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:
- What if I write the book and nobody buys it?
- What if I write the book and everybody buys it…can I be that brilliant again?
- What if I can’t meet the deadlines of a publishing contract or schedule?
- Who would want to read what I have to say?
- 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?
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.
- A supportive critique group.
- A writing network is priceless. This could be your local writing chapter, or online groups, or Twitter communities.
- GUMMY BEARS.
- 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!
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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.