Monday, January 9, 2012

Are you a Fraidy Writer?

Us writers are a strange lot.  We love to write, we’re afraid to write.  We want to have an audience and sell books, we’re afraid of that audience. 

Oh, there are some who aren’t, but many of the writers I’ve spoken to over the years do have those fears and most of the fears aren’t so easily identified as the ones in plain sight like the urge to throw up or run screaming from a building.
No, many writer’s fears are more subtle, more difficult to spot.  Signs being thing like overperforming in an effort  to make sure you get it right (like any of us can ever get it right, since there is no ‘right’ when writing a novel).  Underperforming (see, I knew I couldn’t do this, so why bother?) or avoiding performing at all (meaning you keep talking about that book you’re going to write but you never apply butt to chair and get it written).  If you’re rewriting endlessly, if you’re afraid to submit because you might be rejected, if you just can’t find the time to write, all of these are all subtle, but fairly reliable bell weathers pointing at fear.

So, what to do?

Acknowledge it, work with it, harness it to actually promote your writing goals. 
You can’t silence those little voices of fear altogether, but you can choose to cease engaging with them on a  negative level.  You don’t have to allow them to run your life.  You can simply tell yourself (or someone else if you need support) that you might not write like Hemingway, but you’re going to write anyway, you might not have your work accepted at the first submission, but you won’t have it accepted at all if you don’t submit - so you’re going to!

You don’t have control over all the outside elements that have impact on your writing and publication, but you do have control over your writing. Don’t focus on outcomes (which you cannot control), and focus on what you’re doing, what you’re writing (over which you DO have control). 

There are a number of things we writers fear.  Realistically if you feel fear, you are on some level expecting danger. One human instinct is to protect ourselves from danger. One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with the fear is to have a conversation in which I talk to my fear and sort things out.  Sort of like:

Me: Why am I putting off submitting this manuscript?

Self: Because if I actually finish it and send it in in an attempt to sell it, then someone will judge it and what if that someone says no and that it’s a bad manuscript?  Better not to send it - safer that way.

Me: But what’s wrong with getting a rejection, many writers have and have gone on to great success.  Maybe I’d learn something.

Self: Nope, too painful, rejection hurts. Don’t want to risk it. Only thing I’d learn is I’m a terrible writer.

Me: Doubtful, but if I am, I can always improve. If the editor wasn’t simply having a bad day because she/he was served with divorce papers then I can learn something. If I learn something, that puts me just that much closer to where I want to be.

Usually at that point my fears quiet down and I can write or submit, or move on to whatever it is I want to accomplish. And you can have that conversation with yourself over any aspect of your writing. Fear really is the only thing you have to fear.

My advice?  Confront your fear and carry on.  You’ll be glad you


  1. A certain amount of trepidation is certainly normal for most writers I think. 'What if people don't like it?" is the fear, but we will never get better if we don't face some criticism. Sometimes we don't see the flaws in our own work because we are too emotionally invested.

  2. Exactly right, Tracy, some helpful criticism is necessary to improve.


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