Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 16, 2020

The 5 Fears That Spook Most Writers

Writing is an odd often-spooky dream to nurture. We write happy. We write scared. We write sick. We write tired. We write in every mood because we are dream-chasers, and dreams matter, even when we get scared.

[Take heart, y'all. We are writers. We are mighty beings formed of stubbornness, creativity, and caffeine. We've got this.]

Every writer falls differently on the fear spectrum but most of my pals have some form of The Big Two:

  • Fear of Failure. Ex: What if I never finish/format/publish my book?
  • Fear of Success. Ex: What if I go "all in" with this dream and my life has to change?

Many of us have some extra worries that extend beyond The Big Two. It's almost Halloween -- the perfect time to open the door to the spooky parts of our psyche. So, let's chat...

Named Fears are Less Spooky

Studies show that admitting to a problem or fear out loud lessens the anxiety associated with it that worry. Put simply, named fears are less spooky, whereas unnamed fears tend to grow larger and larger in our minds until they crowd our rational thoughts. As the line from Harry Potter goes, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.”

In case you haven't noticed this phenomenon yet, many writers have brains that lie. Our pesky brains will snatch a worry out of the air and pounce on it like a hungry cat.

Fae Rowen, one of our founders at WITS used "fear" as an acronym to express this concept to her logical mathematician brain:

False Evidence Appearing Real

She put that up where she'd see it every day to assure herself that most of her fears and worries were not real. We ALL do that. For her, the fear of not being able to do something perfectly kept her from sending her writing out for years. Now she has one book released and another on the way.

She remembered her dreams, and she persevered. She wanted to see her book on the rack of a bookstore or a grocery store or a gift shop.  She wanted to share her stories with others.

I'll bet that you have some specific dreams yourself. Think about those for a moment. (I'm going to ask you about them in the comments.) Think about why you spend time nurturing those dreams.

Why We Chase Dreams

Dreams are important and scary and real – for a writer, chasing them is the hardest game in town. I don't think we give ourselves enough credit for the sheer doggedness that keeps us going.

Why is chasing dreams so scary? How does our traitorous psyche manage to kick our butts so soundly?

Because we worry. We creative types worry about the darndest things! And we often allow that worry to defeat us. Chuck Wendig wrote a post almost a decade ago at TerribleMinds where he discussed how “Writers Must Kill Self-Doubt Before Self-Doubt Kills Them.” (It's wonderful!)

So what do writers worry about the most?

I've narrowed it down to some version of the following five items:

  1. What if I write the book and nobody buys it?
  2. What if I write the book and everybody buys it…can I be that brilliant again?
  3. What if I can’t meet the deadlines of a publishing contract or schedule?
  4. Who would want to read what I have to say?
  5. When I say what I have to say, they’ll know who I am.

Every time an artist creates, they’re shouting to the world: “This is who I am.” What a heady, frightening, mind-blowing thing! For most artists, if our work is found wanting, it feels like WE are being rejected too.

How is the worried artist supposed to cope?

Titanium Panties - BEST
(These are for you, Karen Debonis.)

Laura Drake and I are HUGE fans of titanium panties. We just strap on the proverbial Big Girl Titanium Underpants and do the next thing. For myself, if I stop and think about the fear, I’ll hyperventilate or (worst of all) I'll freeze. I have to keep going, even if I work on something different than the thing that’s scaring the crap out of me (like my memoir).

What have I observed other writers doing when things are in the crapper? When rejections roll in and plots stall, when blog posts bomb and the WIP rises up like a scary beast?

  • They depend on friends and family when the going is rough.
  • WINE.
  • A supportive critique group.
  • A writing network is priceless. This could be your local writing chapter, or online groups, or Twitter communities.
  • Okay, I'll stop. I'm making myself hungry.

5 things to remember about this writing life:

  • It never gets easier. We simply adjust.
  • Remember: Your brain lies. Some of that fear is manufactured by US.
  • Writers are wicked brave. It takes courage to persevere.
  • We have weird habits. (I want to hear about those in the comments too!)
  • Writers must write, even if it's only to ensure our family can stand us. (I don't know about you but I am nicer when I write. Also funnier and more attractive.)

How do you deal with the fearful part of your dreams? What dream are you chasing right now? What are your weird writing habits and rituals? We’d love to hear about it down in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Jenny

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is More-Cowbell-Headshot-300x300.jpg

By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

Top Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay.

26 comments on “The 5 Fears That Spook Most Writers”

  1. I have this weird habit of picking up my kids from school every day. Plays havoc with my writing, but I can't seem to shake it!
    I'm doing the last read-through of my first novel and then I'm going to hit publish. Been working on it on and off since 2013... Talk about fear 😐

    1. Ha! I have that "pick-up problem" too and it is hell on the writing flow. My fear, especially when she was younger, was that I would forget to go get her and she'd be traumatized. Good for you, sticking with your book until the end - that is a major endeavor!!!

  2. 12 books published in 6 years. And every day, I'm still afraid when I sit at my computer. EVERY DAY. I do it anyway. Know what you learn? Your brain lies. Something always comes out of my fingers. Some days it's crap, but crap can be fixed.

    If I don't sit down....nothing.

    You choose.

    BE BRAVE, peeps!

  3. I still regard my writing (over 20 novels, with some short stories and novellas added to the mix) as something I do to avoid dealing with real people or cleaning the bathrooms. I would say I have many of the concerns mentioned above, but they're not fears. Sure, I want people to love my books, but I know I don't love every book I read, so I write. The book I'm working on now is giving me fits, but it's more frustration than fear. I blame it on pandemic brain, and not wanting to give my characters enough conflict.

