Overcoming My Fear of Writing

Here are some unsolicited messages I received since officially publishing my new website in May 2020…

Never in my life, have I ever imagined receiving feedback like this about my writing.

Why?

Because I sucked at it for a long, long time.

I endured a lifelong battle with “words”.

It’s the reason why my breakthrough in March 2020 felt like a miracle.

In case you’re wondering… writing is still challenging for me because writing is art — a craft that requires a creative process.

I battled with the enormity of this piece since deciding to write about it in May…

Because for me, this has been a long 30+ year journey to get to this point — a point where I feel like I’m finally on an even playing field with everyone else.

There is a lot I included because my battle with words turned out to be so much more than just my “struggle with writing”…

Many times, it lead me down valleys where I faced my darkest demons.

Because my battle spanned over 3 decades… I struggled with how to best present my journey in a way that makes sense. Since it’s impossible to encapsulate everything in one single article.

Hence why I sat with the idea for months, not knowing how to best tackle it.

This is my best attempt…

To give you a glimpse of what life was like for me all the way from the beginning. So I can give you a “birds eye view” of my long journey… and hopefully open up a few doors for you as you read it.

The Struggle at School

woman standing in front of children

My struggle with words became obvious to me when I was 11 years old (early high school).

The struggle did not surface in primary school because I was busy learning English in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes from 4th Grade, after my family moved to Sydney from Taiwan.

It was not until high school that I started attending English classes with everyone else. And I couldn’t have hated English more.

It’s the bane of my existence for 6 long years.

I hated writing essays.

I hated creative writing.

I hated English assignments.

I hated English exams.

What I really hated was the fact that I almost always end up staring at the blank piece of paper, feeling completely stuck.

I’d sit in class pretending like I’m trying to write something with my head down and shoulders hunched over, but what I was really doing was staring at the pen in my hand thinking “Why are you not moving?”

“Come on! Think of something to write!”

“You can’t hand in a blank page!”

The thought of writing made my body freeze up.

Coming up with just 1 page of “something” was a monumental struggle. Didn’t matter what it was.

Again and again, I’d end up watching my classmates with their heads down, feverishly filling up their blank pages with words, and listening to the annoying sounds of rustling paper as they flip their pages over.

Sitting around people who could easily write filled me with feelings of awe, jealousy and inadequacy…

I often wondered “What’s wrong with me??? Why can’t I write like everyone else?”

I’d chalk it up to “Maybe I’m just not creative… I don’t have any good ideas.”

It’s like my mind goes blank and decides to empty itself at the thought of writing.

It always required a tremendous amount of willpower and effort for me to get something on the page.

Most of the time, I’d sit there staring at the clock feeling all twisted up inside…

On one hand I wished it would go slower because it takes so long for me to write something, while on the other hand I wished it would go faster, so I can be put out of my misery.

The fact that English was a mandatory part of the high school curriculum just felt cruel to me.

I dreaded the days English showed up on my timetable because it felt like punishment.

All it did was make me feel anxious, inadequate and worthless.

English classes were worse than detention.

My goal in English was *DON’T FAIL*, so I don’t have to repeat a year and suffer through more English classes.

The Struggle in Music

I have always loved music for as long as I can remember. Music is how I made sense of the world. It’s my language.

Growing up, mum would always find me happily humming to myself.

I discovered my ability to write music at 14 when I was given my first composition assignment in music class.

Once I understood the assignment, musical ideas started popping into my head and I got excited as I played them out on the piano.

I’d spend all my time after school locking myself away in the school music room working out all the accompanying parts of my piece on a MIDI keyboard so I could record them together.

It was so much fun and fulfilling to see my creation come to life.

Even though the creative process is the same, my experience writing words and writing music was night and day.

As much as I loved writing music, deep down I wanted to write songs because I secretly loved to sing.

I didn’t seriously attempt to write songs until my early 20s when I decided to go into the music industry.

Every time I tried writing lyrics, I felt stuck.

It was like staring at the blank page in English classes all over again.

Resistance showed up and I never got very far.

It was excruciating not being able to do what I really wanted to do.

In the rare occasions when I was finally able to put some lyrics down on paper, I’d look at it and go “What a load of crap. That is shit…!”

So I end up either throwing it away or burying my notebook into my drawer feeling disappointed and frustrated with myself.

I hardly ever left my “writing attempts” lying around on my desk. I was very conscious about that because I wouldn’t be able to deal with the embarrassment and shame if someone found my crappy work — even if it’s my mum.

I always made sure to bury my work away so no one can “stumble upon it” by accident.

I never wanted anyone to know what I’m working on.

I kept everything to myself — always very guarded and closed off from people (even from my own friends and family).

