Fear of Success and Writer’s Block

Fear of failure can cause writer’s block, but so can fear of success.

Why would a writer fear success? In my experience, there are at least three reasons:

(1)  Success means more people will notice you

(2)  Success causes change

(3)  Success might not change things enough

Success And Being Seen

To be able to write, most writers need to turn off the critical part of their brains.

The part that says you’re no good at this, or your main character doesn’t ring true, or that last line sounded really awkward.

If you become successful as writer, say by selling a million copies of your novel, you’ll draw all sorts of comments from other people, including critics and possibly Internet trolls. That can be really scary.

Also, some people grow up in a family, or run into other situations, where success draws anger, jealousy, or even abuse.

If that’s so for you, the idea of success may very well make you more anxious than excited.

Finally, because we’re human, we all make mistakes. I don’t know anyone, though, who likes making mistakes in public for all the world to see. Being successful can mean exactly that.

If any of the above resonates with you, you may fear being more visible and feel more comfortable when no one notices you.

Which means regardless how much you want to write or love to write, you may be undermining yourself.

Success Brings Change

If you plan to write a novel this year but you don’t finish it or publish it, it’s likely nothing else in your life will change. You may feel disappointed. But your family, job or career, friends, and hobbies will likely be the same as they were before.

In other words, not succeeding generally means your life will continue on as it is.

Success, on the other hand, changes your life in one way or another. If you sell a novel and get a large advance or earn a lot of royalties, you’ll have more money to deal with.

That sounds great, but it can also be overwhelming. If you’ve been in the same financial circumstances for a long time, changing them can bring a whole new set of problems.

Success also often means shifting priorities. It may shake up relationships or cause you to question other jobs or work that you do.

All that may be terrific in the long run. But if you feel nervous about those types of changes it may result in a fear of success. And that fear may mean you write less. Or not at all.

Sometimes Things Don’t Change Enough

The last fear of success is that it won’t change enough in your life.

If you’re like me, you may have worked for decades towards being able to sell your novels. Then let’s say you sell one or two or three and they meet with success beyond your wildest dreams.

That will feel great. But it won’t make everything else in your life perfect.

In fact, you might discover that your focus on your writing allowed you to ignore other problems that now come to the forefront.

Also, if you’ve been unhappy or anxious and believed it was because you weren’t able to finish or sell your novels, you might discover that’s not the issue at all. That you sold a lot of books and still wake up each morning feeling worried or sad.

If you think that might be the case for you, you may be undermining your writing so you never need to face that issue.

What To Do

So how do you deal with the fear of success?

In his article Fear of Success: How It Works and What to Do About It, clinical psychologist Nick Wignall suggests:

  1. journaling to understand the origins of your fear;
  2. paying attention to and tracking what you do to avoid success;
  3. facing your fears a little at a time; and
  4. getting help from a skilled therapist if fear of success causes you significant problems.

That’s all for this week. Until next time—

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If anxiety over writing or other parts of life is a challenge for you, you might also find Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity to Live a Calmer, Happier Life helpful.