The Fear of Writing

The fear of an unfinished novel is the most difficult barrier to overcome, yet to write, it must be.

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A trend I have noticed amongst writers is the tendency to start a project—particularly a novel—and then stall part-way through. Usually this is because a scene doesn’t quite work properly, or a character just won’t do what they are supposed to, or simply because things get in the way and a period of time passes where the writer doesn’t look at their work. They then struggle to get started again.

Whilst the cause of the initial break is often clear, the reason for not resuming writing is much harder to identify, and often unrealised. With smaller pieces—like short stories, poems, or articles—the writer may move on, but larger works bring a sense of guilt. The act of not writing becomes a source of strife and the abyss between what is in the writer’s mind and what is on the page grows substantially.

This is where writers find themselves in limbo; not because they cannot write, but because they cannot commit to the writing. A novel is more than a few characters or a basic setting: it is a world full of people and places and changes and emotions and life. It takes the entirety of a writer’s mental capacity to process and develop. It requires absolute attention and focus. It needs all of them.

A half-finished novel sitting in the back of the mind is like a reservoir held behind a dam, and to work on it means opening those floodgates. A writer who has locked it away is possessed with a fear of it flooding their mind and taking their attention away from all other aspects of their life. It will consume them until it is done, and that is too high a risk to commit to without substantial time in place away from other distractions.

What, then, is a writer to do? Keep it locked away and hope one day such a time will arrive where responsibilities cease and the dam can be opened?

No.

A writer is someone who writes. Thinking about a novel is not writing it, and although it is imperative to mentally explore world and characters before writing about them, it should not be the only activity undertaken. To move from thinker to writer is to put those fears aside, ignore the worry of a novel taking over their life, and embrace this new universe they are building.

The role, responsibility, and duty of a writer is to craft words into something wonderful. It is art through grammar, vocabulary and syntax. It is beautiful and magical. Yet it must be tangible; it must exist. Putting it off does not bring words to life, it sentences them to imprisonment. They wait, stoic, for their eventual release.

Open the dam. Write.

Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.

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