August 25, 2016

Is Fear Hurting Your Writing Dream? — Guest: Jenny Hansen

Close-up of fear-filled eyes with text: Are Fears Holding You Back?

For those of you who have asked, I’ll share a quick health update before we get into today’s guest post…

Some of you might have heard about my emergency surgery a few weeks ago, which removed a re-infected chunk of my jawbone. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if the surgery removed all of the infection this time, and antibiotics alone haven’t been enough.

So this time, my surgeon and I have been doing All. The. Things. to try to fight whatever might be left of it. Many of you gave suggestions (Thank you!), and we’re trying most of them.

Considering how problematic one of my antibiotics was/is, I’ve been willing to try just about anything. While that antibiotic is very good at getting deep into bone, it works by changing the vascular structure of cells.

Its side effects on my body have ranged from difficulty breathing (after just a couple of steps) to pulling muscles, tendons, and ligaments just by sitting (yes, really). There’s not much that can make you feel quite as pathetic as pulling your shoulder when simply unplugging something from an extension cord. *sigh*

Anyway, now that I’m off all the antibiotics, I’m hoping those side effects will fade, but it’s all a (very) slow process, and it might be years before we can say for sure whether the infection is gone. In the meantime, my wonderful friend Jenny Hansen is here, helping me out with a fantastic guest post.

(And if others have guest posts they’d like to share and help me out during this long, difficult recovery, send me a note through my Contact page. Thanks!)

Most of us suffer from self-doubt, and today Jenny’s sharing her insights about hanging on to our writing dream through all the doubts and fears. Please welcome Jenny Hansen! *smile*


Enemy Number One of the Writing Dream

by Jenny Hansen

Open notebook with quote: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty and the power of their dreams. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Dreams are a funny thing. Some nightly dreams fade in the morning rush and some scorch our consciousness forever. Then there’s the waking dreams. Dreams that are really wishes we keep tucked inside our hearts as we journey through our days.

Writers excel at these waking dreams. We chase them every day as we put our fingers to the keyboard. Waking dreams are our constant companions—so real we can see them, so fragile we worry they’ll break.

I watched Tangled the other day with my daughter. She loves the music and the movement and will sit, mesmerized, through this whole story of Rapunzel. This particular Disney movie rivets me too, and do you know why?

Tangled is about dreams.

Chasing them, the fear of achieving them. . .and the wistfulness of letting old dreams die. From the beginning of the movie, when the dreaming baby is stolen, through songs like “I’ve Got A Dream,” Disney is punching this dream theme home.

There’s a scene just before the end of Act 2 that perfectly describes the funny, capricious nature of dreams:

(In the boat, Rapunzel sighs)
Flynn Rider: (noticing the look on Rapunzel’s face) You OK?
Rapunzel: (whispers) I’m terrified.
Flynn Rider: (softly) Why?
Rapunzel: I’ve been looking out a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what it might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything that I dreamed it would be?
Flynn Rider: It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is? What do I do then?
Flynn Rider: Well that’s the good part, I guess. You get to go find a new dream.

This scene sums up why so many writers trip over their dreams:

Reaching for your dreams is scary.

It takes some serious nerve to lay your heart open and shout to the world, “This is what I want more than ANYTHING.”  To throw your “all” into the fray and reach for a dream takes guts and—something I struggle with—patience.

Because dreams don’t happen all at once. They take baby steps forward, twists, turns, and diagonal crossings up one-way streets. Dreams take time to achieve. LOTS of time, which is a commodity most of us are short on.

This fear hides in all kinds of strange disguises—fear of failure, fear of success, fear of public embarrassment, fear of Spanx…

Oh. That’s just me. (Seriously, have you ever tried to get out of those suckers?) *shudders*

Why is it scary for so many of us to do this thing we love? How does our traitorous psyche manage to kick our butts so soundly?

Because we worry.

We creative types worry about the darndest things! And we often allow that worry to defeat us. Chuck Wendig wrote a post over on TerribleMinds where he nails this phenomenon: Writers Must Kill Self-Doubt Before Self-Doubt Kills Them. (Run and read that, all worry-warts…we’ll wait!)

So what do writers worry about the most? An informal Facebook survey showed these as the Fearsome Five:

  1. What if I write the book and nobody buys it?
  2. What if I write the book and everybody buys it…can I be that brilliant again?
  3. What if I can’t meet the deadlines of a publishing contract?
  4. Who would want to read what I have to say?
  5. When I say what I have to say, they’ll know who I am.

Writing is personal. Super personal. For most artists, if our work is found wanting, it feels like we are being rejected too.

How is the worried artist supposed to cope?

I am a huge fan of titanium panties.


Seriously, just strap on your Big Girl (or Boy) Titanium Underpants and do the next thing. For myself, if I stop and think about the fear, I’ll hyperventilate. I have to keep going, even if I work on something different than the thing that’s scaring the crap out of me.

What have I observed other writers doing when things are in the crapper? When rejections roll in and plots stall, when blog posts bomb and the WIP rises up like a scary beast?

