Dread’s bark is bigger than its jaws

I know that neither dread, nor sharks can really bark, but I'm sticking with my title anyway.

Sometimes it’s an awful physical feeling that steers you away from doing some writing. You might not even know why you feel such intense dread, but it rises from the depths like a malevolent shark that terrorizes your will to write. It makes you feel that to write would be to descend into the worst possible hell realm, and it makes you wince in pain. This physical agony could be experienced about writing a limerick, a one-page book report, a newspaper article, or an  eight hundred page historical novel.

I felt this unspeakable dread at times while writing my dissertation. I also feel a milder version of it when I’m about to pay bills, do office paperwork, fill out tax forms and complete similar tasks that our existence requires of us. Savage, primal impulses from my shark-tilian brainstem rise up in a fury of rebellion, threatening my body with unbearable discomfort if I don’t immediately abandon the task. And it’s not like the tasks are really that hard, either. They’re not, but dread makes them seem unthinkably onerous. So I avoid them, postpone them and try to disown them.

Like a shark attack, dread is an awful, awful experience, and it is truly unfortunate when it gets linked to writing. And if you really do like to write, it’s especially unfortunate because something inside is viscerally insisting that you don’t do what you love. What to do?

There are multiple ways to go at a problem like this: you can use or create external structures to guide you into the task (behavioral modification), you can explore your psyche and get more clarity about the source of the dread (analytic psychotherapy), you can track your negative thinking and teach yourself to shift to more positive mental habits (cognitive therapy), you can decide to make yourself write no matter how you feel(shut-up-and-just-do-it therapy), or try a combination or all of the above.

Deciding to make a commitment to face the issue with a plan may also stimulate feelings of dread. At some point you have to develop the ability to tolerate at least a bit of the negative feelings without being thrown off the writing horse. Teach yourself that dread’s bark is bigger than its jaws. You can feel it and still continue with your work. You won’t explode, crackup or die, and if you’re able keep writing in spite of the discomfort, eventually the beast will be tamed.

Evolutionarily speaking, dread is meant to help us avoid shark attacks, not short stories.

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About David Arnot Rasch

Author, psychologist, speaker, workshop leader
This entry was posted in Common Writing Block Problems, Mental health and writing blocks, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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