What Scares You about Writing or Publishing?

by Jami Gold on February 24, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Woman looking scared with text: Do You Have Writing or Publishing Fears?

Many large, life-changing events can scare us—even terrify us. We can probably think of several times in our life when the thought of moving forward was near-paralyzing.

Maybe we experienced that when starting a new job. Maybe when we stared down the aisle at our wedding. Or maybe when we learned our first child was on the way.

Not surprisingly, we often hear people say about big changes, even when they turn out well in the long run, “It’s a good thing I didn’t know how hard it would be, or I might not have done it.” Sometimes ignorance is bliss. *smile*

Many aspects of writing fall into that category. If we knew…

  • how hard it was to improve our craft…
  • how much there was to learn about publishing…
  • how much rejections or bad reviews hurt…
  • how much we have to market and promote…
  • Etc., etc.

…then we might not have started.

How Do We React When Faced with Obstacles?

It is often a good thing that we don’t know what we’re in for when we first start down a path. But then the question becomes, how do we handle it when we do learn the truth? How do we react when we learn all the steps we have to go through, or learn of the odds against us?

  • Some give up.
  • Some plod along, muddling their way through.
  • Some are gung ho about carrying on.
  • And sometimes we’re stuck in limbo, unwilling to give up but too scared to continue.

Many, many writers had to work up the courage to send out their first story to beta readers or their first query to agents. And sometimes those moments don’t stop.

We might still have to work up heroic levels of courage to enter a contest, hit publish on a book, or wander into reviews to find good ones for pull quotes. We might shudder before our first booksigning. Or we might have a panic attack before attending a writing conference Every. Single. Time. (Er, or maybe that last one is just me. *smile*)

The brilliant Courtney Milan, a historical romance author, once shared on Twitter that she’d put off something on her to-do list for a year because of her fears. That horrible thing she had to do? She had to call someone on the phone and make a request. *raises hand in introvert solidarity*

We Can’t Let Obstacles Turn into Paralyzing Self-Doubt

In other words, it’s normal to be scared by this writing path sometimes. This is yet another reason the writing community is so important (and awesome).

Surrounded by others, we can learn that we’re not alone, that there are others out there going through the same freak out or experiencing the same worry. The best corners of the writing community include our friends or others helping us with support, a calming voice, or a kick in the pants.

I know I’ve sometimes needed all three. Support is great for feeling that we’re not alone. A calm voice can subdue the panic. And a kick in the pants prevents us from becoming too paralyzed.

My best beta buddies had to step in recently to knock me out of paralysis mode. My perfectionism had shot my self-doubt sky-high. Everywhere I looked, I saw more evidence that I didn’t know what I was doing, and I feared making the wrong decision, until I reached the point that I wasn’t making any decisions.

A little perfectionism can be helpful in ensuring we’re doing our best, and a little self-doubt can help us avoid becoming so overly confident that we’re unwilling to learn new things. But too much of either can hold us back. And too much of both can be paralyzing.

We could probably say the same for other traits. “Analysis paralysis” isn’t limited to perfectionism or self-doubt. Any fears that reach the point of terror are going to have a negative effect on our ability to function.

7 Steps to Overcoming Our Fears

There’s no one right way for us to overcome our fears, but here’s the process I went through recently to snap out of my paralysis.

Step #1: Name Our Fears

Many times, simply assigning a name to our fears can make them seem less overwhelming. Naming our fears is the first step to accepting them because we’re acknowledging they exist and that our lack of progress has a cause.

Step #2: Identify the Aspects Holding Us Back

Here’s where we start breaking our big, overwhelming fear into pieces. Some pieces might not intimidate us as much as others. By seeing the pieces and identifying which ones “aren’t so bad,” we’re making that fear a little less intimidating.

Step #3: Make Progress on Any “Not So Bad” Pieces We Can

If there’s anything—even if it’s little—we can do to make progress on those less intimidating aspects, we might get momentum started. Momentum alone might help us through the next step.

Step #4: If We Can, Make Progress on the Harder Aspects

Now that we have momentum, see if any of the next harder pieces are doable. We might be able to power our way through this fear by taking bite-sized pieces. Courtney Milan announced on Twitter each step she took: She brought up the number she had to call, she set her phone in front of her, she planned her words, etc.

