By: Marilyn L. Davis
“Don’t you ever get scared?” I ask.
“Of what?” She says,
“Of not being good enough.”
“You mean at writing?” L’il asks.
I nod. “What if I’m the only one who thinks I can do it and no one else does? What if I’m fooling myself?”
“Oh, Carrie.” She smiles. “Don’t you know that every writer feels that way? Fear is part of the job.” ― Candace Bushnell, author of Summer and the City
There is so much competition for readers, subscribers, and followers today that I think many writers simply don’t publish for fear of being judged. For example, what if the only kind of ice cream you ever eat is “store-bought vanilla”? Then you’ll never realize how many varieties there are: natural, gelato, gluten-free, lactose-free, no sugar added and well, you’re probably getting the point. But many people do realize their choices of ice cream and it’s the same for blogs. Readers get selective and writers get scared.
Our readers will either like our style, tone, or topic or they’ll head as quickly as possible to another site. I think for many, it’s that knowledge which creates fear and prevents them from ever publishing anything, or even submitting a guest blog.
We are exposed when we write. It’s our choice of words, our unique phrasing, our slant on the topic, and for some writers, it’s easier to procrastinate rather than put their opinions out for public scrutiny and feel vulnerable.
However, If we are going to jump into the deep end of the pool and publish, we have got to overcome these fears.
Working with people in the addicted population for over twenty-five years, the subject of fear comes up almost daily. Just as I ask my clients to identify their fears, I wonder if you’ve tried to isolate your fears when it comes to writing, publishing, and submitting? Many people are afraid they won’t be successful in their recovery, I wonder if you’re afraid you won’t be successful as a writer? Here are some common fears and a few methods for overcoming them.
1. Fear of Failure or Success
I wrote a slightly tongue in cheek post titled, What if You Don’t Read This? OMG, What If You Do! I’ve been told in comments that that title alone sums up the misgivings of many writers when they hit the publish button. While we want readers to view our post, we may have doubts about how well we wrote a piece, and if it’s going to be received well by readers.
- What if they don’t like it?
- What if they are critical in their comments?
- What if no one leaves a comment?
- What if they judge it as inferior from our last post?
Rather than face rejection, many simply put off writing for fear of failing. However, I know that if you want to write, you will. And that is what is going to make you a better writer, one that isn’t afraid to publish. Just think about this for a minute:
“It is odd that we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game; yet in writing we rarely give ourselves the space for practice.” ~Natalie Goldberg: Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Each time we write, if we are making an effort to improve the craft of writing, we will get better. Keep writing.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. What if they do read it and leave a glowing comment? Does this mean that every subsequent post has to be as good? What if the writer is afraid of not being able to live up to the hype if their previous post went viral? While we generally think of one-hit wonders in the music field, some authors fit this category as well. I don’t think there is anyone that likes the label, but many will live with the label rather than risk something that doesn’t measure up to an earlier post.
2. How Much Does a Writer Have to Write?
Not only does calling yourself a writer mean you’re going to have to write, but you might be concerned that you’ll look foolish to friends and family if you announce that you’re now a writer. After all, they’ve known you all your life as husband/wife, son/daughter, co-worker/boss, but never as a writer.
I’m still not entirely comfortable with calling myself a writer. I tend to think of all the greats that preceded me, and I pale in comparison, but I can feel comfortable with statements like, “I write for two blogs,” or “I’m the assistant editor at Two Drops of Ink.”
Although I do things that qualify me as a writer, it’s a daunting label; it requires commitment, determination, perseverance and time. I have three of the qualities, but the time aspect still proves difficult. I’m like the majority of bloggers; I do not blog full-time, and I have a day job.
One thing that has helped me is that I committed to having a post for Two Drops of Ink each week, and two for From Addict 2 Advocate. Those obligations help me retain focus and expectations. I also think that too many people set up unrealistic expectations of themselves and their writing. Since I work at a 50-hour a week “other job,” I have to plan when I’m going to write. I cannot fall prey to excuses when I have a day off from my other responsibilities. Yes, it means I don’t socialize like I used to, or watch a movie on TV, or even read as much, but it’s honoring a commitment, and that’s important to me.