The type of behaviour you’d expect from a shy, reserved, introverted kid with very little to say — who preferred to be left alone to live in their own little world.

I wanted to be a composer and songwriter. The type of work that would allow me to work on my own in my own space. But I kept that secret to myself because it’s not the culturally popular career choice my family would appreciate.

When I finally worked up the courage to pursue music at 24… my dream of writing songs was finally realised only because I partnered with a friend who wrote lyrics. — It was the only way for our work to have a chance of getting published.

Music makes sense to me because music speaks when words fail.

For a long time, it was the only way I knew how to express myself and process my feelings because words were useless to me.

The Struggle in Business

I threw myself into entrepreneurship in 2010, when I saw “business” as my get-out-of-corporate-jail ticket.

Like any newbie entrepreneur, I had no clue about business and marketing.

My first side hustle was selling products on niche websites I built as an affiliate marketer where I generated traffic with SEO.

SEO is heavily based on content, which required writing. Talk about bad fit! But I didn’t know any better and was following what other people were doing.

Of course I struggled my ass off, and ended up having to hire writers to write articles for me.

I persisted long enough and made some money, then finally quit my miserable job in 2013 to start a service based business helping small businesses with their online marketing.

As my knowledge for business and marketing grew and deepened over the years, I’ve come to recognise how important writing is.

Good writing meant standing out in your niche, which got you more recognition, more traffic and more sales.

Bad writing meant being ignored, blending into the noise and stuck on struggle street.

Words was again standing in my way — preventing me from creating the life I wanted for myself.

But this time around, I decided to do the impossible

I decided to get good at writing and copywriting, and invested in myself (books, programs and mentorship).

And made myself practice even though I didn’t feel like it.

The resistance was persistent though.

The bloody thing kept showing up, didn’t matter how much I practiced.

I didn’t know how to make it go away until I realised that writing was just a surface level “technical problem” that masked all the underlying problems I had throughout my life — which showed up in the form of resistance.

I wasn’t solving the writing problem at the root level — sitting my ass down at my desk repeatedly was not going to cut it, because my problems were not just about putting words on paper, grammar, structure nor vocabulary.

Writing at the fundamental level is about communication and self expression.

Communication and self expression were the deeper problems I haven’t yet learned to overcome. I realised I was practicing the wrong things that wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go.

The Communication Problem

boy singing on microphone with pop filter

I eventually realised that I also had the same resistance show up in my body whenever I tried to speak — it’s the reason why I don’t speak up and stay quiet.

It’s as if a lump appears at the back of my throat, stopping the flow of my voice whenever I tried to express myself and would struggle to find the words to say what I really wanted to say.

The constant struggle always left me frustrated with myself at the end of conversations.

Very often, words come out wrong because I’m very blunt and direct when I do open my mouth. So I end up hurting people with my words.

That’s why it was easier and safer to stay quiet and keep to myself. Because I had zero communication and conversation skills.

The question swimming in my mind all these years was…

“Why is it so hard to articulate what I really feel, and say what I really wanted to say?”

While I was frustrated with how incapable I was at communicating with people, at the same time I had a deep desire to connect with them.

The only way to do that with other human beings is through language and words .

I can’t tell you how many times I wished I was telepathic so I could just transmit my brainwaves and people could understand me.

This constant struggle with communication was a big part of myself that I didn’t like.

I’ve always wanted to be the person who:

  • was not afraid to meet people and have the ability to strike up conversations with anyone…
  • can easily make new friends…
  • can have meaningful and deep conversations…
  • always speak their mind…
  • can fully express themselves…

I knew my life would change if I learned to become that person — A completely different person to the version I was conditioned to be and born into.

Before I was able to become that person, I had to figure out what was stopping me and standing in my way that was causing this monumental resistance every time I tried to communicate.

The thing that stops most of us from achieving our goals and dreams, and becoming the person we want to become is almost always FEAR.

It’s that hairy thing we instinctually run away from.

I had layers upon layers of underlying fear buried beneath.

My demons showed up every time I tried to speak or write.

It was like living with a loud, multiple-headed dragon screaming never ending criticism at me…

  • “Why is this taking so long? Come on! Think of something to write!!”
  • “Holy crap, this is bad… Are you kidding me?! Nobody can read this!”
  • “You can’t write for shit. This is so embarrassing.”
  • “I don’t know what to say… I’ve got nothing.”
  • “Who is going to listen to you?”
  • “You can’t put your name to that, I mean… really?!”
  • “Hide your work! Before someone find out how shit you are.”
  • “What if people find out about me?”
  • “What if they think I’m dumb?”
  • “What if they don’t like me?… Probably better if I don’t say anything.”

