Writers and the Fear of Using Our Power

By Milli Thornton

Power. A word that sometimes conjures things we’re afraid of.

I’m accustomed to working with writers who don’t think they have any power, but that’s an illusion. You’re not going to *someday* have power, after you take enough writing courses or after you get published. Every writer possesses great power as soon as they start, and it’s up to each writer whether she uses it or wastes it.

Here are a few powers I came up with during two minutes of scribbling:

The Power of Communication

The Power of Creativity

The Power to Influence or Persuade with Words

The Power to Incite Emotion

The Power of Self-Expression

The Power of Storytelling

The Power of Helping to Advance Civilization

As you read the list, you probably automatically excluded yourself for that last one. We tend to make the judgment that only “important” people are powerful enough to advance civilization, such as Abraham Lincoln or Neil Armstrong. But there are millions of unsung people everywhere, contributing their gifts to the world. It doesn’t have to be seen on TV or in the history books to qualify.

Take me, for example. Back in 1999 I was a fear-ridden, paralyzed wannabe writer who couldn’t write a paragraph without despising herself. Then one day, after something a friend said had percolated for several days, a book started tapping me insistently on the shoulder. Naturally, I wasn’t “good enough” to write that book—and I certainly didn’t have any “power”—but it demanded to be written, so I did it.

After that, I had to find a way to get that material to other writers, otherwise my book would sit around doing nothing. (It was no longer about me. I had a book to advance the cause of.) I couldn’t wait for publishers to get around to accepting me, so I self-published. Then, after realizing it takes a lot more than just a website to get the word out about a new book, I forced myself to leave my beloved hermit crab shell and go out into the world doing workshops and writing circles to get writers and closet writers to use my writing prompts. I did a whole slew of other things to promote my book, too, such as starting an online course based on my book.

I know my students are glad I did that. It changed some lives, including mine.

But why would I be an exception? Everyone has a meaningful contribution to make. Nobody can do Fear of Writing like Milli Thornton. Well, nobody can do your thing the way you can!

Here is a typical belief system based on powerlessness that I come up against whenever closet writers who are longing to write see the curriculum for this course.

“When I tried to write a novel, I discovered I have no imagination for creating fiction.”

When I dig down to find out how this conclusion was made, I’ll hear something like this:

“My description was OK, but there was no dialogue in the story.”

(Or vice versa: “I suck at writing description.”)

I’ve had dozen of writers enroll in the Fear of Writing Online Course saying they have no clue how to write dialogue. I take care of that with a simple lesson during Week 2 called “Writing Dialogue: Don’t Freak Yourself Out.” We also show you a simple way to get over the fear that writing description is anything but a natural part of the process.

Not having a specific skill is never a reason to give up on your writing dreams. You can always acquire new skills. And lacking experience with a specific skill certainly does not equate to having “no imagination for creating fiction.”

Sometimes, the fear is just too great and the closet writer (who is still wishing almost out loud that she could let herself do it) will decide not to take the course. This is usually phrased in terms of “I’ll think of doing it later,” and the reasons given are usually other than the real fear. I always wish I could get through to these dear writers with the truth. But all I can do is leave them with a version of these parting words:

“I hope you’ll find some way to continue with your writing. It’s clear to me that the issues you have are only beliefs standing in your way, not the reality of who you are (and can become) as a writer. These types of beliefs can seem so powerful, but it’s really you who has the power (creative power).”

———Milli Thornton, owner, Fear of Writing Online Course

Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli also blogs at Milliver’s Travels and she coaches writers at Write More Words.