We were at writing group today, and one of the writers said that she had been thinking of writing something but had been unable to pick up the pen, that she thought she might be afraid of the pen. It's funny how things come together by happenstance, but one of my students had just blogged on our student blog about how much harder it was to write when he knew he was writing something for school.
Why do we do this to ourselves? I will always come back to the value of free writing, where one of the rules is that you are free to write the worst crap in the world. I know about free writing, but it doesn't mean that I haven't been subject to this particular kind of fear. It might be a particularly nasty crit, or sometimes even something that wasn't meant to be nasty. I can remember being put off for a whole year because a well-known writer told me one of my stories was nicely written but that it obviously wasn't a story. Wasn't a story? That was news to me. And it shook my confidence in my own writing because I decided that I didn't know what a story was. I should have asked why it wasn't, but I was too stunned by the comment at the time.
I've seen it in writers who have had early work published to great acclaim. In published novelists, it's often called second-book syndrome. It's that pressure to write something even better, when you're not sure you can write something that's even as good.
I'd like to think we all develop thicker skins with experience, but I'm not sure it's true. I've heard one famous, best-selling and best-loved YA writers say he wasn't sure he had another book in him.
In the end, I think the best way around this is to just to write what you love. Write it for yourself. Write it because you love doing it. Allow yourself to write it badly because, after all, you can fix a badly written page, but you cannot fix a blank one.