Step #5: No Progress? Call in Reinforcements

Momentum alone might not help us. In that case, we have to reach out for help. Maybe that means doing a Google search to see if others have advice, posting a question on a writing forum for help, or talking through our fears with our family, friends, or writing buddies. As I mentioned above, Courtney gave the play-by-play on Twitter so others could cheer her on with “You can do it!” messages.

Step #6: Try Again to Make Progress

Now that we’ve received support, understanding, a calming word, or a kick in the pants, it’s time to try again.

Step #7: If We Still Can’t Make Progress, Step Back

It might be good for us to gain a bit of distance from the situation. We might need a change of scenery, or we might need a break from thinking about it. We might need to come at the problem from another angle, or we might need to change our perspective.

For me, the kick in the pants from my beta buddies helped. The support from my family helped. But what really made the project doable was changing my perspective on how big of a deal the problem was.

In our stories, we might write life-and-death stakes, but in real life, the stakes are seldom that high, especially when it comes to our writing. It might feel like the end of the world when our “perfect” agent rejects us or a blistering review comes in, but it’s really not a sign of the end of our career. The publishing world has grown and changed so much lately that we can always find another chance, another opportunity, if we want it.

That perspective—thinking of the worst possible outcome and realizing that it still wouldn’t be the end of the world—helped me accept the risk more than anything. That attitude quieted the panicked screams of my perfectionism into something closer to a soft muttering.

Many of us suffer from self-doubt and fear of failure. And that’s the fear that really underlies many of our problems.

We often struggle with taking that first step, no matter how tiny, because that momentum means we’re trying. And once we’re trying, we might fail.

But we can’t think that far out. The big picture is often what makes the problem overwhelming.

Instead, as a certain blue fish named Dory might say, we should “just keep swimming,” as any amount of progress is better than nothing. And once we get past what’s holding us back, maybe we’ll react like Courtney and think the obstacle wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared. *smile*

Do some aspects of writing or publishing scare you, or do you suffer from self-doubt or fear of failure? If something paralyzes you, do you know what it is or why it has that affect on you? What stops you from making progress? Do you know how you could make progress? If you’ve overcome a paralyzing fear, do you have any other advice to add?

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30 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee February 24, 2015 at 10:05 am

The thing that’s always scared me most is success, because immediate family would insist that I’d sought it out of rebellion, in order to prove them wrong, and then still complain about the money, or the hours I was working, or the state of the house, or all three.

Now that I’m far away from them, I still feel that some, because I still love them, and part of me doesn’t want to prove that they’re as foolish as they are…while part of me wants to do earth-shatteringly well in order to prove them wrong. Of course, they’d then claim that they’d supported me all along—and I suspect they’d even actually remember things that way, particularly since they believe harshness & negativity = edifying…

But at any rate, I’ve long been told I can’t do things, and told I’m bad at things I’m actually good at. (For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told I have no sense of humor and no social skills. They changed the humor comment into me having a “very dry” sense of humor, after enough adults retorted to their faces that I did, in fact, have a good sense of humor. I’ve since realized that part of the problem probably was that my family didn’t always understand the words I used.)

I still have to prove to myself that I can make it on my own, much less succeed. I know I can, but emotionally…

I have a self-sabotaging streak, thanks to family. It’s far better than it was, but I still have to consciously overrule it. It’s exhausting.

What helps me is to, every so often, do something that’s a tangible reminder that I can do things, now. For example, I dyed my hair purple right before my long-distance move, because I’d done it once before and discovered that it calmed me. I have a tube of raspberry now, which will likely be going into my hair, soon.

I’ve also started wearing glittery black nail polish, fairly often. It helps.

(I was never allowed to dye my hair even a normal color, much less the bright colors that interested me. And black nail polish? [shudders] I never dared to even try. Even my favorite silvery-blue, years ago, got me pressured into getting rid of it. I stopped wearing nail polish for perhaps a decade. I now can put it on, and it—and makeup—don’t have to be perfect. It’s such a relief!)

So my advice: If the item causing the fear is too big for you to tackle, consider what causes the fear. If it’s a “I can’t do that!” look for something small that you feel you can’t do (but can), then do it.

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Jami Gold February 24, 2015 at 11:59 am

Hi Carradee,

I understand. *hugs* I don’t have the family issues you’ve had, but I think I have a bit of both “fear of failure” AND “fear of success.” No wonder we writers are so messed up. LOL!

