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From Fear of Writing to Becoming a Struggling Writer

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The title of this post may seem to indicate that hardly any progress has been made since I took the writing challenge eleven months ago. But if one reads it closely, some progress has happened in the sense that I have started calling myself a writer. A struggling writer would present a true picture of my current situation.

Around 11 months ago, I took up a writing challenge to deal with my fear of writing. Inspired by watching Brandon Sanderson’s video, I challenged myself to write 500 words daily. At that time, I had recognised my fear of writing, which was now affecting my everyday ‘compulsory’ writing activities. This challenge forced me to write 500 words everyday. Initially, I used to take more than an hour to complete the target. I would get stuck somewhere and wouldn’t know how to proceed. Gradually, it became easier.

Around two months later, I began to engage with my writing process and started reflecting on what I write and how I write it. I also realised that my fear is caused by the lack of control I have on myself and my writing. There are times when I write a lot and then there are times when I go blank. This helped me see this challenge as an exercise in disciplining my mind to write everyday. However, I am in the process of disciplining my mind to write everyday at a particular time. I also started attentively reading my writing. This writing also became therapeutic for me at the time I was going through a stressful work situation.

I reached my next milestone when I stumbled upon The Paris Review Interviews. These interviews inspired me to look at writing as a craft. Most of these authors described writing as a ‘physical’ craft. Their sense of ownership of their writing and their pride inspired me to write or to craft a piece of my own. Their writing habits motivated me to discipline my mind and body to write everyday. But most importantly, it helped me see writing as a never-ending re-writing exercise. The writer tirelessly re-writes his/her story even after it is published.

Now I am learning to hone my skills of writing and re-writing. It is tiresome for me. I struggle to look for the appropriate words. I struggle with the same sentence for days. I para-phrase it to express myself in the most accessible way. In this way, I am gradually understanding what writers mean when they say that they write to know themselves. It is a struggle and a never ending one, and I am elated that finally my struggle has begun.

Writing Challenge

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I have decided to take up a writing challenge to write 500 words everyday. It will be a fourteen week challenge in which I am planning to follow the writing process in order to write reflectively.

My performance in the last challenge was embarrassing. But that challenge definitely helped me deal with my fear of writing. I write more often now and writing also comes a little easier. That challenge also helped me post more actively on the blog.

Though quality of writing is a concern that needs to be addressed. So in order to improve my writing qualitatively, I have decided to seriously follow all five stages of the writing process. I am hoping that going through each of these stages will help me engage with my writing more. It will also facilitate reflective thinking.

Preparing to Write

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In my last blog post I talked about my plan to deal with my fear of writing by taking up a fourteen week-long writing challenge. For successful completion of this challenge, I need to do some preparations. This post deals with my preparations for the challenge:

Fixed Time: Though many people have said begin your day with writing, but one doesn’t follow it until one realises its importance. In order to complete this challenge, first thing I need to do is to fix up a time for writing and I have decided to begin my day with writing. I am hoping that this habit will make writing the central activity of my day. In other words, my entire routine will then be centred around writing.

Uncluttered Mind: My experience tells me that I cannot write if I cannot think clearly. Confused mind gets reflected in our writing. Problems that come up while drafting cannot be dealt with thoughtfully by a confused mind. Meditation and long evening walks generally help me gain perspective and clarity. In other words, I require some quiet time to think clearly.

Reflective Thinking: It is related to the previous requirement but I thought spelling it out will help me. I need some time to reflect or to draw connections between different ideas. I require this time to make sense of the phenomena.

Reading: Reading triggers our thought process, therefore a dedicating an hour to reading is essential for me. I am not a full-time writer, so I know this requires a lot of manipulation but I understand how essential reading is for writing. Reading like a writer helps me in carefully noting the style of writing used by the writer; how she has organised her paper; how is she arguing etc.

Outline: I am quite lazy, so I prefer to discover while writing which adversely affects my performance. I have observed that every time I prepare an outline first, my writing is much improved. So before I begin drafting I need to prepare an outline. This outline is nothing but a formal space for reflective thinking. This outline helps me figure out what it is that I want to say and how am I going to do it. It just helps me control my writing. In other words, it will demystify the process of writing for me.

Dealing With Fear of Writing

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I learnt to read and write in school through decoding. I began with learning alphabets and then joining these alphabets to read simple words without any meaning or context. Then after two years of this kind of training, I began to read simple sentences with little meaning. In the process, I learnt two things. Firstly, reading and writing is a complex formulaic process that I know nothing about. Secondly, meaning is unimportant in the initial stages of reading.

Together these two learnings affected my confidence, as for me the process of reading and writing was now mystified and my own knowledge of language was not acknowledged. I was also not able to make much sense of the reading writing exercises that were given in school. Soon, I stopped intellectually engaging with language. But I managed somehow to sustain my interest in reading. Writing however remained a frightening experience for me and it still is.

In college, while training to be an elementary school teacher I came across constructivist approaches to reading and writing such as whole language approach; language experience approach, emergent literacy and process writing approach. I learnt about these and used them as effectively as possible in my grade one class. But I remained a reluctant writer. I was scared of writing my experiences of using these approaches.

Recognising my fear for writing, I remembered what Rousseau had said that if the teacher herself does not love her subject she will give pass on message to her students. Afraid of this, I promised myself to make reading and writing a more meaningful exercise for my students. Then while working with Dalit girls of rural Uttar Pradesh, I learnt that writing has a lot to do with confidence. I promised myself that I would make reading and writing fun for these girls, so that unlike me, they begin to enjoy writing. I wanted them to write for themselves. This happened but I still could not overcome my phobia for writing. Reading Frank Smith’s ‘Essays into Literacy’ also did not help me much.

I moved on but in every stage of my life writing became an inescapable reality. Now a doctoral student, I cannot but have to face my fears. In the meanwhile I began teaching MA programme students, and through them I realised how systematically all of us learnt to curb our voices in school which developed into our fear for writing.

So, in order to deal with this fear, I decided to take up a writing challenge for fourteen weeks. I must thank Brandon Sanderson for inspiring me to do this. I watched a clip of his 2013 lecture titled ‘Build Good Habits’ in which he asks his students to take up the challenge of writing 3000 words a week for fourteen weeks. My challenge begins from 1st November 2014 till 8th February 2015. In this period, I vow to write 500 words everyday. I vow to begin my day with writing.

I am hoping that by the end of this challenge I will be able to get rid of my phobia for writing.

Wish me luck.