What New Writers Need To Know About Fear

What New Writers Need To Know About FearLet’s talk about your fear of writing.

When I was in my early twenties, I did too. I told people I wanted to write a book. There was just one problem. I wasn’t writing anything.

I believed I wasn’t ready to write, and I needed some anointed mentor to pull me aside and say, “Bryan, now is your time.”

I became jealous of the success of people around me and grew sick of my lack of progress.

So, I joined a fiction and non-fiction writing workshop in Dublin. On the second evening, the instructor said every student had to submit a short story.

I was afraid.

I hadn’t written a short story in years, but I didn’t want the class or the instructor to know this.

A writer in a writing class, who doesn’t write, is a fraud.

I went home, and I wrote. I wrote that night and the night after that. And I wrote until I finished my first short story. It was terrible – the instructor told me this later – but that didn’t matter.

I had taken the first step towards facing my fear of writing.

Here are four common fears everyone who wants to become a writer faces and how you can overcome them.

1. I Don’t Know Where to Start

Starting is tough.

For years, I couldn’t start. I’d open up my word processor and then switch to my internet browser for research. I’d answer my email, or see if there was something I wanted to buy on Amazon. Afterwards, I’d check my bank balance and feel depressed.

It went on like this until I disappeared down a rabbit hole of meaningless internet searches and doing anything but the most important work of every writer.

Then, I learnt how to start by creating triggers for writing. These include:

  • brewing coffee
  • setting a timer for how long I want to write
  • disconnecting from the internet

My routine for becoming a writer involves doing this at the same time each evening or morning. As a reward, I browse the internet, watch a movie or exercise. It’s ritual, and it means I need not think about the act of starting.

To the outsider, this ritual looks boring, but it helps me write. That’s more exciting than anything else I could do with my free time.

How to face this fear:

Steven PressfieldIf you’re having trouble starting, remember: It’s your job to turn up and do the work. Steven Pressfield writes in the War of Art:

We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why we were put on this planet.”

Once you’ve learned how to turn up, consider it a victory to write for ten minutes without getting distracted. The next day, aim for fifteen minutes. The day after, write for twenty minutes.

Let these small personal victories accumulate over time and you will become a writer.

I Want To Write Without Fear

2. Who Am I to Write?

The Power of Creativity (book 1)
One of the books I’ve written with this method

I’ve written three books: A Handbook for the Productive Writer,  a novella and soon-to-be-published book about The Power of Creativity.

I am nobody.

While writing the former, I was afraid others would say: “What right do you have to explain how to be productive?”

I still think that.

I also knew I’d spent hours researching productivity methods and studying how artists work. I’d read dozens of books by authors explaining how they work, and I knew enough to organise my thoughts into a book.

Even though I am nobody, I gave myself permission to write a book  because writers must start somewhere.

How to face this fear:

Give yourself permission to write. If this is difficult, remind yourself that everyone who wants to become a writer, must start somewhere, and now is your time.

Helen Keller wrote the Story of Her Life at aged 22.

Anne Frank wrote her autobiography when she was just 15.

Franz Kafka finished his first novel in his twenties.

These are extreme examples, but I’m an extreme person.

Are you?

I Want To Write Without Fear

3. I Can’t Finish

Finishing is harder than starting.

When I was in my mid -twenties, I spent years struggling to finish anything. I wrote dozens of short stories and abandoned them. I thought of articles I wanted to write for newspapers; I researched them and then I never finished them.

There wasn’t any one moment when I learnt how to finish my work and become a writer. Instead, I got a job as a journalist writing for a newspaper. There, I had to finish my articles by a deadline because if I didn’t the editor would fire me.

I know this because he called me into his office after I missed a deadline and told me.

I stopped polishing my articles until they were perfect and I finished them. On more than one occasion, my editor sent the articles to me, saying I’d left out an important paragraph or my introduction needed reworking.

This criticism made me want to quit.

On other occasions, the sub-editors of the paper reworked my article entirely. Having my work being taken apart like this was brutal, but at least I was getting paid to write.

