change my focus from “I’m not doing this right” to “what is the best way to do this right?”

 

I’ll be honest with myself and add, that there is a sub strategy I unwillingly use, which is called “I will prove to you all that I can do it.” It’s surprisingly very effective, but it is also effective in creating its own set of anxiety monsters. It’s a spiteful, funny little thing, though, and I can utilize it at times when I am too angry for anything else.

 

Now that I’m taking a moment to breath, and rereading this, I ask myself: so what are the tools to get out of fear mode and start writing right now?

I think I’ll start with: “what do I need to do right this very moment to make this piece the most effective it could be?”

Or more specifically: “write this scene the most effectively that I can.”

 

What strategies do you use get yourself out of the fear zone? Let me know in the comments!

 


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