Fear and the Writer: How to Beat It

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Writing fiction is fun, its beautiful, and more often than not, it is a real passion that resides inside many of us who could not stop doing it without feeling a great sense of loss. We cannot help but to create stories in fictional worlds and fill it with interesting characters and compelling events – doing these things enriches us, gives a sense of personal satisfaction and power. Yet, anyone who has spent enough time attempting to complete their stories and traverse the jungle of editing, publishing, marketing, and promoting their work has – at some point – experienced the darker side of this often romanticized occupation/hobby.

Fear

Writing related fears are valid – I won’t say they are not, because I have spent thirty years of my life tackling them in all their various forms and changing situations. It has only been since the arrival of the internet that I have been able to find the wonderful resources to help me move past my own fears.

Writing is fraught with challenges that can work like an ocean in their ebb and flow. Pushing us up one day and pulling us down the next. Writing is a tough row and writers aspiring to become authors, who seek to eventually become recognized authors, are going to need to build up their muscles, learn how the sea works, and get used to battling all the monstrous things that seek to sink your dingey.

Psst! The monster jerking the boat around is you!

Yes – it’s true. One of the toughest adversaries writers face in these new freedom days of self-publishing is themselves. If you are a new writer you may not realize this truth: Even the most seasoned of published authors are struggling with personal fears about their writing abilities. How can this be so? Because even if magic has struck them several times and they have a number of books that you have read or heard of they are human, just like you and I – and each of us battles the fear of our writing abilities in one way or another – or several ways.

From what I have learned over the past many years is that no writer is immune to fear. It is like a virus inside, mutating to the point where even our great ideas and technical know-how are beaten into submission.

Yikes! What the heck are these fears?

Anything you can imagine.

The three fears listed here are common:

  • Fear of failure
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Embarrassment

I’ll be honest with you about these fears – they don’t go away completely – there is no magic potion to cure them, but they can be managed. They must be managed, or we risk sabotaging ourselves no matter how many ideas we conjure, how educated we are in the writing craft, or how great our story telling abilities may be.

But how can you manage your fear and carry on the fight of your ambitions toward success?

  1. Unite with Others:

The most important realization you must come to in order to weaken your fears is that you are not alone. Every fear we struggle with as writers has, is and forever will be experienced by writers everywhere. The best way I have found to help cope and even hope to get past the insecurities and self-doubts about my abilities as a writer and becoming and author is to join a writing community.

 Many writing communities can be found online. Go to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – create your writer’s account and start connecting with other writers. This is a great way to meet others and gain positive support.

Also, check out your local community for writer’s groups, it is a great way to get out of the house and build new relationships with people who can relate to your struggles.

2. Identify fears and take action:

If you are seizing up in your writing – also known as writer’s block, it is likely there are particular fears that you may be ignoring that may be holding you back. These fears are hiding in the deep dark crevice’s of your mind and preventing you from your goals.

The fear must be extracted and examined before you can continue your writing quest. You will have to perform an autopsy of the mind and truly understand your writing vulnerabilities. Once you do, you can take action to mend the disfunction.

Do not allow your fears to rule over you, instead discover what kind of techniques you can use to push through your fears and write your stories. Positive actions to fend off your known writing fears are the armor every writer needs to keep going.

  • Fear of writing an entire book – One method to squelch this fear is to first try writing some short stories. They require all the same story attributes of a novel but on a smaller scale. Short stories are not only good practice, but I know several writers who only write short stories and have no desire to tackle anything larger. Short stories run anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 words. Novellas are 30k to 50k. Novels are anything above that up to no more than 300k. Start small and see where it takes you.

Another method you might try is to map or plot out the entire story first. This gives you a path to follow and will help you understand more completely what and where you want certain plot points to occur throughout the story. If you don’t have a copy yet, I highly recommend “Save the Cat Writes a Novel”, by Jessica Brody.

  • Fear of not having the right skill set to pull a story together – Access writing craft resources via books, podcasts, YouTube videos (such as Writing with Jenna Moreci, ShaelinWrites, and Brandon Sanderson) etc.

Even reading books, in your favored writing genre, with an observant writer’s eye, rather than simply for pleasure, can teach you a lot. The books you select should be a mix of high and low ratings. Reading both good and not so good books will train your writing mind to recognize the type of writing you want to emulate (not copy) and that which you should avoid.

No matter where you are in the lifecycle of being a writer, many seasoned authors will tell you that a good writer never stops learning. And I will tell you from experience – knowledge builds confidence.

  • Fear that your work is not good enough – After editing your work to its best form, enlist some unbiased people to read your work (beta readers) and provide you with feedback. You may use friends and family for this task but keep in mind you may not receive the most helpful feedback from them. Why – usually because they love you and they want to give support and encouragement.

