Think Small to Write More

Think Small To Overcome Writing Fears

When I ask people what stops them from writing a novel, they often tell me about their fears. Fear of success, fear of being judged, fear of failure.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all way to conquer fear, I’ve found one approach nearly always helps:

Think Small.

The Small Picture

Eight years out of college I decided to attend law school at night while working full time. I talked to an acquaintance who’d gone to law school the same way, and he gave me the best advice I ever got.

He told me to think only about what I needed to do for the semester I was in, and to forgot about how I was going to get through the entire four years. That would be overwhelming, he said.

I realized he was right. I had already decided to go to law school, so I knew where the finish line was. And all I could really affect was my work in each class as I took it. Which meant there was no point in looking too far ahead.

The same advice applies to writing.

Once you decide to write a novel, thinking too much about how much time it will take, whether you know enough about writing to finish it, or whether anyone will like it when it’s done undermines your motivation.

One Scene At A Time

No one writes a novel in one sitting.

Now and then you hear a story about someone hiding away for a few weeks or a month and banging out a best seller. Maybe it’s true. And maybe those stories are missing something — such as the author is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who wrote 8 novels before and spent 2 months outlining this one.

The point is, however quickly or slowly you write, every novel is written one scene at a time. (Or, literally, a word, line, or page at a time.)

So if you find yourself worrying about whether you can finish a novel before you’ve started, ask yourself if you can write one scene that might belong in that novel. Or, if that feels overwhelming, one paragraph that might fit into a scene that might fit into your novel.

Breaking it down that way makes it easier to find time to write. And, perhaps more important, to enjoy writing and let go of what others might think of the finished product. And if you decide later a scene isn’t working, it’s easy to change, cut, or move it around in your story.

Plotters, Pantsers, and Writing Fears

I fall somewhere between a plotter – someone who maps out the entire novel in advance – and a pantser. A panster, also known as a discovery writer, wings the whole writing process.

For me, knowing the key plot turns before I write speeds my process and alleviates my fears about finishing, as I know where I’m headed.

But regardless how much you plan, you still can only write a scene at a time. For that reason, if I’m in the middle of one scene and have an idea for another, I type a quick note to myself about it in boldfaced brackets, then keep going with the current scene.

That note often becomes the starting point for my next writing session or my next scene.

Give it a try and see whether thinking small helps.

That’s all for now. Until next time –

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you want to try out the plot turns and story structure I’ve found helpful, download these free story structure worksheets.

4 thoughts on “Think Small To Overcome Writing Fears”

  1. The law school example was interesting, and now I’m wondering how that turned out. I’m thinking John Grisham.

  2. Funny you mentioned John Grisham! When I was a paralegal, my boss suggested law school and I told him I wanted to write novels. (Which I was already doing on the side, but none published.) And he said, “Some people think you can do both. Like John Grisham.” Though it definitely meant I wrote a lot less fiction, law school was a great experience. I practiced law full-time (and then some) for nearly two decades. It gave me so much more to draw from when writing, it put me on my feet financially, and I made a lot of good friends. These days I mainly write but still have a finger in the law. (I teach legal writing and practice law very part-time with a firm that does appeals and class actions.) Thanks for commenting!

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