Fear is the other half of the duo that so often stops writers cold. Fear’s partner is critical voice, which I discussed in the previous chapter. I can’t possibly cover every fear writers face in a single chapter. Maybe in an entire book. The focus of this book is to help you shift your attitude toward writing so you can have fun while making up stories.
So in this chapter I’m simply shining a light on the topic, and giving you a few quick pointers on dealing with fear. I won’t cure you of fear (or critical voice for that matter). Fear never entirely goes away, it just skulks in the corner for awhile before sneaking back up on you. But you can manage it, and learn to live with it.
And if you think you have no fears… Wow, you need to check in with yourself. Sorry for being harsh, but I need to be. We ALL have fears, every last one of us. No one is immune to this.
If your defense mechanisms are blaring code red right now, I understand. The knee jerk reaction is normal. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Keeping breathing, in and out. When you are ready, keep reading this chapter.
Fear is paralyzing and will kill your productivity until you’re producing 10 words an hour or less. It prevents you from ever getting to the writing chair and turning on your computer. Or even worse, fear will drive you to do “research” when you should be writing. All of us have been sucked into the downward spirals of YouTube and Wikipedia. You’ll find it’s easier to check email for the ten millionth time than it is to write a single sentence of fiction.
What are some normal fears writers have?
Lots of fears, each individual to the writer, but I want to highlight two: the fears of rejection and failure. Let’s take each in turn. I’ll discuss the fear itself, and the reality behind the fear.
Rejection is a part of the business of writing. Numerous anecdotes and tales abound of writers who were rejected many times before making their first professional sale. Truth is, if you want to sell copy to magazines or corporate imprints, you will have to face rejection at some point.
Indie publishing also has it’s own quirky form of rejection: lack of sales. Instead of an editor rejecting your story, readers are the ones choosing not to buy your tale. Normally when you have only a handful of titles under your name, you make few sales. If you don’t know what the long tail of distribution means, I highly suggest looking that up, whether you are a writer or any kind of artist.
Fear of rejection is normal, especially in the early stages of your career. We all want to be accepted, to make money with our craft, and we want it NOW. I was no exception.
The reality of rejection is this: it’s not personal. If you are lucky to have a conversation with a long-term professional editor, there’s a dandy you’re likely to hear: Editors don’t remember the authors they buy, much less the ones they reject. It’s common for editors to have 1,000 or more manuscripts in their office at any one time. Nobody can recall the names on the stories that didn’t make it. Often, early on, the editor likely rejected you based on only the first few sentences, because you didn’t know how to keep her reading beyond that.
Same with readers in the indie market. You’re just not good enough yet to hook a reader. And readers won’t remember you, because you don’t have a reputation yet. I have multiple books in my Kindle that I didn’t enjoy and didn’t finish reading… but I have no idea who the authors are. Heck, I might’ve later read the same author’s other books, and enjoyed those. That’s entirely possible.
The key to dealing with rejection is to keep writing and keep getting better. Never stop learning your craft, and write more stories. Eventually, you will learn how to hook readers and editors and the money will flow to you. But you must be patient, and willing to learn.
Failure is more abstract than outright rejection. How does one fail at writing a novel? This is a bit of a catch-all fear, and encompasses a lot of things. Perhaps failure means the book sucks. Well… what does “sucks” mean? That it’s poorly written? This is entirely subjective. I enjoy a number of books that others feel are flat bad. So maybe failure is when the novel never gets finished. After all, a lot of people say they want to write a novel, but never do.
Ahh… Here’s a trinket of human psychology. A novice will often fear failure, and the fear itself ensures the project never is complete, thus the project fails. If you can wrap your head around that, you’ll be on the way to working past fear of failure.
The only true failure in writing, is not writing at all.
Here’s the solution to fear of failure: DARE TO BE BAD.
I’m borrowing this concept from Dean Wesley Smith, who in turn borrowed it from Nina Kiriki Hoffman, both renowned SF/F writers. What does it mean to dare to be bad? This is a mindset that understands it takes far, far more courage and fortitude to try something and fail, than to never try at all.
Not trying is the chicken shit way out. Everyone has time constraints, physical limitations, and other problems to deal with when attempting fiction writing. Deal with your problems head on. Set a schedule for your writing, and stick to it. Set goals to work toward (e.g. 500 words a day, whatever you can handle).
Repeat “dare to be bad” like a mantra. Write it out big on poster-board and tack it above your writing computer. Dare yourself to at least try, whatever the costs. The cost of never writing is much greater than the cost of having a book that sits in a trunk and never sells.
This doesn’t mean “be fearless”. Again, all writers have fears, including this one. Much of managing fear is attitude adjustment. See failure as a chance to learn and grow, instead of an end. Make mistakes, and own them. Keep learning every day.
Before I wrap up this chapter, here’s an assignment.
Grab a notebook and pen (can be done on the computer if you insist). Answer this question: What are you afraid of?
Take your time. Be honest. Nobody has to see what you write, it is entirely for you. By writing down your fears, you strip them of power. Often, when fears are written out, they seem silly. As in, why was I afraid of this, again?
Keep your response somewhere you can find it later. Read it over when you feel a fear sneaking up on you. Write down more fears.
Now, make a plan of action. What are going to do to increase your writing productivity, and thus deny your fears any power over you? Perhaps you’re going to write morning pages, as Julia Cameron suggests in her book The Artist’s Way. Maybe you write a chapter per week. Hit 1,667 words per day during NaNo.
Keep track of how you do. Be honest. When you miss, record the miss. Ask yourself, why did I miss? Don’t make up for lost time and misses, that way leads to insanity. Just climb back on and keep moving forward.
Remember above all else: dare to be bad.
I wish you the best in conquering your fears.
Copyright 2015 David Anthony Brown
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved.This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
This book has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. “National Novel Writing Month” and “NaNoWriMo” are trademarks.
If you found this helpful, please consider leaving a tip. Or you can buy the complete book at your favorite retailer.