David Blackburn

Fear and loathing at the inkwell

“It sometimes makes me wretch, just the thought of writing,” said an author whose book launch I attended last night. This was not said in jest as part of a routine of good natured badinage, or as a novel sales pitch. He meant it.

“There’s a moment of deep anxiety. A quandary. A kind of self-loathing brought about by sudden self awareness: the realisation that what I’m writing is absurd and that I can’t improve on it. It’s the fear of failure. At that point I get the nausea.”

It’s a common complaint: some writers just hate putting pen to paper. And because so few authors have immutable deadlines, many choose to procrastinate rather than scribble. Professional writers are not alone: blogging amateurs are similarly constrained by fear. How do you overcome the fear of writing, or graphobia? Jacques Derrida had a couple of ideas, shown in the film above. But for those with fainter hearts, John Scalzi has some more practical tips. He argues that caution is preferable to hubris, not least because it is evidence of the critical restraint from which clarity issues. If you can articulate a thought, it is likely that you can write it too. Therefore, you should view writing as an extension of conversation. Start with a stream of consciousness and then refine the crude words into clear prose. This will come naturally: every sentence has a rhythm in which punctuation fits if you listen to the words as they are spoken.

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