Dealing with Fear as a Writer
Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but one companion plagues every author from time to time: Fear.
Writer’s block, fear of rejection, and imposter syndrome (the fear of being exposed as a fraud) are all examples of fear popping up in a writer's life. If that weren’t enough, there’s even the fear of success-- if you succeed in your goal, will you be able to handle what comes next?
Despite this, remember that fear is not the enemy! Fear is a normal emotion; its purpose is to protect us from harm. However, it can become a problem if our fear paralyzes us and prevents us from writing. How can you and your fears co-exist in a way that lets you continue getting words on the page?
Know that you’re not alone
Being scared is a lonely feeling. Looking in from the outside, everybody else may appear fearless and self-assured. But the truth is that every writer goes through bouts of fear throughout their career. Even literary legends, such as Neil Gaiman and Maya Angelou, have suffered from impostor syndrome.
If you’re struck by insecurity and crushing fear, talk to other writers. Knowing that you’re not alone will make your fear feel less intimidating. Join a community of writers, such as an in-person writing group, or an online forum like the Writing Mastery Community, and you may find that many others are grappling with the same anxieties that you have.
Reframe your inner critic
We can make a nasty 1-star review sound like a glowing endorsement compared to some of the things we tell ourselves. And yet, we’d never dream of speaking that way to someone else, right? So, defend yourself like you would defend your best friend.
If your inner critic snarls that your writing will never amount to anything, remind them that that’s not true, because doing something you love is never time wasted. If they tell you that your writing would make a two-year-old toddler sound eloquent, tell them that it’s only the first draft, and you’re just telling the story to yourself.
It can help to voice your inner critic rather than trying to ignore it. Divide a piece of paper in half and write down all the negative self-talk. Then, on the other side, write down how you can reframe it in a positive, encouraging way. If you need more inspiration for winning comebacks to rebuff your inner critic, take a look at this article from Jessica Brody.
In his column "Learning to Deal with the Impostor Syndrome," Carl Richards writes about his strategy for dealing with Impostor Syndrome. Whenever he hears those voices of doubt creeping into his mind, he smiles and says, “Welcome back, old friend. I’m glad you’re here. Now, let’s get to work.”
You can say something similar to address your fear whenever you sit down behind your computer to write. Give your fear an imaginary cup of tea, thank it for protecting you so well, and then tell it that it can take a break for the next hour or two— you’re perfectly safe because you’re doing what you love most: writing. You acknowledge that the fear is there, but you just won’t let it rule you.
Focus on what you can control
Once we’ve polished our story to a shine and sent it out into the world, whatever happens next is out of our control. And while it may not be pleasant to think about, that you’ll face rejection somewhere down the line is pretty much a guarantee. From agents to publishers to readers, someone is bound to tell you ‘no’ at some point.
Remember that all successful authors faced rejection before their books were published. Who knows how many amazing stories are lurking in a dark corner on someone’s hard drive that will never see the light of day because of the author’s fear? Don’t let that be you!
And even after you’re published, getting bad reviews isn’t something you can avoid. Look up any famous bestseller on Amazon or Goodreads, and you'll see that even critically acclaimed books still get 1-star reviews. There is just no pleasing everyone!
Try the Fear-Setting method
Tim Ferris, author of The 4-hour Workweek, has developed the Fear-Setting method, which can help you “clarify your thinking and take action in the face of fear.”
We spend so much time fearing everything that could go wrong that we lose sight of all the things that could go right! The Fear-Setting method can help us confront our fears head-on. A more detailed explanation of this method can be found here, but we’ll give you a brief example below to show how you can use it to address your writing-related fears.
Step 1: Define
Take approximately fifteen minutes and jot down the fears getting in the way of your writing. For instance, is it that you’re scared of getting writer’s block? Are you afraid of being rejected by every agent you query? Or is it the fear that no one will read your novel once it's published? Take some time to be completely honest with yourself.
Step 2: Prevent
Specify what type of actions you can take to prevent your fear from happening. For instance, you can create an outline before you start writing. Or, if you prefer, you can take ten minutes before or after every writing session to brainstorm directions in which you can take your story from here.
Another thing you can do is invest in taking a course that will better equip you to face your particular fear. Check out Writing Mastery Academy's course on Conquering Writer's Block or follow our insider's guide to traditional publishing, Sell Your Novel to a Major Publisher!
Step 3: Repair
In this step, you think about what actions you can take if your worst-case scenario has come true. How can you repair the situation? For instance, try free writing a page of dialogue between you and your characters to find out what’s wrong with your story or talking the problem through with a writer friend.
Step 4: Benefits
Write down the benefits of taking action. What will you gain? In the case of writer’s block, you can overcome it, finish your story, and send it out into the world. Who knows what will happen after that? You’ll have learned new skills that will boost your confidence by persevering. Even though facing that blank page might not be easy, you’ve done it before, so you can do it again.
Step 5: Cost of inaction
Former professional ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky once famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” In this step, you’ll consider what will happen if you don’t take action. Include all emotional, financial, and physical consequences, both short-term and long-term.
What if you never finish a story? The question of what could’ve happened if you persevered might forever lurk in the back of your mind, leaving you with regret. For all you know, you might have written the next big thing! But you’ll never know for sure because you never took that shot.
Dealing with fear is difficult. Writing means more than just concocting up stories. It reveals a piece of ourselves to the outside world, which makes us incredibly brave and incredibly vulnerable. It’s no surprise that that level of vulnerability has a steep tag of fear attached to it, but we can’t wait for the fear to go away before we get to work. If it’s worth fearing, then it is also worth writing!