Writing Ruled by Fear

Kelly Pien, Opinion Editor

On a recent Sunday morning, I started typing the words to what I thought was going to be a good personal column for La Puma. I knew exactly what it was going to be about: hypocrisy.

I had been writing it in my head since June, and I had thought of the perfect lead-in, and a few catchy metaphors. But as soon as I finished writing the opening sequence, my perfect lead-in didn’t seem so perfect anymore. I sensed my piece was going to be poorly received.

It was almost too personal. I knew I couldn’t publish it.

Setting aside the draft, I opened a new document and started from scratch, writing a completely different column. This one was about my last name. About 50 words in, I hit a wall. I didn’t know what else to write that didn’t sound like the whining or complaining of a conceited child. That piece wouldn’t do, either.

This cycle repeated itself several times, until I finally gave up and took a break from writing my train-wreck.

Some people call this writer’s block, but I call it fear.

A fear of being ridiculed.

This fear doesn’t always affect me because I write most of my fiction, nonfiction, and poetry under the assumption that no one will ever read it. I write mainly for the fun of writing, so the resulting work will be kept locked up behind long passwords in the safety of my Google Docs cloud forever.

I prefer it this way. If no one will ever see it, I reason, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s of poor quality or cliched. No one will judge me.

It’s easy to write under this premise, because I don’t think about whether or not I’ll be scoffed at by others. The story ideas flow through my head. My fingers type them into coherent thoughts. Soon, the scary white page is filled with black Times New Roman alphabet letters. I write another page, and another, and soon I have pages of text. Although some of it is so awful that I want to expunge it from even the safety of the Google Docs cloud, most of it is not embarrassingly bad, and I wouldn’t mind others reading it.

However, when I start writing short stories for contests, essays for school, a novel, or even La Puma articles, I know that a poorly written piece can’t be pushed into the depths of my Google Docs cloud. I can’t pretend I never wrote it. People are going to read my work, and I would like them to think it’s good. But I’m afraid they might hate my writing. No, they will probably hate it, and then they’ll whisper about it. And laugh. And point. At me and my writing.

I feel like the only way to prevent this is to make whatever I’m writing amazingly awesome. Once I start writing with the mindset that it must be perfect, though, it takes my already questionable ability to write and snaps it into pieces. Suddenly, I feel like I have to do a good job, and I panic.

There’s a very important rule in writing, and that’s to not edit while you write. I break this rule often. Even though some of the writing may be publishable, I think that nothing I write is good enough, second-guessing everything. The backspace key on my keyboard is probably the most used key when I try to write something for publication.

Or, I focus too much time and energy on trying to craft the perfect sentence, and while I may end up with a wonderful sentence, I have only written a single sentence. The rest of what I have to write hasn’t been written yet, and I’d end up rushing (and writing poorly) on the rest of the piece.

So I’ve resolved to stop thinking about what others may say about my writing. It’s counterproductive. If I hadn’t, I never would have finished writing this personal column.