  • Friends and family are great when the going is rough.
  • Some days wine is a requirement. Ditto for chocolate.
  • A supportive critique group is amazing.
  • A writing network is priceless. This could be your local writing chapter, online groups like or NaNoWriMo. Maybe you’ll like Twitter communities like #myWANA, #ROW80, or #1k1hr.

Dreams are important and scary and real. Chasing them is the hardest game in town. But we are WRITERS. We’re not sissies. Certainly we’re not quitters.

We have morning coffee, writing pals like Jami Gold and Janice Hardy, and Titanium Underpants. We’ve got this.


About Jenny Hansen

Jenny HansenBy day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes news articles, humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell (where undies are a very hot topic), Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm.

(Note from Jami: If you’re not familiar with it, the Writers In The Storm group blog offers lots of great writing advice!)


Thank you, Jenny! This whole post applies to me on so many levels (fear of failure and of success? *raises hand*). Fear can hurt us and our dreams in many ways.

For example, we talked about fear #4 (“Who would want to read what I have to say?”) in regards to feeling like a fraud. That fear might hold us back from marketing or promoting our work or a dozen other ways.

But, wow, #5 of the Fearsome Five list (“When I say what I have to say, they’ll know who I am.”) really resonated with me. Like many, I want people to like me, and we can fear that if people knew us—really knew us—they’d discover how flawed we are and not like us anymore.

I can’t even imagine all the ways that fear might hold us back. Maybe we decide against meeting people in real life at conferences or book signings. Maybe we stay away from social media where we’re supposed to be ourselves. Maybe we write less-risky (and less-authentic) stories.

However, Jenny is right. Sometimes the best way to get over our fear is to find ways to not think about it. We can stay busy and work on the next thing, and we can not let the fear paralyze us. *smile*

Does it scare you to chase your dreams? Which fear resonates the most with you? How do you deal with the fearful part of chasing dreams? What do you do when it’s time to make a new dream? Jenny would love to hear your thoughts down in the comments!

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Kat Morrisey

Fear gets me every time. It’s the reason I think…no, I KNOW…that getting book 2 is taking so long. I’m terrified of that entire list of the fearsome five and could hyperventilate just thinking about it. I would say for me, #1, 3 and 5 are the worst. They can stop me in my track sometimes and I become so unfocused and freaked out I have to step away from the MS. Which is bad cause I really just need to send it to a few more betas and get a cover. *sigh* Fear sucks. 🙁

And that’s the problem–I think about it, too much. I need to just do it.

Jami, I hope you feel better soon; and Jenny: great post and ideas to beat back the fear. Knowing that other writers suffer these same fears, it’s comforting in a way. It makes me feel way less alone in this terrifying career so many of us are working hard to succeed in.

Jenny Hansen

Kat, you are certainly not alone. I think we all get scared about one of the five things (or all of them on THOSE kind of days). It’s paralyzing.

I usually call a friend and ask for them to meet me for an in-person sprint session, or I go to Twitter. #wordmongering #myWANA #1k1hr and #NaNoSprints are all pretty reliable spots to find someone to help me get out of a slump.

Kat Morrisey

I used to do a lot of sprints on twitter then I got in the (bad) habit of not taking a break at lunch. I need to get back into wordsprints during my lunch hour–I’ll get back to #1k1hr, #wordmongering and #row80 (and any other I can find LOL) to get my habits back in the RIGHT direction!

Jenny Hansen

You go, girl!!!!

Jenny Hansen

Jami, thanks for letting me visit your comfy digs over here! I’m ready for a great chat. 🙂


I think getting stuck in my own head is my problem, and it’s hard to get out of it. I can psych myself out BEFORE I’ve even started– if I just don’t think about it– it might be a piece of crap, but it would be a DONE piece of crap, and is’t that what editing is for anyways.. ?

It does freak me out that people might either buy it or not buy it.. both success or failure.. coming or going…. I think all artists must feel this way at some point, right?

Great post by the way- it’s nice to know that I’m not alone, thanks Jenny and Jami…

Jenny Hansen

Lolly, I have that same issue. A. Lot.

Margie Lawson’s course on Defeating Self-Defeating Behavior was a good one for me because when I get on that hamster wheel. I due was she says – I make a list of the three things I must get done that day – often really small important things like making a time-sensitive phone call. Then I make what she calls a Super Star list of no more than three more things. There’s something to be said for changing the narrative from “To-Do” to “Can Do” and “Super Star.”

And I think that all arty brains are going so fast that we psych ourselves out more than the average bear. Keep going!!

Kat Morrisey

Oh I like this idea! I am going to have to try that next time I’m stuck in one of the Fearsome Fives. 🙂

Kassandra Lamb

Where do I get a pair of those titanium panties? They are awesome!

That fear of success is one that sneaks up on you. I still have it in my head that my second book isn’t all that great, because I was convinced at the time that it couldn’t possibly be as well received as the first one was.

Jenny Hansen

Aren’t those fun? Kass, h0w is it that success is as feared as failure? I think it’s becauuse people fear change. Success brings change, no matter what you do. And I hope you get over worrying about the books after #1…they are all looking great! 🙂


“When I say what I have to say, they’ll know who I am.”

