If you're struggling to start writing, or to finish what you write, you may fear failure.
Asking questions like the ones below is a clue that you may have this fear, even if it's unconscious:
- What if I spend all this time writing and I never finish?
- Or I start writing and find out I'm no good at it?
- What if no one buys what I write?
- And what if people criticize my writing or write bad reviews?
If you suspect the fear of failing might be part of what's keeping you from setting or meeting your writing goals, here are some thoughts about overcoming it.
Let’s start with looking at how you define a failure, and asking whether you can revise it in a way that won't get in the way of writing.
For instance, if you define failure as failing to try something you want to do, then you can choose whether or not you fail because you can choose to try. If you write something, anything, you won't have failed because you tried.
On the other hand, if succeeding or failing rests on other people’s actions, such as buying or not buying your books, or their reactions, such as criticizing your writing, you’ve got limited say over that. That definition of failure puts success out of your control.
So why not choose a definition that gives you the most say over your own life?
Moving Forward Despite Fear
But let’s say in your heart it matters deeply to you what others think of your writing. Redefining failure may feel like semantics.
Success to you may mean people buying your books or selling a certain amount of them or getting rave reviews. Many writers, including me, set all those goals.
The key is not pretending those things don’t matter, it’s moving forward despite those fears.
Just as I don’t let feeling nervous my first day teaching a new class keep me from doing it, you don’t need to let fear of failure keep you from writing.
You can ease yourself into this by imagining yourself writing. Take a few minutes to shut your eyes and picture yourself typing, writing in a notebook, editing pages, or holding your finished book.
Next, in real life practice writing when you feel anxious about it. Start with a journal entry or list of favorite movies if you need to. Get used to feeling afraid and writing all the same.
Odds are the feeling will fade. Before you know it you'll be writing your novel or whatever other projects you set your heart on.
Ask New Questions
Another approach is to look carefully at the list of questions above. Add any others that spark worry about writing or make you tense.
Now write out different questions, ones designed to ease your transition into writing.
For instance, you could ask yourself:
- Which writing project am I most excited about?
- What do I love about spending time writing?
- What three things can I do to improve my writing skills?
- How can I find ways to increase my chances of selling any book I finish?
- What do I hope readers will like best about my writing?
Each time you begin to dwell on your fears or concerns, you can ask yourself one of these types of questions. It will help redirect your mental energy toward enjoying writing and getting better at it.
Results Rather Than Failures
Finally, you can decide there are no failures, only results. (A view I’ve seen attributed to many different people, including Tony Robbins, and which has helped me the most.)
Most everything we learn in life is a process of doing something that doesn’t work, changing our approach a bit, and trying again. Whether it’s learning to walk, swim, ride a bike, or write a book that sells, most of us need to “fail” many times to learn.
For example, I published a novel, When Darkness Falls, in a genre I don’t otherwise write in. (Paranormal romance/gothic horror.) When I offer it free for Kindle it gets some downloads, but it rarely sells. In fact, it took two years before it earned back what I spent paying a service to convert it for Kindle and for a cover.
I could see it as a failure.
Instead, I value what I learned from it. I figured out how to publish a paperback using the KDP dashboard for the first time. It's also the only novel I published in Kindle Unlimited. I use it to experiment with Kindle Countdown deals and free days. And it's a good one to try out different ad platforms because any sales I do see almost certainly result from the ad.
In addition, it’s a book I wrote before my successful Awakening supernatural thriller series, though I published it after. I see a progression in my writing from that book to the Awakening series to my newest suspense/mystery series.
As another example, I once told my brother Keith, who has loved taking photos all his life, how my favorite photos of myself (and pretty much anyone else) were ones he took. I asked him how he did it.
He said, “You don’t see the thousands I throw away.”
This was back when all photos were taken on film, meaning he spent money on the film and processing for each one. He could easily have viewed all those thrown-out photos as failures and let that stop him. If he had, he’d never have produced so many images that have made so many people happy.
He also wouldn’t be the excellent photographer he is today.
By seeing the results of his efforts, adjusting his approach, and choosing the best photos, he succeeded in his goals.
That's all for today. Until next Friday–
P.S. This article is based on an excerpt from the latest draft of my new non-fiction book Anxiety, Happiness, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. To get a notice when it's released (as well as a Free Story Structure Worksheet), join the Writing As A Second Career email list.