Author Margaret K Johnson (no relation) has dropped into the coffee shop today with some very valuable advice on how to stop negative thoughts getting in the way of our writing.
Q First things first, Margaret – how do you take your coffee?
A White with half a sugar please. Quite strong. Thanks!
Q You’ve just raised a subject that I know lots of writers will be familiar with but that perhaps they don’t talk about very often – how fear stops them writing. What sort of fears are we talking about and what effect can they have?
A I asked authors in various online forums about their writing fears, and had quite a lot of responses. When I analysed them, they seemed to fall into four main categories – Obstacles and Author Mind Set (so real barriers to writing (like dyslexia, childcare responsibilities etc) but also barriers that are really about the lack of self-confidence on the part of the author), Fear of Failure, Fear of what Others will Think, and a Lack of Knowledge about Writing or Publishing.
After I’d done this research, I actually developed a quiz with questions designed to help the respondent to see what main group their fears about writing lie in. It’s on my website – here’s the link if anyone’s interested in taking it. http://margaretkjohnson.com/identify-your-author-fears/
Looking through the quiz statistics, two issues come out on top – How can I find the time to write? (42%) of respondents, and What if I find out I’m a bad writer? (44%). In my face-to-face fiction writing classes, these fears or barriers usually come out on top too. It can be difficult to carve some time in your life to follow your dreams, and because they are your dreams, the thought of them not working out is tough to contemplate.
Q I’m sure a lot of new and aspiring writers will identify straight away with those fears but are they common among more established writers too?
A Many of those who took part in my original research were published authors. To some degree, they were thinking back to how they felt when they first started to write, but I teach fiction writing to a wide range of students, and in my experience, there’s always something to feel fearful about!
It’s the same as with anything you really want – the thought of not achieving it is a painful prospect. And as your confidence grows, and your horizons expand, you just reach towards the next scary thing, whatever that is for you.
Q Have you yourself been held back by them at any time?
A I’m not sure if I’ve been held back by them, but I’ve definitely experienced fears, yes. For example, I used to worry that my ideas would dry up (Author Mind Set).
I’ve had a lot of readers for people learning to speak English published, and I worried about using up all my ‘best’ ideas for them, instead of keeping them for the women’s fiction I dreamt of writing.
But then I learnt to trust that, provided I gave it the space it needed, my creative well would keep replenishing itself, and I decided to give every book – whoever it was for – the very best of me. I’m very proud of my readers as a result.
I’ve also had to deal with the issue of unsupportive partners (Fear of What Others Might Think). Very happily, that’s no longer the case, but at the time, it had quite an impact on me. One boyfriend used to stand behind me as I typed and read out passages of my writing in a deeply sarcastic voice. Reader, I did not marry him!
Q What’s the one you find hardest to get on top of?
A I have definitely written despite lots of obstacles and fears, and I suppose the biggest one of all has always been How can I make enough money to live and also write? I’m sure lots of people reading this post could empathise with that one! It’s a constant balancing and juggling act.
Whenever I’ve tried to write something with a view to simply making money, or to try to jump on a current band wagon instead of following my heart, it just hasn’t really worked out – a bit like my decision to put my all into writing my language readers.
Q And you’ve created a 10 day video tutorial to help us get the better of these fears. Can you tell us a bit more about it? How long does each video last – and is there homework? (ie writing challenges) So it’s something people can easily fit into a busy work day?
A People who sign up to The 10-Day Fear Busting Challenge for Authors receive a daily email for ten days with a short video (no longer than about three minutes) covering a different writing fear each day.
The videos are designed to make you think about your own fears and how they might be affecting your writing life, and include an inspirational quote. I do make some suggestions for written work you might want to do, but I don’t do that every day. The aim is to inspire and motivate you.
Q What sort of reaction have you had to the course so far?
A I’ve only just completed making the series and telling people about it, but the feedback so far has been very positive, which is great!
Q Is it available to everyone or do you have to be invited to join?
A It’s available to everyone. The more the better!
Q Does it cost anything?
A No – The 10-Day Fear Busting Challenge for Authors is free.
Q It sounds great – how do we join?
A You can sign up here:
KJ: Thank you so much for telling us about the course. Hopefully it will give me some ideas next time that doubting voice creeps in – as it invariably will! All the best with the rest of the course – enjoy your coffee!
MJ: Thank you for having me here, Katy. And thanks too for the coffee. It was just the way I like it!
More about Margaret
Margaret K Johnson is an award-winning author and experienced adult education tutor. She writes women’s fiction, fiction for people learning to speak English and non-fiction. Her books have been published by Cambridge University Press, Cengage Learning, Crooked Cat Publishing, Omnific Publishing, and Earthy Works Publishing. Her novella Kilimanjaro recently won an Extensive Reading Foundation Gold Award.
In 2014, Margaret founded WriteUP Courses – creative writing courses with a confidence-building element. Since then, she has helped many students to embark on their writing dreams, or to use writing for therapeutic purposes.
Margaret lives in Norwich, East Anglia, with partner and her bouncy son and dog, and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.
Her books can be found on Amazon, where she has an author page.