Writing Advice: Facing Your Fears

By Jayne Bodell


Road blocks are a given on any journey. Early in my grammar blogging adventure, I found a forum that at first glance looked like a good place to interact with fellow language lovers, offer some advice and boost my website traffic in the process. (Not that that last one really matters. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) I jumped in, signed up and answered my first question. Or at least I thought I did. In no time someone had commented on my answer, “snarkily” I might add. So I checked out who wrote it. A one-word name, Araucaria. He listed his credentials as a post graduate linguist (true meaning, unemployed). He should have said, post graduate linguist spending all my time mastering the grammar forum while trying to sound erudite while wearing an elbow patched tweed jacket.  Okay, I made that last part up, but you get my drift. Academia!

I immediately decided to close my profile, never to return to that snobby, elitist site again.

I might as well blow up my blog, write off that writing career I had so fondly dreamed about, and, launch the laptop out the window. I obviously wasn’t smart enough to write, much less help anyone else. All those fears started bombarding my psyche: fear of rejection, fear of not being smart enough, fear of criticism, fear of not living up to expectations. How many more fears would erode my already fragile self-esteem. I needed to flee, do whatever I could to avoid the impending panic attack.

Oh wait. What’s that? A familiar tome catches my eye. William Zinsser’s book, Writing to Learn. I started to read and soon realized how serendipitous the moment was.

Zinsser wrote this book as a way to confront his fears. He feared the subjects that he didn’t have an aptitude for. Boy, I could relate. To this day, I fear science. It was my worst subject in school. One line in his preface struck home.

“We write to find out what we know and what we want to say.” ~William Zinsser~

Have you ever taken a test where you confidently answered the multiple choice and true/false questions but then froze at the essay question? How were you going to put into your own words the material you supposedly studied? Writing forces us to organize our random thoughts and put into words what we think we know. It’s a humbling experience, and it’s hard work. Writing on that forum made me realize that I was running away from the very thing I wanted my readers to do: improve their grammar.

If you want to improve at anything, you have to face your fear of criticism. You have to hear what you’re doing wrong so you can make it right. How many times have you seen bloggers post on social media asking for feedback on their latest post? Do you think they’re really asking for constructive criticism? Not likely. What they’re really asking is that you read it and leave a “great post” comment. They are kidding themselves if they think they’re facing that fear. They need to find a real “editor” who will tell them the truth. As writers, we have to face a fear of criticism. Your editor and your proofreader will start by picking apart your masterpiece. Fix this, re-write this, get rid of this.

Then comes the ever critical reader, so happy to give you the “one star.” They happily write a one sentence review on Amazon: “not worth the time to read, I didn’t like it.” Didn’t like it??? It’s obvious that you couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag!

Running a close second is the fear of failure. What if I blog for a year only to have five people on my subscription list? What if I never land a paid writing gig? Does that mean my dream was just a fantasy? And then there’s the fear of the unknown, the ultimate cause of anxiety in anyone’s life. This can paralyze any writer, and, because we aren’t familiar with a subject, we won’t take that writing assignment.

If you fear taking a writing assignment because you don’t think you know enough, remember what William Zinser said, “We write to find out what we know.” Today we don’t have to leave our office to conduct any research. It’s all at our fingertips, so researching is easier than ever. Now, I’m not telling you to write about quantum physics if you don’t know the difference between an electron and a proton, but I am asking that you stretch your abilities.

My mantra. You don’t have to know everything to be an expert. You just have to know where to find the answers.

If I post a blog every week for a year with no readers, have I failed? Absolutely not. Jeff Goins, a published author, and blog teacher had numerous blogs that failed, but he kept at it. Today, he’s a published author and a successful blogger.

After a year, I have written over 25,000 words, created a website, learned how to use Canva and Scrivener, taken two writing courses and read numerous books on fine tuning my craft. I completed all these with the simple desire to blog.

Finally, we all need to address the elephant on the blog. The fear of criticism. Face it. If you want to be a writer, and you fear criticism, it’s time to quit. Yup. Quit right now. Just as I was going to do with that website. Or, you can do what I’m going to do. I will listen to criticism, evaluate it and then act if it will help me be a better writer. What I realized about that comment from the forum, was that it didn’t help me or the questioner. It added nothing to the discussion. Action? Ignore it. (Or write a blog about it.)

Remember, you have a choice.

You can react, act, or ignore any criticism you receive. You can also quit, but if you stick to the first three choices you’ll decrease your anxiety and be ready to take on that criticism. You’ll be in control. I would also quit participating in any website that has an unemployed linguist as a major contributor.

Feature Photo Credit: The Nurture Foundation

Jayne Bodell



Jayne Bodell graduated from UW-Madison with an English degree many, many years ago. About two years ago, she renewed her interest in writing by starting a blog about grammar but soon realized that she wanted to expand her subject matter. She now blogs about keeping life simple, smart, and sassy at www.JayneBodell.com. In between blog posts, she’s planning to branch into the scary world of writing fiction by writing a collection of flash fiction stories.
Jayne lives in Wisconsin and fills her spare time with gardening, photography, knitting, reading, and a side of coloring. Her favorite way to vacation is to pick a general destination and drive, no time constraints and no plans.

