Fear pt 2 – Guest Blogger Sheila Watson

The 2nd part of Sheila Watson’s Blog about Fear. I think this will strike some chords with us all.

Fear – Part Two

We have (I hope) acknowledged that we are afraid when it comes to our “real” writing and that fear prevents us from writing.

This week I want to talk about why I think that is and what we can do about it.

We (writers) have two beings living inside us.  The first is our creative self and the other is our critical self.  These two sides of self are incompatible.  They don’t get along and they can’t both drive the bus.

Think of your creative side as a child on a playground.  Imagine the biggest, most elaborate, most amazing playground ever invented (whatever that looks like to you).  Your creative side wants to jump and climb and run and tumble and dig and swim and fly.

Then your critical self comes along like a prudish English nanny and starts to try to protect you from getting hurt.  Your critical self demands that you stop jumping and climbing and running and tumbling and flying.  She worries that you might fall, or get dirty or skin your knees or look foolish.  She tells you that playing is dangerous.  The nanny’s job is to make you afraid of what might happen if you play.   She makes you believe that the fear is real and that something really awful is going to happen if you play.

And it gets worse.  Your nanny — your critical self — does not know how to tell good stories.  She sucks at it.  I mean, she really, really sucks.  Just imagine the nanny trying to walk across the top of the monkey bars.  Not.  Going.  To.  Happen.

We need to lock nanny out of the playground.  At least until we get our playtime in.  We have to be able to play fearlessly.  We have to be able to write fearlessly.

So how do we do that?  How do we trick nanny into staying outside the playground gates?  Here are some ideas.  Let me know in the comments if you have any more.

Do fifteen minutes of “practice” at the beginning of each writing session.  Just write your story for fifteen minutes. Consider it a warm up; a practice run; playtime.  Then throw it away.   (Yes, really.)

Set the timer on your phone for one minute.  Write two sentences under that time pressure.  Repeat.  Then try four sentences in two minutes.  Eight in four.  Ten in five.  Ten in ten.

Set your ink color to white.  Just write.  Change the color and edit it later.  For now, just write.

Half and half.  Decide how much time you are going to devote to writing this day.  Write and play for half that time.  Then go back and fix it during the second half of your time.  Creative side first.  Critical side later.  Never on the playground at the same time.

Whatever it is you do to trick your nanny into staying out of the playground – remember that writing is the doing.  Do.  Write.  Write more.  Write fearlessly.


Bio: Sheila Watson is a wife, a mom, a self-defense instructor, a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwon-do, a wanna-be chef, a dog companion and a writer of tall tales, fanciful stories, occasionally useful commentary and rather wordy status updates.

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Guest post by Sheila Watson: Fear

Joe’s Post #136

Actually, I’m not sure I can call this my post as I’m going to give the blog over to a guest blogger. I hope that other people will also be interested in blogging on our site, so please send us a note if you are. In the meantime, Sheila Watson was fortunate enough to take a workshop on something we’ve all been struggling with over the last few months. FEAR!

So, here it is. It has some great insights.

Part 1 (the 2nd part will be next week)

FEAR ˈfir/    noun

  1. 1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

The key word in the above definition is “belief”.  Fear, as it relates to writing, is not real.  There is no danger or threat in telling a story and no disaster will ever befall you because you write a novel.

Those of us who are writers can’t help but write.  If we are not writing a novel, we are writing a blog or crafting status updates on Facebook or responding to discussions on forums or emailing and texting our friends and family.  There are hundreds of ways of writing daily.  And we manage to do all of them – except the writing that matters most.  Because we are afraid.

Why aren’t we afraid to write a blog?  Why is it that we set a goal to write a blog every week and we manage to get it done and published?  Every single week.  But when we say we are going to commit to writing a novel a year – a snail’s pace of merely 275 words a day – we can’t get it done?  Why aren’t we afraid of writing a blog?

