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?Pin It