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) Tell Me Your Why

2) Hump Day Humor: ‘Most Hated Phrases’

3) Hump Day Humor: ‘The Dark Side of Writing’

4) Warning! Writing May Be Habit-Forming

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  1. Hi, Jayne. Been in black hole of web site transfer, and am only reading this today. Excellent post! Besides your valuable information, insight, and experience, I like that you ask us to reflect. While it may not be any consolation, I know I’ve felt and faced many of the same issues.

    I’m so glad that you contribute here at Two Drops of Ink. Your tone, style, voice, and humor mean I look forward to your next post. Keep writing, sending, and thank you.

  2. I would express the term of “becoming tough” differently – will use “confidence maturity” instead. Never forget, Jane, that you are, first and foremost, a well-adjusted, successful individual. The person you are today was accomplished by none other than yourself. You can now delightfully admit to, take ownership of, the personal determination and sacrifices necessary to achieve your current status. Your dynamic confidence was the propellant.

    As for “craft confidence”…you will age into it, mature into it, educate into it, become “seasoned”. Part of the learning curve, as with anything, includes failure, criticism, fear.

    There will always be insecure people who seek elevation by pummeling others, particularly those who will internalize it. All demoralizing attempts can be immediately nullified with self-confidence in one’s character – you have a vast supply of that, Jane.

    The pretentious ilk of the “post graduate linguist” types are legion, and indeed, are the fools they appear to be – nondescript mutations of human intellect. During my career on the railroad, those individuals were referred to as “scum sucking gutter rats” (I’ll deny ever having said that!).

    In my opinion, this was well-written, thus pleasant to read, and presented issues pertinent to the success of becoming a writer. Thanks for posting.

  3. I really appreciate this post Jane! I think most of us can identify with those all too present fears – at least I know I can.
    As I write more, that leaves me open more to both praise and criticism, which is teaching me some important lessons.
    I have learned that someone’s critical comment doesn’t mean I am a failure as a writer. It could be valuable insight, or it could be someone “posing” as an expert they are not.
    I value constructive criticism – it helps me grow in my craft.
    However, some people just seem to like to “tear down” under the guise of “constructive criticism.” That is neither acceptable nor valuable in my view. I’ve seen it happen too often in groups and it brings such discouragement to the recipients.
    You can usually spot these people in groups – they are wearing a neon sign that everyone sees except themselves – which says “Poser” or in your case “Unemployed Linguist.” They never have a good word to say to anyone.
    For these types, I think we are writers benefit most by choosing to “Scroll on By.” Lol!
    Thanks for another insightful post.

    • Thank you for your reading. From you comment and others I see that we’ve all faced criticism, both good and bad. As writers I know we have to develop thick skin, but it’s tough.

  4. Jayne, I enjoyed the openness of this post. Exposing fears bring comfort to those who share the same experience. The key is to continue regardless of what others say and learn from the moment. Great post!

    • Thank you John. I always appreciate the time it takes for you to read the post and comment. No matter how old we get, we still want the acceptance of others. For now, I’ll keep plugging away.

  5. Jayne,
    This is digging into the fears we all have as writers. Confidence is the antidote for fear. Confidence comes from practice. Feedback is difficult sometimes, but it does make writing better if it is heeded. Thanks for the great post.

    • You’re welcome Michelle, and thanks for the comment. As with anything that’s worth something, we have to be patient, not one of my strong suits. I guess confidence will come in time.

  6. Good post, Jayne. It is never easy to overcome insecurities – which seemed to be at the heart of your startup problems. The only cure is to keep chugging away and constantly exposing yourself to other peoples’ input. Even if they are unemployed linguists. That’s how you toughen up.

    • Mary Jo, You’d think after all these years I’d be tough enough, but writing is a humbling experience and one that makes toughening up a never ending job. Thanks for the comment.

      • Jayne – here’s a good story that may help you. Years ago, when I was a market researcher, I had an unusual client – an Indian tribe who ran a casino in New Mexico. It was a great experience for me (both culturally and professionally), and I was able to help them to tweak their operations to meet their customers needs better. But what I really took away from it was learning about their history, and how, when their backs were up against the wall, they responded. They had a gesture which translated to “never give up!” We can all benefit from this attitude – no matter what we do.

  7. Hey Jayne,

    Thank you for speaking directly to the inner writer and what most of us experience. I began with great enthusiasm and willingness to plow into the unknown. Some of the initial feedback, none of which was unkind, left me wondering if I could really do it. My biggest issue was confidence. And confidence, as we all know, is often attached to experience. I came across a good piece of advice,”If you want to be a writer, put your butt in front of a keyboard, and write.”

    • Rick, Sometimes planting your butt is the hardest part. We’re left staring at an empty screen wondering if we can fill it up with something that makes sense. And then, if we don’t sit down to write, we’re left with guilt. It’s a vicious circle, isn’t it.

  8. Jayne,

    Good post that addresses what we go through when we start putting our work out there.

    To comment on a point you made about the criticism you receive: evaluating it is a MUST. You’ve given us some good questions to ask, but listening to criticism that is not productive or constructive is a dream-killer. Sadly, I have been forced to distance myself from certain people who were supposed to be friends but thought it was fun to joke about what I’m doing. Of course, they aren’t taking any risks themselves.

    I’m not necessarily angry with them, just disappointed. But I realized the things they were saying only fed the doubt I was already dealing with. I want honesty, not demotivation.

    • It’s sad when we have to distance ourselves from people that don’t support us. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do this. Many people have jobs to go to where they can insulate themselves from the people they’re close to. Writing isn’t like that. It’s put out there for all the world to see. Good or bad.

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