I love your advice about doing something tangible to remind ourselves that we can do things, or succeed, or whatever. That’s a perfect activity to do during Step #7. As I mentioned, reaching Step #7 is a sign that we need to step back and gain a new perspective or come at it from a different angle, etc. Reminding ourselves of our ability to succeed at something is a great way to accomplish that.

As you alluded to, our sense of accomplishment with that tangible success doesn’t need to be directly related to our problem. The point is more about reminding ourselves what we’re capable of, breaking the self-doubt chains, and finding momentum in a different way. Thank you so much for sharing your story and that great insight! 🙂

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Davonne Burns February 24, 2015 at 10:06 am

I’ve been facing this for months. I recently posted on Facebook about my current project. It has been daunting and I’ve spent months believing I’m no where near good enough to write something so involved and complicated (even if it is fanfiction). Thankfully, like you, I also have amazing supportive friends and betas.

Breaking it down into smaller chunks has definitely helped. So has taking a break and doing something completely different for a while. I’ve started working on it for a few hours of the morning and then spending the rest of the day with my original work. It helps me feel less overwhelmed.

And realistically these seven steps you’ve outlined apply to our writing careers as a whole as well as individual aspects of it. Sometimes I feel a bit discouraged about even being a writer. I’m fortunate to have a lovely agent but haven’t sold anything yet. Sometimes no matter what we do or how hard we work the sales just aren’t there. This is when I have to step back and remember I write because I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.

Thanks for the great post. I’ll be printing out the steps to pin up on my corkboard so I remember them. ^_^

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Jami Gold February 24, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Hi Davonne,

I’m glad these steps resonated with you. 🙂 As you said, we can encounter fears in many aspects of our life, not just on our writing/publishing path. Knowing how to break overwhelming projects down into doable tasks and how to reach out for help is always a good skill to have. Good luck with your big project, and thanks for stopping by!

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Anne R. Allen February 24, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Great post, Jami! I think these fears hit all writers at some point in their careers–even when they’ve been publishing a long time. And Carradee is right about fear of success. Success catapults us out of our comfort zone, and it’s often scarier than fear of failure.

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Jami Gold February 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Hi Anne,

Great point! Yes, success very much shoves us out of our comfort zone. With both a fear of failure and a fear of success lurking at the edges of our career, it really is a wonder we manage to get anything done. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

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Tracy Campbell February 24, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Hi Jami,
Just shared your blog post with a fellow writer. Awesome content as always.
Tracy

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Jami Gold February 24, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Hi Tracy,

Thanks for the share! I hope this post helps writers know they’re not alone. 🙂

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Kerry Gans February 24, 2015 at 6:37 pm

For me it’s not fear of failure–I’m quite adept at failure! LOL. It’s fear of success. Because success changes everything. A different level of expectations. A new playing field with new rules. Being forced outside my comfort zone. I was ecstatic when I got my book contract, and then all of a sudden it hit me that once that book was out there, things would change. Failure, I’m good at. Change, not so much!

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Jami Gold February 24, 2015 at 6:49 pm

Hi Kerry,

I can so understand that–very insightful about how much success changes our life! Change is often hard to deal with, and you hit the nail on why: new expectations, new rules, and that comfort zone mentioned in the comments above too. Thanks for sharing your great insights! 🙂

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dolorah February 24, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I think I’m still in-between plodding on and limbo. it is hard to go on, but almost harder to stop.

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Jami Gold February 24, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Hi Dolorah,

I can relate to that. 🙂 Good luck pushing through, and thanks for the comment!

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kathy February 24, 2015 at 10:57 pm

I’m fairly new to your blog and can resonate with your words. Although I don’t want to admit it, perfectionism gets in the way of my writing. It’s wanting to do it “right” and usually in the end I don’t do it at all. This has been a pattern for me in regards to my creativity (regardless of the medium). It’s not as strong as it use to be but it’s still nagging at me.

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Jami Gold February 24, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Hi Kathy,

Yes, for the most part, I haven’t let my perfectionism hold me back (at least not long term), but it’s taken lots of practice and pushing through obstacles to get to that point. 🙂 As long as we persevere and push through, it’s just a temporary setback. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Robin February 25, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! I just pre-ordered treasured claim!! I am so excited to get to finally read it, and I’m so very very happy for you, Jami!! 😀

Congratulations!

