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Nancie Atwell used a strategy with her students called writing territories. She simply had them keep a list of all the specific things they could write about.--an argument with a parent, a pet they loved, vacation experiences, and etc. Then when they are asked to write, instead of thinking they didn't have anything to write about, they already had a list of topics. Freewriting is also a great strategy. Just sit down every day and write without stopping for a set period of time. Don't stop to correct; don't stop to fix "mistakes"; don't stop to change thoughts. Simply write everything your mind is thinking of as you write without stopping. Some place in that writing will be nuggest to be turned into larger pieces.
I have my students keep a journal for exactly this reason. I have been using a book I find very useful. It is written by Joel Saltzman and the title is If You Can Talk You Can Write. It can be purchased on-line at Amazon.
I find that once they do the first couple of journal entries and don't get criticized they are more acceptable to doing the assignment. I don't take a grade on the journals but I do check them and give credit if an attempt has been made.
Do you keep a journal? Your fear may subside if you are regularly writing and in that writing you are constantly challenging yourself to think outside the box. There is a safety net there since the journal is your own private creation. You could analyze characters, elements of the story, plot lines, and take a risk while exercising and strengthening your ability to think. I find that students' greatest fear is to think for themselves-- their first answer to any question is, "I don't know!" because they haven't been taught or encouraged to think for themselves. Have you read Thomas Foster's book How To Read Literature Like a Professor? This book has some great tips for beginners (and even seasoned veterans of reading and writing) about how to approach a piece of literature...read the book, keep the journal, and keep challenging yourself! Your fear will subside.
You will find, unofortunately, that there is no one truly absolute answer to this question. Plenty of proverbial and anecdotal advice tidbits, perhaps, but no real concrete solutions.
Fear of writing is like fear of anything else: you have to face it to overcome it. Sharpen up your number two pencil, sit down at a blank piece of paper, and started putting words down -- any words. Freewriting is the conduit to beating initial writer's block, and also serves as a pathway to relinquishing one's anxiety over writing in general. If you have few concerns about "technical proficiency" at the outset of your writing, you will feel more free to simply put the contents of your head down in black and white.
Practice makes perfect, so with time, your fear should subside; however, I would recommend reading material about writing literature. One of the keys, in my opinion, to becoming a good writer is to have a good prewriting process. Writing freely and not dismissing initial ideas is a good piece of advice, also.
Another thing that you can do is read what other people have written on the topic you choose. Sometimes, by reading others' ideas, you will generate fresh ones of your own.
Do what the other editors have told you. Relax, and write down ideas freely. These ideas do not have to be coherent at first. Afterall, a professional such as Hemingway edited one paragraph hundreds of times.
I wish I knew the answer to this question. I had that conversation with a friend of mine recently. We both worked many years as production editors for a major religious publisher, and we both have different careers now. I chose to teach English. She became a writer and created her own publishing company. (Makes me think of the old saying "those who can do....." You know the rest!)
I'm proofreading her latest novel, and I asked her how she does it. How is she able to get her stories out on paper? I can't put two sentences together without self-editing. I can't turn off the editor part of my brain.
Her advice was to relax and write just for yourself. Don't write with the intent of creating "the great American novel." Write as if you are the only person who will ever read your story.
Also, stop thinking of it as "writing literature." Literature is something studied in a classroom. Very few people will ever write anything that special. Just think of it as writing a story.
Just do it. We rarely do anything well the first time we try; think back to learning how to ride a bike. Then find someone you trust, someone with the right skill set, to evaluate your writing and help you make it better. It might not always be pleasant, but criticism almost always helps us get better. I always think of this in terms of having Tiger Woods give me golf lessons. It would be brutal, but a lot less brutal than having him stand there and tell me that all is well :)
Think of Literature as the ability to speak out what you truely feel. Furthermore, Literature's boundaries are very huge.
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