Learn to Live with Writing Fears and Doubts

“When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick skinned, to learn that not every project will survive…. A life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”

— From Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech.

Welcome to lesson nine of the Writer Starting Guide series. You’re so close to the end!

In this lesson, I’m going to talk about writing fears and doubts, and how you can manage them.

I had originally planned on titling this post “How to Overcome Writing Fears and Doubts.” But the unfortunate reality of being a writer is that you will never stop feeling fear or doubt. There is no “how to” when it comes to this subject. There will be no time in your writing career when you’re suddenly over your fears and doubts.

Famous authors still feel impostor syndrome. They still get frustrated with the quality of their first drafts. They still struggle with writer’s block.

Why am I telling you this? Do I want you to start crying and drowning your sorrows in a tub of ice cream because you’ve lost all hope?

Of course not.

I just want you to know that every writer has stumbled. Every writer has failed. Every writer has wondered if they were good enough. Every writer has wondered if they were a “real” writer. Every writer has hated their work. Every writer has had their heart broken by a bad critique or review. Every writer has received a rejection. In fact, every writer has received many rejections. Rejections are badges of honor. Only the bravest of writers receive them.

I just want you to know that fear and doubt are part of the writing game.

You must learn to live with fear and doubt. You can manage them. Fear will probably tell you that you can’t. Doubt will tell you that you’re not good enough—other writers are better! But you can tell them to fuck off. You can tell them: “That may be true, but I’m going to try anyway.”

And that’s the key: To truly overcoming fear and doubt is to accept that you never will. Acknowledge fear and doubt, recognize them when they rear their ugly heads, but don’t let them control you.

Now I could go into a big long list of how you can learn to live with fear and doubt in your life, but that’s already been done. Writer’s Digest has a fantastic post on how to harness fear. The Write Practice has this encouraging post as well. And Lauren Sapala has all sorts of posts on the subject on her site. Check out this one, and then scroll to the Related and You Might Also Like section for even more.

The best advice I can give you is this:

  1. Give yourself permission to fail. Give yourself permission to write badly. And when you do fail, or write badly, learn from it. In fact, celebrate it! That’s the only way you’ll keep getting better.
  2. Always remind yourself why you want to write.

Challenge Yourself!

Write down all the reasons you want to write and tack them up somewhere visible. Any time you feel fear or doubt, take a look at your list. Remind yourself why you want to write. Remind yourself why you love it, and why it brings you joy.

Having a hard time coming up with reasons? You’re more than welcome to steal a few of mine!

  • I love words!
  • I love reading!
  • Art makes me happy!
  • Thinking up stories is fun!
  • I have something important to say.
  • I want to help people.
  • I want to bring joy to others.
  • I want to entertain others.
  • I want to teach others.
  • I have all these stories in my head and I just have to GET THEM OUT!
  • Finally, not writing is worse than writing. Trust me, I’ve done both.


That’s a wrap!

It’s been real, it’s been fun. Until next time, writers.

Be sure to catch the final lesson: Your Write-Life Balance (coming soon!)

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