Because there is nothing dangerous or threatening about writing a blog.  What’s the worst thing that could happen if you wrote a blog and put it out in the world?  Someone might not like it?  Someone might disagree with it?  No one will read it?  Maybe someone will write about the same idea and be better at it?

So what?  Is that what you are thinking?  So what if no one reads it?  So what if someone disagrees or doesn’t like it?  So what if someone writes better than I do?  It doesn’t matter.

That same idea – that feeling – needs to translate into the writing of your “real” stuff.  It’s the same.  You are just another person putting stories out into the world and seeing what resonates.  Some people won’t read it.  Some people won’t like it.  Some people will write it better than you.

So what?

You are already facing and managing this fear when you write a blog, or an email or a forum post or a witty Facebook status.  You just have to bring that to your “real” writing.

How much could you write if you were not afraid?  If you could sit down at the laptop with no beliefs of danger or threat or pain clouding your thoughts and you could just tell a story?

Do you know?

I didn’t. Not until this weekend. This weekend I set about writing a story for my teenaged children.

They still request an Easter Egg Hunt every year and we are long past hiding chocolate eggs behind the curtains.  So each year, this mom devises an increasingly difficult hunt.  This year, I decided to write a “choose your own adventure” for them.  The idea being that they read a story and at certain points in the story they have to decide between option 1 or option 2 (and sometimes options 3 and 4).  Seemed like a good idea.  But it required a story.  I started writing on Friday night.  And I wrote more than 11,000 words by Sunday morning.

11,000 words. In a day and a half.  Because I was not afraid.


Bio: Sheila Watson is a wife, a mom, a self-defense instructor, a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwon-do, a wanna-be chef, a dog companion and a writer of tall tales, fanciful stories, occasionally useful commentary and rather wordy status updates.

Stay tuned, she has a second part coming next week!

As always, if you like the post, please follow us or share on FB or get your 8 year old daughter to do something with it on instasnap or chatlink or whatever’s new.


Does a writer need to be right to write?

Karalee’s Post #72 —

Okay, so I’m a perfectionist. As a writer I often feel that this is a disadvantage.

It makes sense that to lead a balanced life everything should be in moderation. This means everything from food intake, exercise, work, play, cooking, hobbies, etc.

But it’s extremes that make a story more interesting. Take Helga’s last post for instance, and how experiencing the (extreme) unexpected was refreshing and added energy and interest to her desire to write. Readers want those extremes in stories they read too.

Does that mean that writers need to know the extremes of what they want to write about? In my opinion I would say no. Not at first. Rather, what writers need to know or research to understand, are the norms.

Then start asking the age old jump-start-your-ideas question, “what if?” Keep asking the question and pushing the normal until you get an extreme that excites you and you can build your story around.

So what’s my problem? Why do I feel being a perfectionist is a hindrance to me?

More often than not I feel such a strong urge to “make sure what I write is right” that it often prevents me from getting out of the starting gate. How can I push the extreme unless I know exactly what it’s all about or how it really works?

Is this a form of writer’s block?

I read the blog The Kill Zone today and it was about this subject and Joe Moore’s opinion about what is behind it. I tend to agree a whole lot with his view.

So no, I don’t have writer’s block, I have writer’s fear. Fear of being wrong about my concept, scientific details, geographic details, etc., etc. It does stop my progress, or rather my beginningness!

How do I overcome my tendency to want to know everything before I start? Are there other writers like me out there?

Research is important, sure, but one can’t research forever, and if you are like me, research will never be enough to soothe me since there will always be more details to learn.

I’ve been working hard on personal issues and growth the last year or so and it has come to light that my reluctance to dive in and expose myself to writing something that might be “wrong” is due to childhood issues of never being good enough, and it has fed a negative loop I’m finding hard to break.

I’m a bright person and can use this to my advantage. I know what this “extreme” feels like and I can use it in my writing. And, as for not knowing “everything” before I start writing, the details I don’t know need to be put into perspective. From the experience of writing my first two books, I know that the details that need to be fixed are usually minor, or an expert can help me with that particular event to make it “real.”