You may solicit beta readers from writing groups you join, or if you have a Facebook author page with several followers, you may find some helpful assistance from these followers. You can send out second or third version drafts of your manuscript and ensure you send out some guidelines and a schedule for returning their detailed feedback. Keep in mind that of all the people who volunteer to be a beta reader, there is a chance not all will come through and some that do may not give truly helpful critiques. It may be a good idea to provide a checklist of some sort detailing what you specifically would like their thoughts on.

  • Fear of not knowing what to write about – Read a book, news articles, watch a movie – you may become inspired. Let your imagination roam into the realm of ‘what if’. Jot down ideas as they pop into your mind. Which ones intrigue you the most. Pick those and think about the characters that may be part of such a story, what would happen to them, how would they behave and where would the storyline take them.
  • Fear of what others will think of your writing – People will have an opinion no matter what. Good and bad. As writers we must learn to identify and separate helpful criticism from the personal opinion. Constructive criticism can help us grow and improve. Personal opinions are based upon preferred tastes, state of mind, emotions, or your relationship of the person giving the input and do not hold a lot of weight.

Good or bad, writer’s must build up their armor learn to siphon the valuable gems from the responses we receive from our work. Look for the feedback that repeats and use that information to guide you in the right direction. Yes, negative comments don’t feel good, they hurt our feelings, but consider whether the negativity received is an outlier to other feedback you’ve received – or is there a pattern of similar commentary forming. Use the data to help you and don’t take it personally.

  • Fear of success/failure – Believe it or not there is a fear of success and it is very similar to the fear of failure. It is highly possible you will write one, two, or more books or stories that are very well received. At first it will be very exciting until you begin to fear your ability to maintain the expectation you and your readers have entrusted in your abilities. What if you cannot continue to generate popular work? You may begin to worry with every writing project you undertake that it will be the one that drags you down or stops you from rising up. Everyone will find out that you are not really a worthy writer after all.

Stop, with that train of thought, right now, because that is how you will sabotage yourself. No, not everything you write will be equal. Look at any writer whose work you have read, and you know that not all of it is their best. We are not baseball pitching machines, shooting out stories that hit the same mark every time. We are human beings telling the stories we made up in our minds and sometimes they are amazing. The thing to remember is you have a unique voice, a unique imagination, and stories to share. If you have done your best with the story, share it – the only true failure is to allow fear to have its way with you – causing an implosion.

If you begin to experience too much of this fear of success/failure – it could simply be time for a short break, catch up on some reading, participate in writing course, conference, or seminar to regenerate your enthusiasm and confidence – two characteristics that simply need a recharge now and again to get you back on track and excited to pick up your WIP again.

3. Get in your write mind:

Writers write – it’s that simple. Though we can easily feel guilted out of doing what we love. Family and friends may see us as selfish or wasting time. So, we hold back from openly writing for fear of displeasing them with our frivolous hobby.

Hold up. If writing is your passion, you must not allow the world to dictate your right to pursue it. I don’t mean at the detriment and neglect of family, your day job, or health. What I mean to say is there is a place in your life for writing, though you may need to find the right compromise, agreements, location or schedule to make it happen.

  • Make a plan with your family/spouse – If you can, it is a good idea to let family know you are committed to your writing and give them information or a schedule including where and when you plan to write. Ensure they know the important part they play in your writing success – whether you consider your writing a hobby or business, their support and respect for your schedule and space is valued.
  • Create your schedule – Know when you can take time from your day to get some writing done. Is it early morning before the family wakes, breaks at work, while the kids are at school, or late at night when all are asleep? Whenever you decide is the perfect time to do you writing, keep this appointment with yourself like you would keep a lunch date, attend a work meeting, or a doctor’s appointment. In other words treat your writing time as valuable – and show up for it.

The point is to get you into the chair with a pen and paper in hand, or the laptop glowing, which increases your chances of writing words, which leads to creating stories. Some days you may not get more than a few words down, and the next you may have thousands. The point is to diminish any proclivity for procrastination and muzzle the guilty voice saying you should be doing something else.

Set the atmosphere – Whatever the location you choose to write in, whether in your car, at your home office desk, coffee shop, park bench, or on a foldout TV tray, have one or two things are special, that inspire your creativity, and simply say I am here because of your passion for writing. These items may be your special writing pen, beautiful notebooks, a positive writing affirmation sticker, a cute cushion for your back, and bobblehead of Harry Potter. Anything you love that inspires your writing and helps make your writing sessions special to you.

