There’s a nasty demon hiding behind writer’s block. This four-letter word represents a condition we don’t like to admit to ourselves, much less utter in polite conversation.
Yep, it’s the “F word” that’s blocking you from writing.
Fear affects us all more than we care to admit, and it’s especially insidious for writers. Writing online is one of those activities where you’re really putting yourself out there, and the critics are always waiting to pounce. But as we’ll see below, failure and mediocrity are not the only things we fear.
Most fear works at the subconscious level and manifests itself in the form of procrastination and writer’s block. We want to write that novel or business book, start that killer blog, release that article or white paper that boosts our business authority… and yet we keep putting it off.
I don’t like to waste time on regret, because, well, it’s a waste of time. But looking back, I see I’ve wasted so much time in my writing life because I let fear hold me back.
And the truth is, every time I push myself in a new direction, I’m still afraid. I don’t think that ever changes—it’s just part of the game.
The key is to not let it stop you.
Here are the main ways fear holds us back as writers, with a few tips for looking fear in the face and sitting down to work. Remember, courage is not the absence of fear, it’s doing what needs to be done despite fear.
Fear of Failure
Countless psychological studies have shown that the fear of failure is the number one barrier to personal success. We fear failure because we don’t separate tasks from ourselves, and therefore our self-esteem is at risk every time we attempt to do anything we really want to achieve.
In other words, we’re afraid of being humiliated, because at the subconscious level, we link failure to humiliation. So how do we get over our fear of failure and its misguided companion humiliation?
- Admit you’re afraid to fail.
- Realize that every time you fail, you’ve become a better writer.
- Recognize that each failure brings you one step closer to success.
- Relish the learning experience, and reject the illusion of humiliation.
Fear of Success
Why in the world should we fear success? That’s what we want, right? Well, the way we idealize success can cause us to subconsciously avoid it, because we know from experience that success brings unexpected changes along for the ride.
We worry that we don’t really deserve success, or that success will bring increased expectations that we won’t be able to meet. We’re afraid our friends and family will be resentful or jealous, and that the responsibility that comes with success will overwhelm us. In other words, our vivid imaginations talk us out of doing the things we need to do in order to succeed, just so we can avoid unexpected change.
Remember these things to fight back against the fear of success:
- Change comes whether you succeed or fail. Why not succeed?
- Babe Ruth held the home run record and the strikeout record simultaneously. Keep swinging for the fences.
- You own your labor, not the fruits of your labor. Do what you love and don’t worry about the consequences.
Fear of Rejection
Our fear of rejection is the most obvious and overt of all the influences that keep us from writing. The high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse among those who seek the writing life can often be traced directly back to the simple fear that our work is not good enough, and that a rejection of it is a rejection of us.
How do we avoid our fear of rejection? Easy, we don’t do anything. That may be one way to solve the problem, but it leads to an unfulfilled life and self-destructive tendencies.
- Remember, you’ll never please everyone. You only have to find and please your audience.
- Treat writing as an exercise. The fact that you can’t bench press 300 pounds today doesn’t make you less of a person, but you can work towards it, right?
- Feed on rejection. Make it your own, and put it to work for you to become better and stronger.
Fear of Mediocrity
Writer Dorothy Parker couldn’t meet a deadline to save her life, because she said for every five words she wrote, she erased seven. Our fear of mediocrity manifests itself as perfectionism, and perfectionism prevents us from simply putting things out there and resolving to get better over time. With that approach, we fail to achieve anything at all.
Right now, if I think about it, I’ll realize that this article is never going to be good enough, no matter how long I spend on it. In fact, what the hell am I doing writing a blog anyway? Is this what I was put on this planet to do?
Then I take a deep breath, and move on to the tips for dealing with the fear of mediocrity.
- No one will ever be perfect, so let it go.
- Action beats inaction every time.
- Accomplishing anything feels better than accomplishing nothing.
Fear of Risk
Is it really better to be safe than sorry? Sometimes, yes. But when it comes to your writing dreams and goals, being safe is a fate worse than death. Not only do your dreams die, but you get to live the rest of your life knowing it.
Our brains work against us here. We’re designed to embrace consistency, safety and familiarity, but those who dare to seek unfamiliar territory claim the spoils. In truth, no matter how much you achieve, you’ll need to keep pushing into new areas and purposely scaring yourself, so just get used to it.
- What’s the worse that could happen? Often, it’s not really all that bad.
- Risk-taking breeds self-confidence. Every time you survive, you thrive.
- Look before you leap? Just jump.
Yes, writing is scary stuff. But compared to being eaten by a lion while out foraging for food, you’ve got it good. Understanding that you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to writing is invaluable, because you can conquer that enemy just by deciding to.
So … just do it.