Writing Fears: Facing Procrastination, Guilt, and Shame

Do your New Year’s resolutions include working on that new writing project? You bought the new pens, planners, and journals; carved out an hour in your schedule in pursuit of your goal and now…you are frozen. Armed with supplies and a clear schedule, conventional wisdom says that this is where the automatic part of your creative mind will take over and prose will flow out of your fingers like an open tap. Ah, if only that was true. January is the month of resolutions, and we pile on the expectations that this will be the start of our new ways. We will be the healthy, creative, productive people who always show up and pursue their dreams! Why is it that almost immediately we fall back into our previous ways? We want to write, we really do! Ask anyone who knows us, it’s all we talk about. We have great ideas for stories and novels, memoirs, and non-fiction proposals. So, what happened?

What happened is that writing felt scary and hard. You wrote for a while and lost the plot. The words you strung together sounded amateur and boring. That freaked you out. You went to get a snack. Checked your email. Now your dedicated writing time has passed, and you nearly jogged to the next item on your packed schedule. The kids need to be picked up, your lunch hour is finished, you have to go to your second job. Hey, we get it. We do it too. There’s a reason this blog post was written on one of the last days of January. It’s a bit like that other favourite resolution of going to the gym after a long absence and berating yourself for getting winded on the treadmill after only a few minutes. The pain and embarrassment are overwhelming—what were we even thinking, trying this again? Back to our caves of safety we march, to our social media scrolling and TV shows.

When there is no creative output expected from us, it becomes easy to procrastinate. But the “easy” label is misleading, isn’t it? Procrastination is painful. If you have gotten very skilled at it, you may have found ways to distract yourself by doing the things that need to be done. There is always laundry, organizing, alphabetizing, even as a last resort, exercising! Those things are important, you say to yourself. But when the evening sets, the guilt kicks in. It wakes you up in the middle of the night. It asks you over, and over, “Why are you like this? Why can’t you do the thing that you say is so important to you?”

A common spiral of creative people, that guilt often strikes around 3:00 a.m. It hurts to listen to and frequently invites its cousin shame to keep the guilt company. Shame has even deeper tentacles and it will drag up every feeling of worthlessness you ever had in your life and use this moment to show you the receipts: “Other people, they write articles and books, and are getting published. Is it because you know, deep down, you are not as good as them? Why are you wasting everyone’s time by listening to your dreams if you never (always the capital NEVER) write anything worthwhile?” By the time you manage to fall asleep again, you are a sweaty mess, begging for mercy and promising to do better tomorrow.

So, let’s give ourselves a little grace. Write a line or two. Try a writing prompt. Write a character description. A bit of dialogue. Parse a setting for a scene. Don’t judge the output, just make the goal so small that it won’t terrify you to the point of freezing and avoiding. Celebrate yourself that you got that little goal done today. Combined, these small accomplishments will stack up and make the job easier, until you actively enjoy your writing practice.

We hope these tips will help you in your resolutions for the new year. Our resolution is to provide you with the tools you need to reach your writing goals through our coaching, workshops, and services. Contact us for a consultation today!

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