Get out and shake it all about – That’s right – we are at our writing best when we include other activities in our lives. Taking walks, going to the gym, hiking, painting, dancing, singing, swimming are just a few ways to stimulate not only your body but activate and rejuvenate the neurons in your brain. Activity revives us and stimulates our brain functions. So, Get moving, stop worrying about your WIP for a little while and I guarantee new information will start flowing your way once again.

4. Be aware of the realities:

If your dream is to become a rich and famous author – my intent isn’t to smash your dreams to smithereens – but becoming a successful author is an uphill marathon.

It is possible to become recognized and build a fan base after publishing a few really great books, but that success will only carry you so far and will actually require you to dig in and work even harder to maintain what you have achieved. You must be driven to continue and must grow a thick skin.

Reality – Writing is work and there is no shortcut to success.

Some authors you may be familiar with did not become famous until after their deaths:

  • Emily Dickinson
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Kate Chopin
  • John Keats
  • Jane Austen

You may have heard Edgar Allen Poe earned a whopping $9.00 for his now famous poem The Raven.

I suspect there are many relevant authors who are consistently churning out books in our current times, who have yet to be discovered.

In the days when the only publishing option was via bending to the will a tradition publisher, getting published seemed an insurmountable challenge involving a lot of hard work, not only in creating a desirable book that could hope to pass a stringent vetting process, but the arduous task of creating submission letters appealing enough to charm editors and staff of publishing companies with the hope they might consider reading the first sentence of the synopsis. Lots of rejection letters were received – I’m talking more than just a hundred and that was for only one book.

Then a revolution came – self-publishing rolled out somewhere around 2008, and this opened the doors to publication opportunities for aspiring authors everywhere. If an aspiring author were willing to do most of the work themselves, they could successfully publish a book on their own and nab the chance to catch the eye of hungry readers. Self-publishing was a boon for the dream of authorship. It seemed our publishing sorrows were over.

And they were – at least, for a while.

As with any new venture, those who benefit the most are those who are able to get in on the ground floor.

Anybody can become a published author in the new millennium. This is a wonderful and terrible thing at the same time. I say this because there are (as you may have noticed) some self-published authors who are not very good…at all. The reason their ability to publish their work is a problem is that they are filling up the industry with subpar work which makes worthy authors and their books even more difficult to find. In truth, these authors give independently published writers a bad name and more work.

Today’s book market is oversaturated. Anyone and everyone can put out a book and it is both fantastic and horrifying.

While the number of self-published books and new authors grows each year, the actual revenue for eBooks is dropping. In the United States the earnings dropped from 1.6 billion in 2014 to 1.0 billion in 2017. I believe one of the reasons for this is that in order to compete with the throng of published books we have these days, authors are literally giving away their work for free or at such a cut rate that they are not earning as much money.

All to be noticed in a sea of thousands more with the same intent.

It is estimated that 2.2 million books are now published world-wide each year.

So, how can I advise you to get past the fear that your books won’t turn into a sustainable writing career? I can’t. The best advice any writer can receive and follow is to simply write, be true to your writing, produce the best book/product you can, and learn all you can about how to market not only your great books – but yourself as well.

I hope you have found some of my thoughts and information helpful and that you will continue to write your stories for whatever reasons drive you to do so. Whether you desire to share them with the rest of the world is solely up to you. But I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors.

“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the

opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” –Henry Ford

Joan

2 thoughts on “Fear and the Writer: How to Beat It

  1. Dear Joan
    This was a very informative article and one that I can agree with. I started writing about five years ago and most of what I write are about things that happened to me over the last seventy years. I have tried to write fiction but can’t seem to come up with a suitable story or idea. Haven’t given up, still trying every day or so to get that one inspiration that will make the story come to life. I have taken many wiring courses from The Great Courses and Udemy. Always looking for that one course or tutorial that will make it clear and launch me to a successful writing career. Not happening. The one thing that I have gotten from all these courses is to sit yourself down with pen and paper or word processor and write, write and write some more.
    Thanks again for the article. I am from the old school and like the feel of paper when I read so I printed your article and tucked it away in my writing notebook.
    Herman

    Like

    1. Thank you, Herman! I’m happy you found this article of value. I understand personal memoirs have become very popular over the past twenty years. This could be your niche. An author I know has used personal life experiences to create a character and story as a way to share an exaggerated version of these tales. I hope you will continue writing and enjoying the freedom and pleasure of creating and telling your stories. The writing I enjoy the most is done without force, just let the thoughts flow and not worry about perfection until after the first draft is complete. Removing the concerns of grammar, spelling, style, etc takes away the unnecessary pressure that can thwart the creative process. Perfection comes later. Best wishes on your writing journey!❤

      Like

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