by Kate M. Colby
Whether you’re a beginning writer or a seasoned veteran, writing can be scary. Fiction authors put out original imaginings that often hold deeper truths (or are falsely judged to reveal something about the writer). Nonfiction authors declare themselves an authority on a topic, who readers depend upon for knowledge or assistance.
When you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure (especially if you’re an independent author). It’s no wonder we writers get scared of our craft.
I’d like to tell you it gets better, that after the first novel the fear magically goes away. Maybe it does for some people. However, two novels and eleven nonfiction booklets in, I’m still nervous every time I sit down to write.
How Writing Fear Evolves Over Time
Before I had written my first fiction book, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I feared I would never write a novel. I felt certain I would die with this ultimate goal, the one thing I felt meant to do, unaccomplished. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, I went on to write a second book …
And I got even more scared. My fear evolved. I thought to myself, “What if that first book was a fluke?” and “What if everyone hates the sequel?” Now, as I write the third novel, the fear continues: “What if I grow to dislike this series? What if my readers don’t like the direction I take it? What if no one even reads it?”
Of course, my nagging thoughts aren’t limited to fiction. Every time I write nonfiction, I wonder who gave me the right to inspire or educate others (aka imposter syndrome). Who do you think you are, Kate?
When I try to market, specifically through paid advertising, it gets worse. “Why am I forcing my books on other people? What if I don’t earn back my investment? What if everyone who buys my books hates them?”
Don’t worry. I’m done sharing. (See? Even now I fear you’re judging me or growing bored!)
How to Overcome Your Writing Fears
First, if you’ve had similar feelings, know that you’re not alone. Second, know that, while your fear may never go away, you can write through your fear. How do you do that? Unfortunately, it’s one of those questions that you have to answer for yourself. But, here are some tips:
Know your enemy
You can’t fight an enemy that you can’t identify. Once you truly understand your fear, you can begin to move past it.
For example, I fear getting bad reviews, because they mean that people hate my books. But it’s not the reviews themselves I really fear. It’s rejection, judgment from others, and that I’m not as talented or intelligent as I want. At the very core of my fear is my own self-doubt. If I truly believed in myself and fostered more confidence, maybe I would be less scared of those inevitable bad reviews.
So, what do I do about it? I’m working on positive thinking to help me have confidence in the skills I currently have. More importantly, I’m continuing my education on writing craft to strengthen my abilities and grow confidence through experience.
What is it that you really fear, and how can you work through it?
Find a greater fear
Yes, bad reviews terrify me. But you know what’s worse? The idea of giving up on writing altogether.
Give this (morbid) exercise a try. Picture yourself about to die. Seriously, go all “writer” on it and set the scene as if it took place in your book. Now, with your death before you, answer what is worse.
Getting a rejection letter from an agent vs. hiding your manuscript on your hard drive
Encountering criticism from internet strangers vs. never meeting the people who love your books
Never drawing attention to yourself vs. never writing a single word
Are you really going to let fear stand in the way of what you want to do?
Drown out the negative thoughts
Most of my writing fear happens when I’m not actually writing. Those horrible words come to me when I first sit down at the keyboard, or when I’m trying to think through a troublesome scene while washing the dishes. A simple trick I’ve learned is to drown them out.
There’s lots of ways to do this. Start babbling aloud to yourself so you can’t hear yourself think. Scream “Stop! Stop! Stop!” inside your head. Turn on some music or a podcast. Try to recite the first page of your favorite novel.
I know it sounds silly, but anything you can do to stop the negative thoughts will help. Our brains love shortcuts. You see a growling dog, your brain says, “Run!” You see a pimple on your face, your brain says, “Ugly.” You go to write, your brain says, “You suck.” If you can retrain your brain to avoid negative thoughts (or even better, default to optimistic ones), you’ll also avoid the fear they bring.
Take inspiration from the experts
When all else fails, keep doing what you’re doing now — finding someone who understands and learning how they handle their own fear. Here are a few tried-and-true resources, available for free online or from your local library:
Making Fear Your Bitch by Jamie Davis — I almost didn’t write this article, because this podcast/transcript says it so much better. Seriously, that’s not insecurity talking; it’s just the truth. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.
The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn — A fantastic book. Penn shares her own fears (including excerpts from her journal), as well as addresses many other psychological issues that plague writers (e.g. perfectionism and the need for validation).
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield — Several writers swear by this as their go-to motivation book. Pressfield personifies fear as “Resistance” and covers all the ways you can and must defeat it.
You can put all of this into practice and start working through your fear today.
Take five minutes to identify the root of your fear, then imagine how your happiness would suffer if you continue to give into it. Then, drown out these thoughts with motivation and inspiration from others. And most importantly, write — even if it scares you.
Do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. As long as it takes.
Why? Because only you can tell your story. The world deserves your story, and you deserve the joy of writing it.
Guest post contributed by Kate M. Colby. Kate is a writer of multi-genre fiction and creative nonfiction as well as a writing-craft blogger. Kate graduated summa cum laude from Baker University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Sociology.