Friday, August 30, 2013

Fear of Writing

by Jean Henry Mead

The biggest drawback to a writer’s success is fear. Fear of criticism from one’s peers or condemnation from the general public. Fear of negative reviews or of spending a year or more writing a book that doesn’t sell. Fear of hiring an agent who won’t send your book to the right publisher. The list is endless.

Fear is a natural human response, especially when you step off into unknown territory such as a new genre, new publisher, new editor. Even bestselling authors fear losing their readers. So how does a writer overcome those fears? By believing in your abilities and talents. Persistence or staying power must be a tool in every writer’s bag. Marcel Proust couldn’t finish his epic Remembrance of Things Past until his mother died because he feared hurting her feelings. How many other books have been set aside and never published because writers feared repercussions?

The writing profession kindles fear and involves taking risks but writers have to come to grips with their fears and channel them into their work, such as thriller novelists who produce chilling stories for their readers. Writer Greg Lavoy advises fellow scribblers not to ignore fear. “Whatever is suppressed not only has power over you, but will help create obstacles to continually remind you of what you’re hiding from, where you feel you don’t measure up, and whether you don’t have faith in yourself. Success often has as much to do with finding what is standing in your way as with talent or persistence.”

Plugging in a night light for someone who fears the dark doesn’t eliminate fear of the dark, only the darkness. Similarly, not sending out submissions to new publishers not only eliminates fear of rejection, it eliminates the ladder to success.

The poet W.H. Auden said, “Believe in your pain. Take it seriously,know that it has meaning and utility, and that it grows a powerful kind of writing.” Unfortunately, most of us will do everything in our power to avoid fear and rejection so we don’t learn from it.


Bill Kirton said...

So true, Jean. When this sort of topic comes up I always think of Victor Hugo's poem about an experience when he was already feted as the leader of the French Romantics. Here's my loose translation of it (not in verse, of course):

The book is the author, the poem the poet. Our work is so much part of us, we feel it to be so mixed in with our tears, our blood, so constructed from our pain and sorrow, and so deeply embedded in our bones that, when in 1830 actors first performed Hernani, I felt a shiver of violation. Before then my characters had been my dream and my secret. I spoke to them, saw their lips move. I lived face-to-face with them. When the crowd leapt into that world, it was a sort of torment. I stood in the wings and when the curtain went up, before that vast crowd with its burning eyes, I saw my soul lift up its skirts.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Well said, Bill. Thank you.

David said...

Thanks for this helpful article addressing fear head-on.

Over the past decade I have worked successful individuals publish their first books more than 100 times.

No matter how successful someone is, we all have to understand, quickly recognize, and know how to defeat the top 5 professional fears. They are:
1. The fear of silence
2. The fear of sharing
3. The fear of selling
4. The twin fears of rejection and failure
5. The fear of success

Not surprisingly, most (not all) successful individuals initially assume they are the exception to the rule. “Fear? Who me? No way.”

“No fear” isn’t just a Millennial motto for the adventurous. It’s a way of life. I know all this, yet yesterday I got hit with 1 of the 5 professional fears and responded 180 degrees opposite of what I know to do in such situations.

I still believe “No fear” is a way of life, but it’s an imperfect way. Every time we give into fear, we need to humbly acknowledge it, remind ourselves what to do next time, and then move toward that “next time” as quickly as possible.

–David Sanford,

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good advice, David. I agree that we have to face our fears head-on, although it's easier said than done.