  4. As an unpublished writer, it's the fear of failure that dogs me. It's that ugly beast snapping at my heels, telling me there are a lot of unpublished writers out there and asking why I think I'm better than they are. Take that fear of failure and top it off with imposter syndrome and that's me. But writing/being published is the only thing I have carried with me from childhood. So I don't have what it takes to give it up now. And from what my husband says, I'm happier when I write. (He probably just means I'm easier to live with.)

    1. Beverly, I know that fear, and I have one more question for you to add to your list: "Why NOT you?" It only takes one yes to launch a career, so you keep going. Learn your craft and write your stories. And every time you wonder about your chances, just repeat to yourself, "Why NOT me?"

  5. Every day I pull up my cowgirl boots and do my best to stomp the What If monsters flat. There are far too many of them.

    Fae's acronym for FEAR is spot on. I agree. Most fears are self-supplied. Yet irrational fears still pop up. Sometimes I think it's become a habit I need to learn how to break.

    Thank goodness for a supportive family. My writer family, which continues to grow larger, is a godsend. Going it alone is not a good thing.

    1. I am so glad you have great writing support. It makes a world of difference, doesn't it? Your writing is lovely, so tell those monsters to shut the hell up!

  6. Today, in the real world, we're facing the dynamic duo of a dumpster fire and and a dip in depths of Satan's outhouse. In a writer's world, we're facing Christmas-Eve proposals, second-chance romances, soaring dragons and outer-space operas...whatever we dream up.

    That burning, slimy real world is something to fear. Our writing? Not so much. Not at all, perhaps. It's one of the few things we can control...have power over. At least its production. How it's received, well, that's up to readers. And everyone has the right to their opinion, even if you want to shrill "SHUT UP" at them.

    My goal is to tell stories that I like. Love. Can't get enough of. Kind of an egocentric approach, I know. But if I'm not enamored with my stories, I can't expect anyone else to be. So, write for yourself. Of course, write it well...to the best of your abilities today. Because the more you write, the better your writing gets. Promise. Really. I promise. Now, stop worrying. Stop being afraid. Stop avoiding. Just write. The world needs your stories. More than ever. Shoo. Git. Go on. Get off the Internet and write!

    FYI: I'm taking my own advice. Bye now.

    1. Yes, I see our writing as a chance to play and avoid the reality of Outhouse Meets Dumpster Fire. I love this comment Chris! It was like getting a great big hug from you. 🙂

  7. Boy howdy, can I relate to this one! Having social anxiety, I've been fear driven most of my life. The fear of not being accepted is always in a tug-of-war with the fear of what happens if I am accepted. With the help of my writing community the fear has eased somewhat. Having the opportunity to commiserate with others that fight the same battle has made a big difference.

    It's also helps that I've picked up some writer friends who do not suffer the same fears. Having them there to plow the road and show me that the bulk of what's blocking my path are monsters of my own making has given me new tools to deal with the fears. When you're standing on the diving board over the publication-pool frozen in terror, sometimes you need a push. It may sound a little cruel but remember, that same person that pushed you will still be standing there there waiting to help if you get in over your head.

    1. If it make you feel better, that crippling social anxiety does NOT show. You have succeeded at the "Fake it till you make it" game, which I highly recommend. If you fake it long enough, you will become that person. It's like magic. 🙂 Plus, there is a lot to be said for a support network.

  8. Thanks for this post, Jen! Fae's fear of "not being able to do something perfectly" is mine. I own it. My idea of perfect has me editing and editing and editing. Ok. I'll stop. Soon. Very soon.

    1. Fear IS so paralyzing. I heard a speaker once say that "Fear and gratitude live in the same part of the brain." Therefore, if you are feeling one, you can't feel the other. I've tried to lean into that.

      1. #1. I am buying those titanium panties, and even if they only fit on my head, I will wear them proudly!! (That TRULY made my day, Jenny!)

        #2. My fear is that my quiet, conservative, never-married brother-in-law will read my memoir, then every time I see him, I'll realize he knows THAT about me.

        #3. My weird habit - I honestly don't have one. Yet. But as soon as I get my titanium panties...

        Thanks for creating this fun, supportive, smart community, Jenny! And I love this: "Fear and gratitude live in the same part of the brain. Therefore, if you are feeling one, you can't feel the other." That's a keeper.

  9. This is the first time I've seen someone else acknowledge the fear of success -- it's freeing in a lot of ways that someone else can see that it's a thing.

    1. Fear of success is totally a thing!! I have that thing. "What if I achieve my heart's desire and I don't have time to devote to it??" <-- Totally. A. Thing.

  10. Fear of success is a subset of fear of change. Change is terrifying and normal. Stagnation is far scarier if you think about it. Would you rather a rolling river or a fetid swamp in your brain? But there's another fear residing with it. The fear of loss of control. If my book does well, the changes aren't in my control. They just happen. That is scary.

    But I've been doing this long enough to know we also can't control whether or not we get published. We can submit over and over, but the last step isn't up to us. This is frustrating (and why so many self-publish). So I keep submitting, because you haven't failed until you've given up, and hoping that when I do find success it doesn't spiral too quickly for me to adjust to the change.

    For the record, I freelance and have over 15 books in that way. I've also had poems and personal essays and a short story picked up, so so far it has been slow enough. The dream is a Newbery or Caldecott for my illustrator. I believe that if one is going to dream, one might as well dream big.

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