Some fear can be positive: it scares us into doing our best work rather than settle for junk. It makes us educate ourselves and stay on top of our craft. And it pushes us to reach out for support when we want to achieve creative goals.
In too great an amount, however, fear can rear up like a great white wave and subsume the creative process. If it weren’t for fear taking down so many creative people, we’d have more books on the shelf, more writers inspiring great conversations, and more writers following their dreams, resulting in happier more contented people. The world would in fact be a better place if this stupid feeling didn’t wield so much power.
But powerful it is, and when fear shows up and muscles its way into our bodies and minds so strong as to be crippling, we have to find ways to combat it or it wins.
I recently chatted with author and One Lit Place writing coach and editor Krista Foss, whose second novel, Half Life, is coming out in March 2021 (McClelland & Stewart). She has been working with One Lit Place fiction, nonfiction, academic, screenplay, and business writers for several years, and I have delighted in watching her private clients- who range from emerging to professional writers- bloom, thrive, and publish from their partnership with her.
In our video, we talked about the creative black hole that widens every time a writer lets fear get in the way and what a grace it is when someone reaches out to us to get support and guidance before the fear overtakes them.
The 3 Most Common Fears
The most common questions we get as writing coaches and editors have to do with the insecurity, doubt, and uncertainty that comes with the territory of hazarding the self on the page.
- Am I any “good,” or what if I don’t have talent?
- What if I work very hard, but no one reads my writing?
- Will I ever get published?
Am I any “good”?
Often when writers come to us for coaching and editing, they’re looking for someone to reassure them and remind them of what they already know to be true: that their love for writing is what matters, and all else is set dressing. That talent is borne of passion, skill is learned and acquired through time and purpose, and the more one writes, the better one gets- both at the process of writing and at articulating their thoughts on the page. We remind them that they teach readers how to read their work, not the other way around. That they can command the page because it is their ideas guiding the conversation.
What if no one reads my writing?
If you write well and with candor and heart, your writing will find an audience. That audience may be three, 10, or 10,000 people. Some writers write but are afraid to share their work, but as in the case of Emily Dickinson, the words still find their readers. We write to connect, and that connection is what keeps us all human and thriving.
Bearing that in mind, how noble and important it is to write on behalf of humanity and for those who can’t or don’t, makes writing a gift, an act of generosity and benevolence. Such a perspective can be the thing to remove the selfhood, and thus reduce or remove the fear, from the equation.
Will I get published?
We are extremely fortunate to live in a time when there are so many opportunities to publish our work. True, the big five publishers are tough to break into, but still, good work that meets readers’ needs sells to one of them every single day. Additionally, there are abundant independent and university presses who can allocate time and attention to their authors, making it a valuable and exciting option for today’s writers, and self-publication has become a fantastic way to maintain creative control and sell your book on your terms.
Additionally, shorter works invariably find a home in one of hundreds of terrific literary magazines available in North America, both online and in print.
(If you’re new to publishing and wish to learn about your options, check out my How to Publish: A Primer on Traditional, Independent or University Presses, and Self-Publishing or our Resources page for loads of info about all manner of publication options).
The 3 Best Ways to Combat Fear
Writing shows us ourselves in highly vulnerable ways, so the best strategy to manage our fears is to stay atop our craft, stay focused, and reach out to someone who can dispel our concerns, refocus us, and provide us with strategies, so we can stay the course and go on to write widely and publish our work.
1) Continue to educate yourself in your craft
A writer who continues to learn and grow is a person who feels on top of their process, not overwhelmed or out of control from not knowing how to handle their craft. Read articles on writing, take a course, watch a video or listen to podcasts on the craft and practice of the writing life, and expand your awareness of the genres in which you write. You may still feel fear from time to time, but you’ll have clear vision for how to handle yourself and your ideas on the page.
2) Put on blinders to help you focus on the task
There’s a reason professional writers treat their writing like a job. If you allow yourself to have emotions about the work, that’s when the unholy trinity of fear, uncertainty, and doubt have room to creep in. As writer Carlo Gebler has said, “You’ve never heard of plumber’s block or bricklayer’s block!” Treat your writing like it’s your job, keep your nose to the page, and write until the writing is done.
3) Get support from other writers or a professional writing coach and editor who helps you keep writing
Partnering with a fellow writer or professional writing coach and editor who is invested in your success, addresses your challenges with productive solutions, breaks down tasks to make them manageable, provides a second set of eyes to your work, gives you valuable solutions to make sure your motivation remains high, and advises you on the what and how of publishing, is often the difference between a writer who quits and a writer who continues to write and have a thriving career.
A little bit of fear is healthy as it keeps us on our toes, but when it gets to be too much, you have to combat it!
By staying on top of your craft, keeping yourself focused on your goals, and getting a writing coach and editor or someone who can support you through the challenges all the way to publication will help you combat any fear that creeps in in healthy productive ways and help you keep writing for the long term.