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Jami Gold February 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Hi Robin,

Thank you! 🙂

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Jennifer McKeithen February 25, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Love this post! Yes, the fear of success freaks me out just as much as the fear of failure. Isn’t that crazy? There’s a great book for that, The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks.

BTW, congrats on your published books! I confess, I was part of the “Wait, weren’t you published already?” camp. LOL! You go, girl!

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Jami Gold February 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Hi Jennifer,

Ooo, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll have to take a look at that book. 🙂

And thanks for the congrats! 😀

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Julie Musil February 25, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Just about everything with writing scares me! But I dive in with gusto anyway 🙂

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Jami Gold February 26, 2015 at 9:35 am

Hi Julie,

LOL! I understand. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

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Karen McFarland February 25, 2015 at 11:17 pm

See, I’m not the only one that thought, wait a minute here. Jami’s already published. But that’s what makes you a wonderful teacher of craft. You don’t talk above other people. You have the humility to include yourself in with everyone else. I think that’s why your posts are so palatable. I cannot believe how timely this post is for me. I am facing another rewrite. Number three. I guess that isn’t uncommon. But sometimes I have to be honest and say, yes, I do feel like giving up. And then, I press forward because I am not a quitter. But I’ll admit, this writing thing is deep. I can only hope that someday, preferably soon, I will get the hang of it. Meanwhile, I have your posts to look forward to. Thank you Jami! 🙂

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Jami Gold February 26, 2015 at 9:38 am

Hi Karen,

LOL! Yeah, I was slow. 😉 And thank you so much for the kind words! I figure the best teachers are those open to learning themselves.

Oh, I’ve made it into double-digit edits many times, so I understand. *hugs* Thanks for the comment, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you! 🙂

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Pat Ireland March 1, 2015 at 12:21 am

Thank you for another awesome post, Jami.

The part of this whole process that’s been scaring the bejeepers out of me is the platform-building in general, and creating a blog in particular.

I had a theme for my blog all picked out. Since my writing has a strong sci-fi component, I thought a blog about the science in science fiction would be interesting… and it might also help me resist the temptation to dump my technological explanations in the middle of the narrative, lol. It only took about fifteen minutes for the analysis paralysis to kick in once I remembered that a bachelor’s degree does not make me “an expert”.

What helped me break through that barrier was realizing that there aren’t many science fiction writers whose day jobs involve claiming a Nobel prize in physics. And there’s no real reason why I shouldn’t write a science blog. I cannot pretend to be some kind of expert, because a real expert will see through that in about five seconds, but I can still share what knowledge I do have (limited though it may be).

And it’s probably time to stop defining “expert” as “anyone who knows more than I do,” because that definition invokes a standard I will never reach, no matter how much I might learn.

So thank you for that much-needed kick in the butt.

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Jami Gold March 2, 2015 at 9:42 am

Hi Pat,

Great insights! I started blogging about writing back when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. 🙂 But I did then what I do now–I share what I’m learning or what’s working for me (or what’s not working for me), and I analyze why. Basically, I share the lessons I’m learning, and I never claim to have all the answers (my comment-prompt questions at the end usually invite people to share their lessons, insights, or whether they disagree with me). 🙂 That kept me from feeling like I needed to be an expert.

I know your situation is different, but in the same way, we discovered that a change in perspective helps. As you said, if you approach it with the attitude of sharing what you do know, you’ll have valuable insights to share (like your comment 😉 ).

And you’re absolutely right about how there will always be someone more knowledgeable than us. I hope I always keep learning about writing. So there’s nothing wrong with not knowing everything. 🙂 Thanks for the great comment!

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Pat Ireland March 2, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Thanks! You always know just what to say ….. 🙂

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Jami Gold March 2, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Hi Pat,

Except for when I don’t… 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Bella ardila March 2, 2015 at 7:46 am

I am afraid that I might died before finishing all of my four books. So after reading this, I might be found solution to forget my fears and keep writing. Because I am already thinking aboutmy final book

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Jami Gold March 2, 2015 at 10:00 am

Hi Bella,

We can never predict the future, but that’s no reason not to try to live the best life we can. 🙂 Just keep writing sounds like the right approach. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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