And on and on it goes…

I had to learn to dig deep and look within — and confront what I didn’t want to see.

The REAL Underlying Problems

yellow and black smiley wall art

Going down memory lane, and thinking about all the negative voices that used to fill my head is a little disturbing…

But that was how I talked to myself and treated myself for over 30 years.

The voices always told me how much I sucked.

I had a severe level of self-hatred, self-criticism and self-judgement.

Those toxic voices hid away in my subconscious, driving my decisions and behaviours like I was a puppet.

I was oblivious to it until I was made aware of it in 2015.

I had no idea I was carrying anger around, until my healer friend pointed it out to me in a session with her.

I was shocked when she revealed this to me because I didn’t feel angry at the time. My blood was not boiling, and I didn’t have a big vein across my forehead — I felt normal in that session.

But the underlying energy I had was all anger.

Apparently, I was the angriest person she has ever seen, and she has seen a lot of angry people over the years.

My energy field must have looked like The Hulk to her.

She said my anger was all directed at myself.

A couple of days later, it all started to make sense when I felt the anger come out of me — I was told to box 7 days in a row for 45min straight to let the anger out of my system.

That experience helped me understand why I always felt like a ‘ticking time bomb’ waiting to blow up.

I have been suppressing my feelings for decades, which affected my ability to communicate.

I didn’t allow myself to feel emotions that bubbled up, and I never talked about it with anyone. Which meant I never learned to process my feelings properly.

I got really good at pushing everything down, and end up imploding when I couldn’t contain them anymore.

My capabilities to manage my emotions was non-existent.

This is why I found it incredibly difficult to express myself without blowing up and hurting everyone around me.

When I was finally made aware of the anger I had toward myself, all of a sudden those self-deprecating voices became really loud, and I was finally able to really hear how I talked to myself.

I was my own worst enemy.

I had nothing positive to say about myself — No praise, no love, no encouragement at all.

I was the by-product of my conditioning, environment and culture.

Words and actions of affirmation, praise, and encouragement were pretty much non-existent, especially from my dad.

Criticism, judgement and comparison (with other kids) was the norm. Asian parents have an unhealthy habit of comparing their kids to other’s.

My dad is harsh on us because his dad was also harsh on him. I don’t blame him because he was also conditioned the same way — at the end of the day, our behaviours are mirrored from our parents.

So I inherited harshness toward myself and other people.

Tracing my own behaviour helped me understand why I’ve always been incredibly hard on myself and others.

While I learned to manage my own emotions and understand my behaviours… I also had to learn to overcome my biggest fear that stopped me from fully expressing myself — My fear of abandonment.

To this day, I still don’t know where the fear comes from because I was never abandoned as a child. I was lucky enough to have good, responsible parents who took great care of me.

But my reality is the fact that fear lived deep within my body.

It must have been generational trauma that got passed onto me in this lifetime.

So while I cannot change my circumstances, all I could do was to learn to face it, even if the fear was not mine.

In addition to my fear of abandonment…

I was also afraid of rejection, being seen and not feeling accepted.

The layers of fear that sat beneath my struggle with communication was the source of all the resistance I felt.

It’s like getting hit by this “big ball of fear” every time I tried to speak or write.

Understanding and acknowledging all my fears also helped me understand why I couldn’t express myself and let people in — because it all felt too risky.

I believe the worst place to be stuck in life is between fear and desire.

The fear of being seen and the desire to be seen and be yourself. It’s the place where you feel most trapped.

Because of my lack of self awareness, my inability to communicate effectively, express myself, and deal with my own fears… I lost the love of my life.

What I Had To Learn

Even though my initial desire to get good at writing was to be able to create my True North Business and design the life I want to live…

I realised that I will continue to struggle in business if I didn’t dedicate my time and energy to developing and growing myself first.

The answer to everything I wanted in life lies within me. It took me a while to see it.

The answer is always within.

I finally understood the undeniable truth of Jim Rohn’s quote:

“Your level of success will seldom succeed your level of personal development” — Jim Rohn

The painful truth of why my life was not working the way I wanted was all because of me. I had no one to blame — I was responsible for all the results I created.

2015 was the year I got serious and committed to do the work to grow myself.

I learned to take responsibility of every aspect of my life — after all, I was the only person who can change it.

I learned to accept that my external world was a complete reflection of my internal world.

Once anger was out of my system, I focused on fixing my relationship with myself.

I learned self-compassion and self-love.

I went from treating myself as my own worst enemy to treating myself as my own best friend.

The critical, judgemental and harsh voices in my head eventually diminished to a quiet whisper.

I learned to stop comparing myself with other people.

I learned to stop caring what other people think of me and the choices I make.

