Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing through Your Fear

Whether you’re a beginning writer or a seasoned veteran, writing can be scary. Fiction authors put out original imaginings that often hold deeper truths (or are falsely judged to reveal something about the writer). Nonfiction authors declare themselves an authority on a topic, who readers depend upon for knowledge or assistance.

When you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure (especially if you’re an independent author). It’s no wonder we writers get scared of our craft.

I’d like to tell you it gets better, that after the first novel the fear magically goes away. Maybe it does for some people. However, two novels and eleven nonfiction booklets in, I’m still nervous every time I sit down to write.

How Writing Fear Evolves Over Time

fear-of-failureBefore I had written my first fiction book, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I feared I would never write a novel. I felt certain I would die with this ultimate goal, the one thing I felt meant to do, unaccomplished. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, I went on to write a second book …

And I got even more scared. My fear evolved. I thought to myself, “What if that first book was a fluke?” and “What if everyone hates the sequel?” Now, as I write the third novel, the fear continues: “What if I grow to dislike this series? What if my readers don’t like the direction I take it? What if no one even reads it?”

Of course, my nagging thoughts aren’t limited to fiction. Every time I write nonfiction, I wonder who gave me the right to inspire or educate others (aka imposter syndrome). Who do you think you are, Kate?

When I try to market, specifically through paid advertising, it gets worse. “Why am I forcing my books on other people? What if I don’t earn back my investment? What if everyone who buys my books hates them?”

Don’t worry. I’m done sharing. (See? Even now I fear you’re judging me or growing bored!)

How to Overcome Your Writing Fears

conquer-fearFirst, if you’ve had similar feelings, know that you’re not alone. Second, know that, while your fear may never go away, you can write through your fear. How do you do that? Unfortunately, it’s one of those questions that you have to answer for yourself. But, here are some tips:

Know your enemy

You can’t fight an enemy that you can’t identify. Once you truly understand your fear, you can begin to move past it.

For example, I fear getting bad reviews, because they mean that people hate my books. But it’s not the reviews themselves I really fear. It’s rejection, judgment from others, and that I’m not as talented or intelligent as I want. At the very core of my fear is my own self-doubt. If I truly believed in myself and fostered more confidence, maybe I would be less scared of those inevitable bad reviews.

So, what do I do about it? I’m working on positive thinking to help me have confidence in the skills I currently have. More importantly, I’m continuing my education on writing craft to strengthen my abilities and grow confidence through experience.

What is it that you really fear, and how can you work through it?

Find a greater fear

Yes, bad reviews terrify me. But you know what’s worse? The idea of giving up on writing altogether.

Give this (morbid) exercise a try. Picture yourself about to die. Seriously, go all “writer” on it and set the scene as if it took place in your book. Now, with your death before you, answer what is worse.

Getting a rejection letter from an agent vs. hiding your manuscript on your hard drive

Encountering criticism from internet strangers vs. never meeting the people who love your books

Never drawing attention to yourself vs. never writing a single word

Are you really going to let fear stand in the way of what you want to do?

Drown out the negative thoughts

incentive-960045_640Most of my writing fear happens when I’m not actually writing. Those horrible words come to me when I first sit down at the keyboard, or when I’m trying to think through a troublesome scene while washing the dishes. A simple trick I’ve learned is to drown them out.

There’s lots of ways to do this. Start babbling aloud to yourself so you can’t hear yourself think. Scream “Stop! Stop! Stop!” inside your head. Turn on some music or a podcast. Try to recite the first page of your favorite novel.

I know it sounds silly, but anything you can do to stop the negative thoughts will help. Our brains love shortcuts. You see a growling dog, your brain says, “Run!” You see a pimple on your face, your brain says, “Ugly.” You go to write, your brain says, “You suck.” If you can retrain your brain to avoid negative thoughts (or even better, default to optimistic ones), you’ll also avoid the fear they bring.

Take inspiration from the experts

When all else fails, keep doing what you’re doing now — finding someone who understands and learning how they handle their own fear. Here are a few tried-and-true resources, available for free online or from your local library:

Making Fear Your Bitch by Jamie Davis — I almost didn’t write this article, because this podcast/transcript says it so much better. Seriously, that’s not insecurity talking; it’s just the truth. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn — A fantastic book. Penn shares her own fears (including excerpts from her journal), as well as addresses many other psychological issues that plague writers (e.g. perfectionism and the need for validation).

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield — Several writers swear by this as their go-to motivation book. Pressfield personifies fear as “Resistance” and covers all the ways you can and must defeat it.

You can put all of this into practice and start working through your fear today.

Take five minutes to identify the root of your fear, then imagine how your happiness would suffer if you continue to give into it. Then, drown out these thoughts with motivation and inspiration from others. And most importantly, write — even if it scares you.

Do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. As long as it takes.

Why? Because only you can tell your story. The world deserves your story, and you deserve the joy of writing it.

What fears plague you as a writer? How do you overcome your writing fears? Share your tips in the comments!

Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Feedback Friday, Review: The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first heard about Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art through comic book writer, Jonathan Hickman. At the end of his graphic novel, The Nightly News, Hickman includes a section titled “Fully Committed,” in which he describes how he learned to dedicate himself to his craft. He attributes much of his motivation and success to The War of Art. He begins, “It was October 2nd, 2004. I was sitting alone, bawling my eyes out, in a little Greek restaurant about half a block from the hotel where I was attending a Robert McKee seminar. I was reading Steven Pressfield’s book, THE WAR OF ART.” He goes onto detail how the book gave him the kick in the ass he needed to get his comic career going.

If the fact that this self-motivation book brought a grown man to tears isn’t a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is. As you can imagine, I was intrigued. I did some more investigating into the book, read more reviews online, and knew I had to read it. People were hooked; they swore by this book.

I borrowed it from my local library, read the first section, felt super-motivated, and promptly ignored it until my loan expired. Pressfield would say that this was Resistance keeping me from realizing its existence. I would say it was university. Either way, I let the book go.

This year, as I prepare for my first true attempt at NaNoWriMo, I knew I needed a swift kick in the ass to get myself in gear. Therefore, I decided to pick up Pressfield’s manifesto again and actually finish it. Clearly, I had high expectations from all of the internet hype. Maybe these expectations skewed my reading, maybe not. Either way, I am left with mixed feelings.

Pressfield divides The War of Art into three “books.”

Book One, “Resistance: Defining the Enemy,” describes the forms Resistance takes (basically all the various ways we procrastinate and/or become distracted and discouraged) and the characteristics of these forms. Each section in Book One, and all the books for that matter, is short and punchy. The personification of Resistance is dramatic, but it is effective in making the reader hate it and desire its defeat. Book One also has a surprising amount of humor, and even a dash of anti-capitalist leanings sprinkled in, which make it easier to digest and reminds the reader not to take things too seriously.

In Book Two, “Combating Resistance: Turning Pro,” Pressfield outlines the difference between professionals and amateurs. This book was the most helpful to me, as it properly shamed me into re-evaluating my self-definition in relation to my craft. All I’ll say is, I have some work to do. Overall, I like Pressfield’s definition of a professional, especially how he encourages artists to take themselves seriously enough to become a business and invest in themselves.

I did have some major issues with Book Two. Most notably, I disliked the separation between one’s self and one’s craft that Pressfield mandates. I agree, a person is not her work, and she should not take professional criticism personally. However, Pressfield argues that the artist should entirely separate himself from his work, giving all the credit to a divine, higher realm, and that the artist should never listen to any criticism at all. I strongly disagree. Yes, not all criticism is useful, but most criticism is constructive and is a great learning tool. Moreover, I believe that the artist should take credit for his work, as he does put in great effort to manifest his products.

My other problem with Book Two is that Pressfield defines the professional in very depressing terms. He describes how the craft is difficult and all professionals must suffer for it. Pressfield’s obsession with misery plays into the “starving artist” stereotype that is damaging to creative people and industries. Newsflash: you can enjoy your creative work, and while it may be difficult, you do not have to live your life in constant agony. Misery is not chic.

Finally, in Book Three, “Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm,” Pressfield takes things to another level, literally. Pressfield describes how there is a divine plane filled with divine entities who reach out to inspire us lowly humans. These divine creatures are the ones who should receive the credit for human art, as all inspiration comes from them. When he does try to use secular terminology, Pressfield maintains that each person is predestined to fulfill certain acts and create certain masterpieces and to deny the world and the creator these predestined gifts is selfish.

If you can’t tell already, I’m not religious, and I’m not very spiritual, either. I will grant that there is some unidentified force that makes humans specially equipped with personalities and allows us produce art unlike other animals or living things. But that’s just it — it’s something within humans. Even if a divine plane and God and angels do exist, I do not believe the artist needs to give every speck of credit to these beings. Maybe I’m a revolutionary, but I believe that humans are capable of independent thought and free will, which makes us capable of making our own, unique art.

My last gripe with Pressfield comes from the introduction of his book. In it, he claims that, if every human could defeat his or her unique Resistance, then all social evils would be cured. In an extreme example, he argues that “it was easier for Hitler [who wanted to be an artist] to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

Again, maybe I’m a revolutionary, but I feel like society is a bit more complex than that. But hey, maybe, just maybe, if everyone did beat “Resistance” and fulfill their purposes, then poverty and starvation and sickness and war and everything else bad would disappear. I’d be okay with that if it could really work.

As I said already, I’m left with mixed feelings on Pressfield’s The War of Art. Some of Pressfield’s claims are hyperbolic, and his devotion to the divine is no doubt entirely unrealistic to a large portion of his audience. However, his personification of Resistance is motivating, and his direct calls to action are inspiring and full of useful catchphrases.

If you take this book entirely for what it is: a way to motivate yourself to get off your ass and fulfill your life’s purpose, you’re golden. If you try to evaluate it more deeply, you’ll be left with some serious philosophical questions that will likely ruin the book’s intention. My advice? Enjoy books one and two, and unless you do have some proclivity for the divine or supernatural, skip book three. Also, read fast. If you just read it fast and don’t think too much, you’ll only hear the uplifting battle cry.

View all my reviews

If you are interested in reading The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Thank you!