I learnt from their feedback, and I learnt by finishing what I started.

How to face this fear:

If you’re having trouble finishing your work, set artificial deadlines and stick to them.

Enter contests and submit your articles to magazines or to websites when these deadlines elapse. Make a public commitment to a group of people you trust, e.g. a writing group.

Start a blog.

As you get into the habit of finishing your work, you will win more opportunities to gain feedback about your work.

The former will give you the confidence to keep writing, and the latter will help you become a better writer.

You will become a better writer by finishing what you started.

4. They’ll Judge Me

I don’t like writing publishing posts like this. They’re hard work, and they’re more personal than a guide or a review. I almost deleted this post several times, before I hit publish.

What’s to enjoy about revealing a job didn’t work out, I was lazy, and my work failed?

Stephen King made me do it.

In On Writing, Stephen King says:

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

I could lock myself in a room and write about a caretaker of a hotel who goes insane and tries to kill his family (The Shinning). Or, I could explain how to overcome the inertia of perfectionism.

Or I could write about rejection.

How to face this fear:

Spend more time creating than consuming.

Show the world what you created. And then let them judge it in all its ugly imperfections. Respond if you need to or move on.

It’s better to be judged than to be ignored.

People Are Going to Reject You (And Why This Doesn’t Matter)

I was rejected three times over the past week.

  • I contacted five authors I admire with interview requests. Four of them said no.
  • I asked several podcasting experts for their advice for a guest blog post I’m working on. Half of them didn’t reply.
  • I pitched guest posts at three big blogs, two of which said no.

These rejections are normal experiences.

To become a writer, rejection waits for you at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of your work. It goes where you go. Everybody who succeeds gets rejected.

By turning up and creating, you cut through your fear of writing. Even if some people reject your work, others will embrace it. The next blog you pitch may accept your ideas. You could win the next contest. Your next interview request may be granted.

To become a writer, you must write today. You must write now. You must write like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

I Want To Write Without Fear

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32 thoughts on “What New Writers Need To Know About Fear”

  1. Oh boy – I need to process this insightful article. For now, let me just thank you, Bryan, for your gut-wrenching honesty. It’s hard to believe anyone could reject YOU, but I guess every writer – famous or unknown – has to befriend rejection in order to succeed.

    Thanks again

  2. Great reminders Bryan. I think you have to face these fears repeated times when writing. I’ve just got my first novel back from an independent editor, and now I need to attack it again with the rewrites and it feels like a huge task – I’m also feeling all the other fears, and I actually paid her to judge it! But this is a good reminder I just need to start and get going with it. Thanks!

  3. Bryan,

    Such a good post. I like to take a walk and let the thoughts bubble up. Then like you, get away fro tne internet and write in my journal. Then I’m able to get to the keyboard and just go.

  4. This article is definitely motivates fresh bloggers. Most of the time newbie spends time on consuming contents rather than creating one.

    Great work Bryan

  5. Thanks for these meaningful words, Bryan. Every writer lives with fear–of one kind or another. For those who compare themselves to writers who succeeded earlier in life (as you referred to Anne Frank and Franz Kafka, for example), the intimidation can be even worse. I think one big solution is, as you said, just set a writing schedule. When you set a schedule, you are thinking less about the accomplishments of others and less about whether you have what it takes, and more about, well, more about if you’re sticking to the damn schedule. That has nothing to do with self and everything to do with mechanics. Taking ego out of the equation is, in most things, a positive step.

    1. Hi Joe,
      You make a good point about writers who faced far bigger struggles. Christy Brown, a famous Irish writer, is another good example.

      I agree a writing schedule makes it easier to do the work and then get on with the rest of the day.

  6. I’ve heard as well as used this myself — doing the hardest thing, first thing in the morning. For us writers, the hardest thing is to write, isn’t that surprising?

    I recently heard Ed Gandia and James Clear, on using mini habits to achieve goals. Like, 1-2 pushups for starting exercise. It works. I started with writing 10 headlines a day and am still doing it each day.

    Similarly, starting with say 100 words a day shouldn’t be a problem. We do more than that each day via e-mail and on forums. Once we start writing, it happens naturally.

