Monday, October 17, 2011

Fear of Writing

The single most important drawback to a writer’s success is fear. Fear of criticism from one’s peers or condemnation from the general public. Fear of negative reviews or of spending a year or more writing a book that doesn’t sell. Fear of hiring an agent who won’t send your book to the right publishers. The list is endless.

Fear is a natural human response, especially when you step off into unknown territory such as a new genre, new publisher, new editor. Even bestselling authors fear losing their readers. So how does a writer overcome those fears?

By believing in your abilities and talents. Persistence or staying power must be a tool in every writer’s bag. Marcel Proust couldn’t finish his epic Remembrance of Things Past until his mother died because he feared hurting her feelings. How many other books have been set aside and never published because writers feared repercussions?

The writing profession kindles fear and involves taking risks but writers have to come to grips with their fears and channel them into their work such as thriller novelists who produce chilling stories for their readers. Writer Greg Lavoy advises fellow scribblers not to ignore fear. “Whatever is suppressed not only has power over you, but will help create obstacles to continually remind you of what you’re hiding from, where you feel you don’t measure up, and whether you don’t have faith in yourself. Success often has as much to do with finding what is standing in your way as with talent or persistence.”

Just as plugging in a night light for those who fear the dark doesn’t eliminate fear of the dark, only the darkness, not sending out submissions to new publishers only eliminates fear of rejection. It also eliminates the ladder to success.

The poet W.H. Auden said, “Believe in your pain. Take it seriously, know that it has meaning and utility, and that it grows a powerful kind of writing.” Unfortunately, most of us will do everything in our power to avoid fear and rejection so we don’t learn from it.


  1. Excellent post, Jean. We writers really do experience a lot of fear at various stages. Check out our theme of "fear" at the Blood Red Pencil for the rest of this month. Jean Henry Mead posted in BOOK PLACE.

    Jean Henry Mead
    12:51pm Oct 17
    My article, "Fear of Writing" is up at


  2. Sorry Jean, the link got confused, BRP is at

  3. Thanks for the post, Heidi. If anyone is interested in pursuing the subject further, check it out at the BRP.

  4. Fear is a terrible inhibitor of creativity. When our work is published, we writers are invariably putting our necks on the chopping block. Criticism goes with the territory. We just have to accept that our work will at times be rejected and/or criticized. We must continue to express ourselves regardless.

  5. I couldn't agree with you more, Jacqueline. We writers have to develop thick skin.

  6. It's strange how much easier it is to believe in our characters than to believe in ourselves.

  7. That's very true, Sheila. Our characters are able to do things we're afraid to do ourselves. :)

  8. Taking Sheila's observation one step further, perhaps that is why we DO write. To conquer one particular fear, even if it creates additional ones. And here we thought our characters were complicated!