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I’m a writer, and yet I am terrified of writing. Think about that- because it’s hard to admit. Writing is my craft, my purpose- yet I am actually afraid of failing so much that at times I find that I am actually failing to be a writer.
Whether it’s video games or social media, I find myself far too often doing the exact opposite of what I want to do with my life. And yeah, it’s terrible for my confidence. Now, I know that writing is a process. It is an uphill battle for all of us and worst of all we each start out our dreams as writers angsty and filled with an angry passion that manifests deep within us (but usually finds its way into our genitals). Our inexperience of the craft leads inevitably to a lot of fear and it is this fear that I’d like to discuss today.
There are a long list of healthy fears: clowns, falling from high places, never pursuing our dreams despite the inevitable nothingness we must face in death, cherry tomatoes- fears we all have or should have, they build our character and keep us alive. What plagues writers like you and me are unhealthy fears that only hold us back: public speaking, impostor syndrome, and the ultimate fears of other’s opinions and that of success. Now, by fear of success I mean fearing either its obtainment or the lack thereof. I myself am afraid of success, and it strikes me every time I find myself far away from my notebooks or my keyboard doing something that builds me no revenue or personal value.
But I push through that by adhering to the following five(ish) principles:
#1: Break the habits that your fears give you.
The Award- winning rocket scientist Olympia LePoint, a woman who overcame an unbelievable number of obstacles to become successful, personally found a three step method that she used to overcome her life’s struggles: Name and reject your fear, reprogram your brain with different thoughts, and rebuild by taking action.
Now, LePoint’s three step process is actually far easier than it sounds, so let me break it down. Earlier I admitted that I am afraid of amounting to nothing as a writer- my fear of success. That’s her first step, admitting what you’re afraid of. Her next step is to reprogram your brain with different thoughts. Well what the hell does that mean?
It means that I now have to come up with a way to stop this fear from taking over. I have to say to myself that the end result of my fear of amounting to nothing, if taken far enough, will only lead to me amounting to nothing. So I need to have an internal alarm that points out when I’m being lackadaisical.
Next she says to rebuild your habits by taking action. That’s simple- write, write, write! Right?
Yes and no. Action here is not to jump into writing just yet, but to stop what I’m doing when the fear takes over. That is the real first step. The real reason I’m spending all of that time playing video games is not that I’m lazy (I am), but that I’m letting that fear take over. Once I stop playing, once I take that action, it’s inevitable that my next actions will be conducive to my writing habits. Break the habits of the fear first.
#2: Accept that there is no comfort zone worth your time.
Now, we all have things we are comfortable doing and things we are uncomfortable doing. Taking the gym as an example- everyone I know who doesn’t go to the gym feels embarrassed about working out in front of other people. You know what I’m talking about right? “What if they make fun of me because I’m fat? What if I do something stupid?”- I myself was one of these people.
For a good few years I refused to set foot in a gym because I didn’t want anyone to see me work out or to embarrass myself because I didn’t know what I was doing. So eventually and admittedly to impress someone, I bought a membership to my gym and started working out. I knew nothing about the gym so when I would go I stayed in one section and just did body weight exercises for a half hour and left.
After two months I noticed that the only one paying attention to other people in the gym, was me. I was so terrified of the gym rats doing dead lifts that I spent more gym time staring at them than actually working out. It took time and education for me to gain my confidence and get into bodybuilding as a hobby. What surprised me was the eventual discovery that every single person I ever met in every gym had to go through that initial “I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m terrified someone will see me” phase, and only those who consistently stepped out of that comfort zone saw the results they were looking for.
It wasn’t long after when I realized that putting myself outside of my comfort zone actually helped tremendously in all of my life’s obstacles. Don’t have a life partner? Go to a bookstore and see if you can find one. Failing your classes? Ask the professor for help. The absolute worse that can happen is that someone says no to you, and no matter what you’ll have a story to tell later.
The next time you’re feeling uncomfortable about doing something that you know is good for you in some way- just ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’, or better yet just say, “Fuck it.” and do it! It’s that simple, and eventually a habit will form where you’re not uncomfortable talking to strangers, giving readings during a critique, or making phone calls. Kill the comfort zone, and you’ll go farther than almost anyone in life and in your writing.
#3: Make realistic goals.
I know you’re probably tired of hearing about goal setting. But proper goal setting is what sets apart the successful from everyone else. Making realistic goals is absolutely essential to overcoming the obstacles in your way. Let me show you how.
Fear takes over so easily when we make unclear goals like “I’m going to be a millionaire before I die.” That’s an okay start, but who doesn’t say that? Instead, say something like “I am going to publish my first book in three years.” That’s great, you have a deadline- but it isn’t quite a clear enough goal. Go to a calendar and mark off three years from the day you make that goal. And then sit down and say to yourself “Alright, if I want to publish in three years what do I need to do to get there?”
A clear goal is a goal built from the top down.
Start at the end point, and you work your way down until you have the absolute minimum daily activity you need to do in order to accomplish that goal. By the end you’ll say “Every day I have to sit at a computer and do nothing but write for 25 minutes to an hour.” That’s all it takes! That top-down clear goal will make everything seem so damned simple that forming the habit you want to form comes so easily that you’ll forget to be afraid.
Note that a clear goal means nothing if you do not act on it. Remember my first tip? No goal that starts tomorrow will ever be accomplished. Start it as soon as you make it!
#4: Go public with your career.
To most of us, there is almost nothing more terrifying than what other people think. We are far more likely to feel okay disappointing ourselves than we are about disappointing our friends and family. Use that fear to your advantage. Keep them in the loop, let them know what you’re trying to overcome, inform them of your goals and your new schedule. Believe it or not- people hold you accountable for the things you say you’re going to do. Make the people you know actually proud to know you.
When I decided to write professionally- I didn’t just hovel in a library, I told all of my friends exactly what I was doing. I told them how many pages I was at- how I feel about my work, how many hours I spent just writing the night before. And what happened next? I’d see them some other day and they’d ask- “Hey how’s your writing going? How’s the book coming along?” I made it clear that writing is what I do and now people know me because I write. That completely eliminated my own fears about my work, because I felt like people were counting on me. I felt like I owed them a good book- and so I finished my first draft as fast as I could (I’ve lagged behind on the second draft- but that’s why I’m talking about it now!).
#5(ish): Go public with your work.
If you’re a dedicated writer you probably have a notebook or a set of notebooks filled with the crappiest writing you’ve ever done. This is the work you wouldn’t share with anyone because it is practice- it’s not meant to be read so much as it is meant to be done. What would happened if you took that “garbage”, gave it an edit, and posted it online- in a writer’s group online or in a section of your website dedicated to your studies?
I’ve found that posting my least perfect work online opens my weaknesses up for uplifting discussion. Try it and you’ll find that if the work wasn’t meant to be good, Critiques not only stop hurting, but help even more– and it feels so much better when someone likes it!
This is what I do here on my website, abkstories. Look around and you can find a section titled one page shorts where I post flash fiction short stories that have only undergone a single revision. That work isn’t meant to be good- it’s meant to be discussed, to be out there for others to see, and for me to overcome my fears of writing.
Don’t just go public with your career, go public with your work- be transparent when you know that growth is the only outcome of your transparency. And most of all- Keep writing my friends!