Fear: The Writing Killer

Faucet handle with fear written on itAh, Halloween night—that smorgasbord of creepy creatures, cute kids and sugar, sugar, sugar. And then there’s All Saint’s Day, following immediately on Halloween’s heels, belching out its loads of kids who’ve been up too late, walked too far and eaten way too many Butterfinger Minis. It’s this post-ween, All Saint’s Day hangover that puts me in mind of this week’s topic:


Many of us writer-types and other creative folks know it.

Fear is self-doubt. Sylvia Plath said “The worst enemy to creativity is selfdoubt.” Nothing is more demoralizing than believing at the outset that your work isn’t going to be any good. After all, if it’s going to be lousy, why bother? If you’re a writer or any other sort of artist, you’re always wading into unknown waters with nobody to help you. Confidence, or at least recklessness, is something you need, or you’ll just dither at the edge of that water, never getting anywhere.

Fear is writing for something outside yourself—approval, for example. You can’t be afraid that writing just to write isn’t worthwhile. To sustain the effort required to complete a novel, or even a short story, you need to enjoy the process for its own sake. If you’re writing to make Mama proud, to make money, to attain fame, you’re likely to peter out.  I’m not saying that Mama’s pride, money and fame are intrinsically bad, I’m just saying they don’t come first. The writing comes first and all these other things follow in its wake – you hope

Fear is the blank page, paper or electronic. I often think of the Robert Benchley essay in which he writes “The” on a blank page one morning, screws around for the rest of the day, then at quitting time writes “hell with it” there and goes home. That blank space, waiting for your words to bring it to life, is an intimidating creature, but you’ve got to at least put “The” on it to get started. Better yet, free write (or write a guest post for me… I could use the help).

Fear is the inability to say “no” enough to enable your writing. We’re all so important, aren’t we? The world will surely come to an end if we refuse a party or a volunteer assignment. Maybe it won’t, though. There are plenty of kind ways to say no—just Google “how to say no.” I tried it and got about 400,000,000 results. If you don’t say “no” enough to make time for your writing, guess what won’t get done? The world will keep spinning without you; your friends and family will live. Try it.

Fear is the inability to say “yes” to your writing, to give yourself permission to do it. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m putting my priorities in the wrong place. Shouldn’t I be working harder at my job? Shouldn’t I volunteer more at my church or my son’s school? Aren’t these things worthier of my time than writing fiction? All I can say is, while I could certainly contribute in other areas, I don’t feel called to them. I feel called to write and to make art. Your calling comes from God, or the universe, or from your innermost being—whatever you name it, the call has to be answered or you’ll simply wither, and that’s no good for anybody. Take it from someone who withered for years before answering—take that call.

I’d be interested to know what fears try to douse your creative spark and how you deal with them. Please feel free to leave a comment here or send me a Twitter message at @coolcarsoncraig. Thanks, and happy fictioneering.

4 Replies to “Fear: The Writing Killer”

  1. I fully understand! My biggest fear is that no one will love my stories as much as I love them. I may be passionate when it comes to my writing, but It’s always crippling to my creative-mindset to worry about whether or not others will enjoy reading my work as much as I loved creating it. But, just as you say, it’s always best to push through those doubts and continue doing what calls to you–otherwise, how will you succeed if you don’t continue?

    1. Hi, Ellie. Thanks for the comment. It’s hard sometimes (often?) to avoid getting caught up in thoughts of your potential readership or lack thereof. Now that I’m older and a hair wiser, I’m a great believer in focusing on the joy of the creation over everything else, and it sounds like you’ve got that, so no matter what the fate of the work with other people, nobody can ever take that joy away from you. A musician will play for hours in an empty house, just for fun; why shouldn’t writing be the same way? Keep going and best of luck to you!

  2. My fear is that it won’t be good enough, or that no one will want to read what I’ve written.Your post hit all the nails right on the head, great work 🙂 I don’t think we really notice what we are afraid of until someone put those fears into words.

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