    I’m also writing another e-Book, which I had originally intended as a guest post.

    I fully agree with you on #3. Finishing is harder than starting. If you check my drafts, there will be a dozen or two unfinished ones. Some of them having thousands of words. 🙂

    “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” I think I did just that, with my About page. I added 21 facts about myself, I wouldn’t have openly told otherwise.

    Thanks for this inspiring post, Bryan. Will be sharing it.

    1. Hi Raspal,
      It’s good to hear you’re writing ten headlines a day. This is a great practice for any writer.

      The problem with writing 100 words a day in emails and so on is that’s no one it’s not long-term. However, if we can all finish important creative projects by committing just 100 hundred words a day, then 200, then 300 and so on.

  7. Well said, and just what I needed to read today. I must admit I do tend to consume at times more than I create. I like to view it as “preparing myself” because truthfully I feel lost sometimes. I am just letting my fear of rejection get to me.

    1. Hi Heather,
      Writers need to read a lot to fuel their work. The trick is to actually put what we learn into practice.

  8. Unlike you, I can’t write with my internet disconnected. It’s probably psychological, but unless it’s there to dive into for reference, or just to check a spelling, or that the word I want to use really can be used for my purpose without making me look a complete tit.
    I don’t find it a distraction, I find it a useful crutch. One one occasion, my connection was down. I felt lost, even though I was only editing a chapter of my novel (I’m ‘one of those’… I edit and correct as I go, often diving back to earlier chapters to tweak them so they fit what comes after. Even changing characters’ names, or what they drive.
    I agree about finishing being harder. Because I’m a ‘pantser’, I never know where my story’s going. I let the characters lead me.
    I’ve just started to write an ending to my current WiP, so that I’ve got something to steer the various threads of the story towards.I’m 76K words in, so I guess I’ve got around 20 – 25K to play with to get me there. (Crime novel – No.5 in a series, plus two prequels already published along with No.1 … and No.2 is already 1st edited and with the publisher… 3 & 4 are finished.)

    Now if I could only get some sales!

    1. Plug out your router! I did this for a long time. It’s a simple but great trick that will help you write. As for selling more books well.. keep the router plugged out, keep writing, keeping finishing and keep self-publishing. That’s my plan.

  9. So this rejection thing is a continuous phenomenon in the life of any writer! This news means I should just prepare myself to get used to it as I aspire to become a writer of repute.

    1. Hi,
      Rejection is part of the course unfortunately, but it’s also a sign that you’re putting yourself out there. If you’re not being rejected, then you’re either great at what you do or you’re not showing your work to the world.

  10. Hey Bryan
    I resonate with your blog. I’ll share my story and maybe it will help someone else. In my twenties I entered a Harlequin contest. I didn’t win and figured I don’t know how to write a story. So I quit writing. I journaled I went to college life moved on. In my professional career I had a boss as a journalism major told me I couldn’t write. I would joke with Co workers that when I retire I’m going to live on the beach and write risqué novels.

    Well the end of the story goes like this…forced to retire my joke rumbled in my head. Until I decided what the heck. I have nothing else to do I’ll write. Took a couple of online classes joined a group called the Mindful Writers and three years later at the age of 68 my debut novel The Caretaker was released by BVS publishing.

    Do I still have fears? Absolute I’m taking it one step at a time. Thanks for listening.

  11. Nice article, Bryan! I sat down this evening to write, but started browsing the Internet and after an hour or so came across your article. I’ll start writing tomorrow. Thanks!

  12. I needed this. I was procrastinating on yet another writing assignment because I struggle with perfectionism and fear writing. I’m going face my fears and start now.

  13. Needed this motivation for writing in non-native language. Presenting in German tomorrow, and it helps to know that the judgement is just part of the process. Thanks.

  14. For years, I couldn’t start. I’d open up my word processor and then switch to my internet browser for research… I did the same thing 🙁 🙁 🙁

  15. I have the content but not sure how to put it all together. Can publishers help and how to go about selecting publishers to submit this to?

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