Goodbye Grumblings

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How to stop fear of writing from derailing you

I recently took a big step towards fulfilling a writing dream, only to have fear launch a stealth attack that temporarily sidetracked me. Pull up a screen and I’ll tell you about it—and how I’m getting past it.

On June 19 I completed the 100-day book program by submitting the last piece of my first draft. The program was fun and well worth the investment in time and energy. As I mentioned in a previous post, I learned a lot. I was elated to have met my goal: 65,000 words! I had finally finished the first draft of a book, something I’d dreamed of doing for years. I babbled with enthusiasm to anyone who’d listen.

I had finally finished the first draft of a book, something I’d dreamed of doing for years.

Within a week, though, I started feeling flat. Without the weekly goal and the regular discussions with my online critique group, I felt aimless and surprisingly lonely. For 100 days I’d spent much of my free time focusing on just getting the draft done.

Now there was time for self-doubt.

In our celebratory webinar at the end of the program, Joe Bunting recommended that we set the draft aside for a couple of weeks and read The Story Grid. I love reading about writing, so I ordered the book and took a break from writing. It was summer, and I was off work for a few weeks. There were family things to do, there was gardening, there was reading.

When The Story Grid arrived in the mail, I dove back into the project. I worked my way through the book at the dining room table, pen in hand. But was I understanding it properly? This process was quite detailed and, well, hard. Could I actually do this? A couple of podcasts helped things start to make sense: Story Grid and How Story Works. I was starting to understand the theory. I was also starting to understand just how much work a good second draft would require.

Could I actually do this?

I finally went back to my draft and read the whole thing through, without editing a single word. That was a feat in itself, because there sure were things that needed correcting. As expected, it was a shitty first draft with some good parts. Mission accomplished! The program taught us to give ourselves permission to be imperfect. The point was to get the words down on the page. We could fix them later.

Before fixing the words, I needed to tackle the structure. I knew I needed help, so I committed to following the recommendations in The Story Grid to the letter. I brushed doubt aside, determined to trust the process and put on a book editor hat. I knew if I started playing with the wording, correcting spelling and grammar, I’d end up rewriting the same parts over and over. I’ve been there before and have the unfinished drafts to prove it.

This time, I told myself, it was going to be different.

I started the spreadsheet. I marked out each scene and counted the words. I started describing in a few words what happened in each scene.

Then on July 10, I stopped.

It’s now August 13.

Why did I make no progress on my book for a month? All sorts of reasons excuses. It was hard to get up early. Stress, family and social obligations. Overdue library books cried out to be read.

I made no progress because I stopped making time to do the work. I slipped easily out of the writing habit, lost my focus, and then didn’t get back on track because I let fear stop me. Grumblings lurked, reminding me that once again I didn’t stick to a project. This task was too big and too scary. What if I couldn’t figure out the structure, or how to improve it? What if I wasn’t smart enough to do this right?

I made no progress because I stopped making time to do the work.

There were safer and easier things I could do. I could set this book aside and congratulate myself for finishing a first draft. I could buy another book on writing and see if it revealed an easier way to finish a book. Or . . . ooh, shiny! I could start from scratch and write a whole new story instead.

It was only while writing this post that I understood that the fears and the seductive alternatives to doing the work were examples of Resistance, which Steven Pressfield describes as the force that acts against human creativity.

Well, I won’t have it. I don’t intend to let fear and Resistance win. Giving in means throwing away 100 days of work. It means giving up on my dream.

Nope. Not happening.

Goodbye, Grumblings!

Since I started writing this post, I’ve gone back to my spreadsheet and described a minimum of 10 scenes a day. Small, manageable steps.

I choose to stand by my commitment and to trust the Story Grid. I choose to do this even though I’m scared and may not do everything right.

The fear and Resistance were exposed, and somehow conversations, thoughts and external influences came together to give me clarity and fuel to fight, as though some higher power was conspiring to help.

  • A few days ago, Husband asked me what my next steps were for my book. Now, I’m an expert at ignoring my inner voice, but it’s harder to ignore my spouse’s voice. Speaking about the book project brought home just how long it had been since I worked on it.
  • I cast around for a topic for my neglected blog and decided to write a quick little post about finishing my first draft. Easy peasy, right? As I wrote, I began to understand how my fear was stopping me. This post has been far from easy, but I am intensely grateful for the clarity that came during the writing of it.
  • I’m reading Mindset for work (best work assignment ever!), in which Dr. Carol Dweck describes a growth versus a fixed mindset. A growth mindset means approaching a subject humbly, knowing there’s learning to be done and that improvement is possible. What a timely reminder for me to keep going, even though I have so much to learn.

Resistance and Grumblings worked against me with their sly voices—but clarity, hope and encouragement came along and helped me overcome them.

So how do you stop fear from derailing you?

  • If someone asks a difficult question about your stalled project, answer it. You may learn something!
  • Write out your ideas to find out what’s really going on.
  • Approach your writing with humility and be prepared to learn.
  • Above all, keep coming back. Keep trying. Keep doing the work—even if it’s hard and you’re scared.

I offer up a prayer of gratitude for the irritating questions asked by spouses everywhere, for the clarity that comes with writing, and for the nudges provided by books that come just at the right time.

How have you gotten past fear or restarted stalled projects? I’d love to hear your stories and advice. Share your experiences in the comments or email me at susan at


About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

8 Replies

  1. Karen

    I have also been stalled – a move back to USA and reconnecting with family has been dominant, but. yes – the fear factor looms large. Thanks for sharing your timely and inspiring article. Time for me to get back in the saddle again too!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Hi Karen,

      I hope you do! I want to read your next draft. (-: Thanks for commenting!

  2. Bradlee

    Hi Susan! I loved this so much. I am super proud of you and I enjoyed learning from your learning!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks, Bradlee. I am proud too. I appreciate the encouragement! Xox

  3. Kathleen Priestman

    And, WAY TO GO.
    I hope it goes without saying that you are my hero for getting down to it.

    In case it’s not clear to everyone else:

  4. This is an awesome, terrifyingly brave statement: “I made no progress because I stopped making time to do the work.”
    And you are not alone. It really is a thing. I have learnt that when I’m avoiding something, there’s a lesson lurking in that work that I’m not facing. Sometimes I am lucky enough to tease out what it is.

    That usually takes talking it out with someone, because that’s how my thoughts straighten themselves out. I have to hear them outloud!
    But getting to a spot where I can analyse effectively often takes the alignment of a bunch of other helpful things first, like blowing off some steam to reduce the stress load (and gain oxygen to the brain), or creating some success in another area altogether (getting that sanding done – yippee!). These other activities give me time to cogitate, let some other part of my brain chew on the problem for a while.

    (See – you might have really needed that time gardening, family, and reading before you were really ready to think things through on the keyboard.)

    Then, once I sort out the fear behind the falter, like I did yesterday for a work project stalled for far too long (cue the choirs of angels!), I face the fear and do IT anyway.

    (Or, you know, sometimes I might take a slight detour through a blog for some inspiration. But then I get back to it, because I’m brave and bold like that. And I am mighty inspired… Right, Now!)

    1. GrumblingSusan

      I feel blessed when I finally learn the lesson my fear is teaching.

      I too like blowing off some steam before tackling things. Working out the frustration and anger helps.

      It’s funny how verbalizing makes things clear too, but I can’t always sit down and write until I have been active.

      Good dor you! (-:

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