Are you using what time you have and take advantage of the opportunities to write? I still block out time on my calendar for writing and publishing. With the holiday season just about here, there are specific calendars for writers that might do the trick and keep you on track. I know I tend to pay attention if an activity is scheduled, and it works for writing and publishing, too.
3. Has the Well Gone Dry?
Am I tired some days when I sit down to write? Yes. Do I question whether I can postpone this task and get to it later? Yes. Do I wish it would write itself? Yes.
How many times have you said, “I don’t feel like doing that now.” I think we’ve got this backward. I don’t have to feel like doing something in order to do it. I don’t know that I buy into the expression, Writer’s Block. I’m reminded that I couldn’t use Counselor’s Block if I didn’t feel like working at my day job, so I question whether it’s valid for the creative process, either.
Maybe it’s just that we haven’t fully explored our idea, done enough research, we’ve got too many darlings vying for attention, or we can’t narrow our focus and produce a post.
How many of you, like me, struggle with the direction of your writing? Last night, I had a long talk about my writing, with my friend and editor, Scott Biddulph. While many of my posts were satisfying to write, I questioned whether they added any value to our site. I wasn’t fishing for compliments, either, because I can certainly look at the numbers and recognize views. It was more an internal conflict:
- What should I write about next?
- When will I have the time to develop the topic?
- What will improve our site?
I’m a firm believer in goals, asking questions to arrive at conclusions, and trying to take the variables into account. Sometimes when I get answers to the questions, I can get on with the business of writing. But for some writers, there’s an interesting thing that happens. We set up the perfect writing environment. We have the coffee brewing, we’ve fed the animals, and we’ve finally decided our topic. Now, we look through all the files to see if we happen to have a great quote, image, or some interesting facts related to the topic.
Then we have to decide if we’ve got a title, or will it emerge from the writing? If you’re still reading, we’ve wasted about three minutes and only written filler. Too often, that first draft is not our best writing. So what do some people do? They trash it. Then they can feel inadequate. Instead of finding the bones of the piece, they go get coffee, take the animals out, and wonder about yet another topic.
Rather than starting over, keep writing.
I think some of the best advice I’ve read is from Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. She admonishes us with:
“Don’t cross out. (That’s editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar…Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.”
I simply have to sit at the desk and write.
When I’m finished with the task, then I can feel proud and productive because I didn’t put it off and give in to my fears about my writing. Certainly, if what I create that day doesn’t meet criteria for publishing, I don’t publish it, but revise, edit, or polish it the next day. I still feel productive about what I created, though. Not every post is stellar, to begin with; some are going to take revising, editing, reworking, and sitting for a day or two. That’s the nature of writing. Words flow onto the page, but they may not be cohesive. Don’t worry about that in your first drafts. Save the problem solving for the edits.
4. Fear of Not Reaching the Goal
Writing and publishing shouldn’t just be about celebrating major accomplishments. It’s great that a post went viral. It’s astounding that a first-time writer reaches 50,000 hits in a day. It’s amazing when a first-time author ranks on The New York Times Best Seller’s list.
If your aspirations are to be the first, best, or only, then you may have unrealistic expectations of either your ability or the likelihood of getting that much exposure and notoriety when you begin your writing career.
So, what are your aspirations as a writer?
Do you have enough material for a novel? Each November, millions of writers participate in NaNoWriMo creating a novel in 30 days, and many meet the goal of 50,000 words. But what if you are passionate about novellas, short stories, memoirs, poetry, or nonfiction? Do you only have time for a blog or the personal essay?
Setting yourself up to fail with unrealistic expectations, succumbing to the fears of not being good enough, and not giving yourself permission to write badly (some days), means that you probably won’t overcome your fears and get better at writing, regardless of the length of your work, or the challenges of November.
Getting better at any task takes practice, making mistakes and learning from them, trying not to repeat the errors, and a fierce desire to improve. It’s the same with writing.
The good news though is that unlike a missed pass in football, we have the luxury of the edit. Who cares that in your first draft you overuse a word, your syntax was wrong, or you got so far off track that no one could follow the logic. We writers can edit, and for me, that removes many of the fears.
So the next time you write, think of an edit as a way to overcome your fears, whatever they may be, and when you’re finished, submit. Part of our mission at Two Drops of Ink is to provide a platform for all things literary.
Maybe what’s missing is you. Your readers are waiting.