This. I’m working on a novel right now which has a rape scene in it. So my fears come out as “What kind of person thinks of things like this?” and “What will ‘they’ say about me for writing this?”. I’ve had to just *breathe* and stay focused on the *why* of that scene. (Why is this scene necessary? Why do I need to show it?) Plus, I feel it’s challenging my craft, to get as much across in as few words as possible, because who really wants to read a detailed, drawn-out rape scene, if the details aren’t truly necessary?

I’ve handled that fear by remembering this: You can’t please ALL of the people, ALL of the time. Since that’s true, I’ve decided to write what the story *needs* and let the chips fall where they may. Today, at least. Tomorrow’s a whole new day to conquer my fears.

Jami, I’m so sorry your health has been sp troubling for you lately. Please take care of your gut (intestinal health) and take a probiotic daily. You want the MOST organisms possible, so you can get your gut to a healthy position sooner. Antibiotics, for all the good they do (and they do!) are hell on the intestinal tract. I’m thinking of you and I hope your health improves.


Jenny Hansen

Anne, as much as I miss my mother, there is a piece of me that was happy that she was gone before I started writing seriously. I didn’t want my mom to read a sex scene! Or any of the other darker things I write.

That part of the writer thing is rough – if you write erotica, people think you’re a sex fiend, thriller writers must be twisted, etc, etc. You just go on and write what those characters tell you to write. My money is always on them. 🙂

Deborah Makarios

Titanium Panties… seems even more uncomfortable than Spanx, to be honest. I might go with the Style Crone instead: “With the right hat and the intention of overcoming fear, anything is possible.”
I think my biggest fear is that I’ll do the best I can and it will still suck, and who will I be if I can’t be a writer? Thanks for the encouragement, Jenny – and Jami, all the best for a speedy and permanent recovery!

Jenny Hansen

LOLOL, on the Style Crone. I sure do like that title. 🙂

Have you ever seen Maureen Johnson’s video, “Dare to Suck.” I’ve included it here because she explains it the best, that “sucking is just part of the writing process. You go from ‘suck to good.'” That’s just the way this thing rolls. Don’t be afraid of sucking for a little while – it will ALWAYS get better, and it can always be fixed.

Deborah Makarios

I’ve never seen that before! And now I feel better 🙂 Thanks!

Jenny Hansen

Isn’t she fun?

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hmm I don’t really fear that no one will like my stuff because I know that STATISTICALLY, someone will like it, haha. My firm belief is that every book will have both its likers and haters, so there’s nothing to worry about; just make sure you keep training up on your skills and edit your books as much as you possibly can (you’ll have help from beta readers and editors too.)

Sometimes I fear that readers will know about the “dark sides” of me through my stories; but on the other hand, I don’t take that fear seriously because I’m pretty sure all my readers have seen far more shocking things, haha. They would probably be unfazed at anything I have to show about myself, lol.

Jenny Hansen

You are so well rounded! I worry that no one will like my book. Or they will think I moonlight as a porn star (my book is set in a clinic that provides health services for the adult industry).

That’s why it’s so important to enjoy the writing, so we get what we need out of it, no matter what. 🙂

Clare O'Beara

Thanks for the guest post. I don’t watch Disney (or Star Wars) so I skip over anything relying on having watched their films, but I read the rest.
If you get rejected, go publish your own work. Kindle.
If your blog posts don’t get comments, blog no more than once a month; because you are wasting good writing time, and you could be doing something far more interesting, which would give you material for a blog people want to read.
If you are afraid of reaction and rejection after publishing, make the book as good quality as you can, then publish it assuring yourself that only a few people will read it anyway, and Go Write The Next Book.
I agree with poster Anne who says you can’t please everyone!

Jami, best wishes for your return to health.

Jenny Hansen

Thanks, Clare. I didn’t watch much Disney before having kids, so I’m a bit envious that you can avoid it. 🙂

I think you’re right that a blog is supposed to come after the writing time. I use mine as a warm-up, or Morning Pages, to my regular writing. It puts the fun part of my brain in the front.

Karen McFarland

Rapunzel: …What if it’s not everything that I dreamed it would be?
Flynn Rider: It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is? What do I do then?
Flynn Rider: Well that’s the good part, I guess. You get to go find a new dream.

And that’s the key. “You get to go find a new dream.” It doesn’t matter if our dream is everything we thought it would be nor not. Life changes. We change. So our dreams or goals are naturally going to change or need to be adjusted. Very rare is the life that goes according to plan. And that’s when the anxiety sets in. The frustration of those dreams or plans not taking place when we thought they should, gosh darn it. But here’s the cool part. We “get to go find a new dream.” Wow, I really like Flynn Rider! Thank you Jenny Hansen!! And of course, Jami for being such a gracious host. My best wishes are with you girl. I hope you have a speedy recovery. ((Hugs)) 🙂

Jenny Hansen

There was a post on WITS a few weeks back that talked about “finishing the book” woes. Kelly Harms said, “It takes as long as it takes.” That’s been the hardest part of the writing dream for me – how long it takes to get there.

We can do this…with patience, flexibility and a good sense of humor. 🙂


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