In effect I really don’t need to know it all. Or even very much of it!

The secret is to simply WRITE. Don’t let not knowing the in-depth details of something stop the writing in progress. Leave a blank and keep going. Leave lots of blanks or put in details you think will work and review it later. It doesn’t really matter when you are in the middle of creative output. What does matter is to keep writing!

Fill in the blanks or make changes later. Some plot points may need to be altered, but the important thing is that good progress has been made AND I now know exactly where/what details I need to find out about. In effect, my research has been narrowed down!

I find it very interesting that the blanks are often minor details that are important, but won’t take all your time (days, weeks…) of research, most of which I don’t need to use or know about.

If you are looking for interesting tips on developing your writing skills, I find the following blogs a great read: livewritethrive.com and jmmcdowell.com.

Also, for interesting extreme behaviours and/ or life circumstances, you may want to watch the Dr. Phil show!

Happy writing!




The writing on the wall

Helga’s Post #54:

A new dawn. A new direction. If you read Karalee’s last post, ‘Deciding on a new project’, you know what I mean.

When we gathered at my house we all came prepared with up to three plot ideas each for our collaborative novel. Well you know how that ended. (Do I hear a collective ‘we could have told you so… ?)

Did we leave defeated, feel discouraged?

Nope, but thanks for asking.

In fact, I am happy to report, we finished our meeting re-energized, re-invented, and re-committed, both to our individual writing projects as well as to our 5Writers group. This is the amazing thing – just when we thought after realizing the collaborative novel isn’t likely going to work – voila! Up we came with another idea, and a much better one. It builds on the group’s synergy and will surely contribute to make every one of us a better writer. It will also add a dose of discipline to our work, something that has been – let’s be frank – sliding (with one notable exception).

What’s so innovative about each of us coming to the next meeting armed with an outline of our next work?

Simply this: Outlining is a tricky beast. It’s as much as an essential tool as a snare to creativity. Some in our group live and die by it, others (like me) are writing by the seat of their pants. All of us have tried both approaches – writing with and without outlines. All of us have lived with the realization that at least some sort of outline is necessary. So this will be a great challenge for the pantsers among the group, while the rest can teach us how to be less intimidated by the process. It will be interesting to see if they can convert us.

I am fascinated just how much time and energy is used on the topic of outlines. A quick Google search brings up hundreds of links. From agents and editors, to writing teachers to published authors, everyone seems to have an opinion. And far from the same opinion. I am leaning towards the ‘moderates’, like J.K. Rowling:

“I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.” So, yes, a basic plot outline. If that works for one of the most successful modern writers, I think I can live with that.

Meanwhile, I continue writing my novel that I started several months ago (the one I was supposed to have finished by our collective deadline of February 5 this year). It’s slow going. I found myself trapped in plot logistics. I felt like a noose was tightened around my writer’s neck with the trap door about to drop. (I can hear the outliners: See, that’s what happens to pantsers. Serves you right!) I woke up at night thinking of a way out, untangling the web. I kept tinkering on the edges, without much success, until I realized that much more drastic steps were needed. Like completely changing the dynamic between two of my main characters, and some other radical changes like setting, stakes and motif. The eraser no longer worked. I had to use a chainsaw.

No, not as in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Rather, in order to make my story better I am focusing on increasing suspense. The kind of suspense that has a combination of both excited expectation and uncertain fear. Readers want to experience fear, because, in the words of English playwright William Congreve, security is an insipid thing. ‘Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life,’ he said 300 years ago, and his wisdom holds true today. A good story must have a good dose of danger and conflict, which means you need a really bad antagonist, lots of twists, and perhaps a gripping love story and always a satisfying ending.

But what a good story needs above all is a writer who is committed enough to finish it. And take risks. Don’t hold back, and when you’re done with the first draft, be prepared and be brave enough to revise, cut and toss. As Margaret Atwood quipped:

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word…. A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.”

