Writer’s Block is Just Poorly Masked Fear, Isn’t It?
Notebook page full. Ideas, snippets, stories, memories all bumbling around. Fighting for their space at the forefront of my mind. Words and phrases. Thoughts of how I could spin them. Descriptive adjectives I haven’t thought of in a long time. A random list of words that I hate for no good reason.
Scribbled on post-it notes. Trello boards. Headline analyzers. Statistics page and fancy plugins. Followers, subscribers — what makes the difference anyway? I should probably quit while I’m ahead, huh?
Have you ever felt like this?
I have. Some days, the page brims with words. Other days, I type haphazard sentences between bouts of pacing the floor. On a good day, 2 or 4, sometimes more articles come out. On bad days, I have 78 browser tabs open and twice as many documents.
Good days end with satisfaction. A pat on the back. A belief that I can do this. Bad days end with ruminating, intrusive thoughts. And an early bedtime — in protest.
A few weeks ago I penned a satire piece. Out of character for me. Sure, I am sassy and sarcastic in my everyday life, but I struggle to convey this on a page. The piece racked up views. It hit the Google algorithm with the headline. Though it did not make much profit, it was an exciting thing for a green writer, nonetheless.
To say it sent this new writer into a successful high would be an understatement. Since then, nothing great has eeked its way out of these fingertips. I became increasingly terrified I would never write another single piece of anything good. I grew tired of this situation. Got sick of my own self. So, I went digging around for an answer.
What makes me believe, what makes any of us believe we should quit? What is the driving factor behind writer's block? What drives this fear?
The name for a fear of failure. Atychiphobia is a severe mental health issue associated with irrational fears of misfortune. It’s estimated that 2–5% of the population suffers from this.
Though I don’t think my fear of failure is extreme, it does feel this way at times. Still, I could make a good argument that most writers I know make up a solid 3% of this figure.
Atychiphobia can show up as perpetual feelings of helplessness, perfectionism, and ruminating thoughts. You can begin to believe that anything negative is a representation of flaws. Self-worth gets tangled to these failure feelings.
We contemplate giving up. Lament over if we are good enough.
Then the fear of failure, gives way to feeling like an imposter, sometimes. This presents feelings of self-doubt. Disbelief that anything you have accomplished is (or was) worthy of any accolades. A constant worry that you don’t deserve the money, the views, the distribution. The subscribers, the followers.
Worse still, you can start to believe that anything you’ve achieved can and will be ripped away at any time. That some other person somewhere will pull the plug. Revealing that you are not who your identity as a writer or author says you are.
Then we freeze. When the two blend, they feed a vicious cycle of a freeze response. Once this failure-friendship has formed, you start struggling with simple tasks. Spending too much time playing a game or scrolling on your phone.
Rotating between open tabs in your browser. Fatigue or appetite changes. Binge-watching or otherwise finding distractions. It feels like knowing you should be “working”, yet lacking the concentration to.
All of this blends together to create a perfect storm of sorts. Writer’s block, fatigue, and procrastination. Atychiphobia tells you to do nothing because you will fail anyway. Imposter syndrome reminds you did nothing to deserve any success you experienced. Then you doubt yourself. Believe that you suck, for lack of a better explanation.
Maybe you clicked on this because you thought it was hogwash. And maybe it is. But, if we can name what is happening we can be better equipped at navigating it when it happens again.
Because it will happen again. And then again. It’s the pitfall of this job. Not everything we write will be brilliant or algorithm cracking. Not everything wrote was a best seller, after all.
What is even the tiniest of success without a little failure too? Perhaps, the mere perspective shift is the big takeaway here. Perhaps it’s written in the stars that we sometimes get stuck spinning our wheels. And if all else fails, take note that Shakespeare’s rough drafts were termed foul papers.
Who says Shakespeare didn’t throw down his quill, stomp, and think “I am a beslubbering, flap mouthed, hedge-pig! A swaggering rascal, I am!” Or some other such self-deprecating thing meaning he sucked and should quit.
For me, it seems I experienced some “success”. It was so unexpected. After that, I could not pull myself out of a funk over it. Nothing came out and what did was not good. I feared never being able to replicate this again. But believed I had to replicate it because I couldn’t risk not doing so again. And because now my writing identity is in this one piece. Then imposter syndrome crept in. I felt like I should give up. The combination left me frozen for what is now nearly 31 days in a row.
But ya know, a stack of foul papers sounds sort of intriguing anyway, doesn’t it? Either way, writer’s block, self-deprecating, almost quitting, then starting again happens to everyone. Maybe for that fact alone, it’s worth trying again.