Beating Back Fear

Beating Back Fear

This is about professional procrastination. About your writing. This is not about depression. I’ve been around real personal depression long enough in my lifetime to know that anyone who's there needs to seek the clinical or therapeutic help they need.

I think I was about 15 when my father crowned me the King of Procrastination. He may have actually called me a “Lazy SOB,” which sounds more like him, but you get the gist. Was he wrong? Maybe? I still put off doing yard work or simple tasks around the house if I can. But … I’m better than I used to be. But then … I mean … I have accomplished a LOT in my career as a writer and all from pretty consistent hard work, but there have been rare times, like lately, where my professional procrastination moved into turbo mode.

This is where I admit there have been some serious personal circumstances with my wife’s health and the time spent on getting her better. Which, thank the Lord, she is. A lot of work to go, but she’s got some amazing doctors and an amazing faith. The strongest person I have ever met when it comes to pain. I’d be complete mess. She smiles. But … I still could have been writing at night and in my down time.

To my credit, it did bother me. I got to thinking … Is it fear that I can’t do it anymore? That I overpromise results and then freeze in fear that I can’t fulfill that promise? Never had that problem before, but anything’s possible. Is it that I look out at everything that’s happened—COVID, the strikes, stupid A.I., the free fall of the industry right now … and it’s in free fall folks—and think, what good is trying right now?

Is it “Impostor Syndrome”? Could well be, I’ve got a world class case of it and have had since the day I was born. I wonder … how could all this amazing stuff be happening to me because … well … I’m me.

It’s kept me grounded for sure, but was that what’s been freezing me as a writer?

I am sitting on the best idea I’ve ever had for a series, and I have actual producers and distributors excited about it and waiting for it, and I’ve written the pilot … FOUR times. Each time like pulling teeth, forcing them out. And it wasn’t fun. That scared me, too. I haven’t shown any of those to anyone because it’s not what I want it to be yet.

Were those first four good enough to show? No. It needed a better STORY to introduce the characters, and every storyline I chose I ended up hating. They weren’t up to my standards. So … I deleted them and then moved into a frozen funk four times, taking time doing … well … NOTHING except beating myself up about it. I am now 12 pages into draft five with a good story solve and having fun again.

But that’s because of my attitude adjustment.

Commercial break: There is a lesson here. Don’t compromise on your work. If you don’t think it’s ready, it isn’t. Just don’t take as long as I have, which has been too long and has probably hurt me professionally, which isn’t good. I hope not. I love the people who are working with me on this, and I promise it’ll be worth it and won’t happen again. Commercial over.

I have adjusted my attitude. Otherwise, I couldn’t even write this. Did I tell anyone about how I felt? Nope. I wasn’t about to burden my wife. She’s got enough on her plate. I mistakenly thought no one else would understand because of my past success. Plus, a little shame. I did pray a lot and got wonderful answers which I, to more shame, ignored. No more.

Has my Faith played a part in my attitude adjustment? Absolutely. But how YOU adjust yours is your own path. I let social media, YouTube, the news, reading about anything that wasn’t what I was trying to write about rule me, day in and day out. Those things didn’t MAKE me do anything. They were an excuse.

I take full responsibility for my inaction. I now know it was just plain fear.

Do I still fear what I see as the future of this business? With A.I. thrown in? You bet your butt. But I am no longer going to let all things over which I have no control, control me. I love writing and creating. I’m pretty good at it. It gives me, when I’m in the zone, an actual natural high, I think. So, what was I doing? I was throwing it all away because of self-doubt and fear. And Imposter Syndrome.

In talking to colleagues and friends in the industry and my reps … the last few days … I’m finding I was not alone. This was a wide spread contagion. Or is. It’s a raging wildfire. Suffering alone, I had no idea. In public at professional gatherings the last few months, I’ve put on a happy face. A lot of them have, too. It wasn’t real.

I genuinely feared my career was over.

If you’re feeling this about your writing, too, talk to people about how you’re feeling. About how you’re having trouble concentrating on the business at hand. It helps a lot.

Sit down and write. Yes, it’s a mess out there right now, but it’s not going to last forever … and if it does, we can’t change that. You can use the talent you have and the joy you’ve felt writing in the past and sit down with a fresh attitude of gratefulness that you have this gift.

This need to write and create. Smile and use it. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s a conscious attitude adjustment that will need constant readjusting.

That’s what I’m doing. Where I was closed up before, I’m open. To fresh ideas. To opportunities. To making my own opportunities like I have in the past. To stop living in fear. Fear of failure. Fear of the future. Fear of staring at a blank page. Fear of letting people down and then actually letting people down because of the fear.

Fear can paralyze you. It can eat you up. It can destroy your creativity. Don’t let it.

Go back and read some of your old work. Yes, you’ll see shortcomings. But you’ll also have moments of “Did I write that? That’s really good.” You’ll remember how much accomplishment you felt completing those projects. How much fun writing them was. How you need to stop writing to please others, but write to please yourself first.

Yes, you still need to think about who you’re writing for, but that comes after you free yourself to use your own imagination to do it. That’s the fun part.

Fear has caused me to waste pretty much half this year being extremely unproductive. I have no one else to blame but me. I can’t control circumstances or other’s expectations no matter how much I worry about them. I’m back on my old writing schedule. Every day except Sunday I’ll be writing something. My white board is full again.

I’ll have a good version (five) of the pilot to send out next week and will be quick with any notes. If I never sell anything or get anything made or get another writing job again … it won’t be because I didn’t do my best in a timely manner.

Fear can go screw itself.

Don’t live in professional fear. We all fail. It’s part of trying to do anything creative. But you can also succeed. The only way for sure you don’t … is if you stop yourself.

*Feature image by fran_kie (Adobe)

Bob Saenz is a produced screenwriter with a dozen plus films, author of a popular screenwriting book, producer, & actor with numerous credits. He speaks at film fests & writers conferences nationwide.
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