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  • jacforsyth

Why can't I finish my book?

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Distorted image of a skull and pumpkin

Last year, I spent two weeks cleaning and organising my cupboards. It was a time consuming, rewarding, goal driven activity that needed to be done just like everything else that ate into the final chapters of Ørma. I knew I was afraid of finishing it, but I didn't know why.

Staying in a creepy house is a straightforward fear experience. One unexpected footstep and we're on high alert. No one is flouncing around trying to figure out what they're feeling when a door slams or a cup flies across the room. We're afraid. Period. When it comes to writing, fear can be harder to pin down. It can manifest as procrastination, self-doubt, exhaustion, frustration, even despair and sadness. And because fear makes us feel weak, it can often be masked by other, more powerful emotions like anger and blame.

As writers, we're afraid of the thing we love, and that's not an easy thing to be afraid of

So why can't I finish my book?

Writers' fear is like any fear, it identifies a problem. But it's not always specific about what the fear is let alone what the problem is.

A few years ago, I had to look after a house in the middle of nowhere. I'm talking rural France, woods, pitch dark, and as close to a horror film as a creepy, isolated house can get. A week. Just me. Not even a phone signal to keep me company. I didn't sleep for two days. It may have been the lack of sleep talking, but as the sun came up on that third day, I realised that although I was certainly terrified, I wasn't quite certain what I was terrified of. So I did what I do best. I made a list.

Ghosts I could handle. Turns out I was afraid of people. More specifically, people breaking into the house at night and killing French. Which was understandable on multiple levels. And also quite fixable. I spent the rest of the day rigging a large number of decorative wind chimes and tin cans to wake me up should anyone attempt a surprise attack. I then moved my sleeping arrangements to a room with a secret backstairs exit, parked my car at the bottom of the steps, moved everything including my shoes into the room and then put a cupboard against my bedroom door. I slept like a baby for the rest of the week.

Point being, I took my fear seriously and came up with a practical solution.

In that creepy French house I realised I that I could approach the situation like it was a thing to solve rather than an overwhelming fear of fear that kept me awake for two days. Just like my creepy house fear, there was a genuine concern at the bottom of my organised cupboards that wasn't being taken seriously. So I sat down with a pad of paper and asked the question: what am I actually afraid of? Crucially, I listened to each fear without judgement.

Finishing Ørma had all the obvious fear markers: rejection, ridicule and failure. Then there were the less obvious concerns like loss and loneliness. As long as I was still writing her, I was safe from all that. Why can't I finish my book? was transformed into: Now I get why I'm so worried about finishing this book.

Rejection had been an unaddressed concern for so long, it had become a belief

What if there is no solution?

Like most of the above, rejection is an occupational hazard for writers. The only way to actively avoid rejection is to never show your work to anyone. If that solution works for you, make sure it's a deliberate one. Writers have a wonderful capacity for creative thinking, which means we can get all sorts of imaginative with our solutions. When I identified a fear of rejection, I came up with a solution based in aversion therapy. The only way to address my fear of rejection was to be rejected as many times and as in as many ways as I could think of.

There's an idea that fear keeps us safe, but fear freezes us. It's wisdom that keeps us safe. In my case, wisdom was the choice to identify specific fears and take them seriously, no matter how small or silly they might be.

The solutions often turn out to be redundant, the important bit is listening to the fear



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