I learned to focus on walking my own path in life.

I learned to cultivate loving, supportive and encouraging voices in my head.

I learned that the only way (and the fastest way) out is through.

Most of all, I learned to face my darkest demons and overcame my fears.

3 Steps I Took That Changed Everything

man walking up stone stairs near a waterfall at daytime

1. I got real with myself and made a decision

I first decided whether I wanted the skill of writing.

Am I just saying I want it or do I really want it?

Talk is cheap. The only thing that matters is whether my actions match my words.

I got really honest at answering these questions:

  • How important is this skill to me?
  • Am I serious about becoming a better writer?
  • Am I willing to do whatever it takes?

I also had 3 big whys behind my desire to get good at writing.

  • As an entrepreneur, I wanted to be able to influence people with my words. I wanted to write good copy.
  • As a musician and songwriter, I wanted to be able to write lyrics.
  • As a human being, I wanted to be able to fully express myself authentically.

2. I made a commitment to practice

Practice is the mother of skill.

Making a commitment to myself meant carving out time to practice, and being deliberate about choosing to face my fears head on.

I practiced my skills by:

  • sharing with my closest friends and my sister things about me they didn’t know…
  • writing and sharing my writing on Facebook…
  • copying direct response ads and sales letters by hand…
  • writing journals…
  • opening myself up to friends and family…
  • showing up even when I didn’t feel like it or felt scared…

3. I was willing to change my perspective and see myself differently

This process took a few years!

The difficult thing about this is that we hold a different image of ourselves in our minds compared to how other people see us — which is heavily influenced by our conditioning and our beliefs.

Because I’ve always believed I sucked at writing (due to how much I struggled and hated it), it was hard for me to imagine myself becoming good at it, let alone overcoming this lifelong fear.

Because I never believed I was good at it, I didn’t know how to receive praise when it came my way — because I didn’t think I deserved it.

Even when my writing skills improved, I continued to dismiss praise that people gave me about my writing — because I kept comparing myself to people who are much better at it than me.

The danger of playing the “comparison game” produces the feeling of “I’m never going to be good enough”. Which made me blind to all the progress and improvements I made, because I was so wrapped up in how much further I still have to go.

The revelation finally came after I reflected on how I turned down a writing project offered to me by a friend with 20+ years experience in business and marketing…

I realised that the opportunity would have never came to me if he didn’t think I was good enough as a writer.

Because he is someone I learn from and respect, his offer gave me the validation I needed to finally see myself differently — and accept myself as a “writer”.

The Breakthrough

Different self image

My revelation came with the feeling of alignment.

Alignment was the one thing I wanted the most since recognising that it was the reason why my life hasn’t worked the way I wanted it to, no matter how hard I tried.

I had been living in misalignment all my life.

As the world went to shit with COVID lockdowns in early 2020, I felt aligned with myself for the very first time.

If I was to describe what alignment feels like…

It’s a feeling of “I can finally and confidently be myself, and step into my uniqueness.”

I am finally allowing myself to design my life, do the kind of work I care about  and what fits me.

There’s also a sense of trust within myself that I am now able to do the work that I feel called to do, and finally attract the right people and opportunities to me.

Because alignment and trust emerged from within me, a new desire to write and share the lessons I learned bubbled up to the surface.

The resistance is finally gone at the thought of writing.

I am no longer afraid to express myself because I finally found my voice.

I am free to write my story — a new chapter of my life.

The breakthrough came a week after I turned 39.

Best. Birthday. Present. EVER!

New Possibilities

landscape photography of person's hand in front of sun

New skills and new perspectives, opened up space for new possibilities.

I am so grateful that I can finally add “words” to my repertoire as a Creator.

The breakthrough changed my personal and professional interests. It also widened the scope of projects I can take on and produce.

I went from always hating writing content on the websites I’ve built, to wanting to create this personal brand website in April — which I launched on 1st May. I even wrote a case study detailing how I built it from scratch in 3 weeks.

I went from resisting to have a blog in the past, to wanting to write articles on the things I care about and learned in life as a way to guide and help others.

I went from thinking that becoming an author seemed too far fetched and impossible, to having book ideas pop into my head — it’s bizarre.

It’s crazy to think that the things that once seemed impossible to me to achieve has now become a possibility.

It all started with ONE single decision I made 5 years ago — to get good at writing.

I’m not special — If I can overcome my biggest fears in life, so can you.

You just need to want it bad enough, be patient with yourself and do the work. And you’ll be just as amazed to see all the possibilities that opens up for you.

I’ll leave you with this quote that I’ve come to love and appreciate:

“Follow your blisters, because in your blisters you’ll find your bliss.” — Joseph Campbell

I’m rooting for you.

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