That’s what it comes down to. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves when our first draft doesn’t quite measure up to a Number One bestseller. A little kindness is not out of place. And with that in mind, I am starting the weekend with a traditional TGIF cocktail, a Kir Royale. For two.


A delicate truth

Helga’s Post #45 — In a previous post, Karalee raised the question of whether a writer can convincingly write about fear if he/she has never experienced it. Or sorrow, hatred or any of our emotions.

At first I thought the answer should be obvious, because we are all capable of a full range of emotions. Not only capable, but experiencing all these emotions along life’s path.

But the more I thought about it, the less obvious it became. It’s an interesting debate, and a philosophical one as well.

Let’s start with the emotion of fear. We all know what it feels like. It’s part of our DNA, a survival mechanism. Fear is an emotional response to actual danger (as opposed to anxiety – the response to imagined threat) Without the capacity to feel fear we would be dead. Fear warns us of danger and if the brain gives the signal it produces adrenalin to give us sometimes super-human strength and capacity for fight or flight.  It’s probably the one emotion (other than love) that most authors can convincingly put down on paper.

But it’s not that simple. There are many nuances of fear, such as fright, dread, horror, panic, anxiety, acute stress reaction and anger.

This is where talent shows through, where wheat separates from chaff, even if a writer has not experienced the full range. Take Stephen King’s ‘Misery’ as an example. Did he ever feel naked fear in real life the way he made his character Paul Sheldon feel when he was held captive for weeks by Annie Wilkes who eventually chopped off his foot? Not likely. It’s King’s vivid imagination and impeccable research that make him such a great writer. He can put himself in his characters’ mind as if he’s living their life. Without having lived through all these challenging emotions himself.

Kathy Bates in 'Misery'

Kathy Bates in ‘Misery’

Love is another feeling that most people have experienced in one form or another. Not only romantic love. Mother’s love, love for your kids, love for a dog or cat, love for one’s country or a deity. We know what it feels like, so we are able to convey it in our stories. But it won’t guarantee we can do it well. Not by itself. That’s where writing skills and passion are needed.

There are many more emotions, a veritable alphabet soup from A to Z, from affection to apathy to worry and zeal. Some recurring themes in novels, are desire, guilt, grief, joy, regret, and hatred.

Back to the question of whether we have to experience something in order to convincingly write about. I don’t believe so. In certain situations, it definitely helps. Like in describing settings. I have never written about a location that I have never been to, because I want to convey how I experienced the place with all my senses. Not a postcard-like description, but the whole package. The sound of traffic or human voices, the smell of food, people, nature, the feel of humidity, the colour of the sky. All of it.

But for other scenes, research alone can take me a long way. And that includes those emotions my characters feel that I have not experienced myself. I cannot think of a time in my life when I truly felt hatred. Resentment, sure. Loathing, yes. Outrage too. But pure hatred? I am sure most people haven’t in its most passionate form. And yet, hatred is the emotion that often provides the motive as well as the motivation for our protagonists and antagonists. It most often drives the plot and keeps the fire of the story burning. That’s where we writers have to reach deep, use our imagination and passion to make it sound real. To nail the story and have readers remember it long after they finished reading the book.

All to say, good writers can invent a great deal. As Silk said in her last post, ‘Trust your instincts.’ We don’t need to have experienced the full range of emotions we are writing about. I don’t have to suck a lemon to know it tastes sour.

Other emotions however are more difficult to simply invent. Like the feeling of outrage. It’s difficult to write passionately about it if the writer doesn’t know what it feels like, if he/she cares little or none for the issue. Here is an example of a quiet but burning outrage that clearly reflects the writer’s own values:

“Our power knows no limits, yet we cannot find food for a starving child, or a home for a refugee. Our knowledge is without measure and we build the weapons that will destroy us. We live on the edge of ourselves, terrified of the darkness within. We have harmed, corrupted and ruined, we have made mistakes and deceived.”

That is passion. That is outrage. It’s the power of the written word.

Can you guess the writer?