Getting past fear is something every creative has to deal with at some point in their career. In this article, Marissa Frosch walks us through five of the most common writing fears authors encounter – and how to deal with them.
Have you ever watched someone working so hard to make their dreams come true and when an opportunity presented itself, they shot it down? Saying “This isn’t for me.” “It wouldn’t work for me.” or “I’ve tried so many things at this point, I don’t want to try anything else.”
I have. Too many times to count. And more often than not, those people are authors. Authors like you and me.
Why do you think they reject opportunity? They want to be successful, they want to make a living from their writing. But they’d rather come up with excuses than even give it a try. Have you ever walked away from an opportunity? Why?
I was curious about it so I asked my mentor, Tim Grahl. His response was simple.
And as soon as he spoke the word I knew, fear wasn’t only holding authors I knew back from success, it was holding me back too.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized fear was a driving factor in a lot of my decisions.
Before we look at different kinds of fear, let’s take a moment for self-reflection. This is an important step to recognizing what’s holding you back and overcoming it.
Take a long hard look at yourself
I was so busy with “busy work” and not getting anywhere for years. The realization that fear was stopping me not only pissed me off, it helped me open my eyes to what I was actually doing: wasting my time. And as the mother of three, my time is precious.
Ask yourself, is this what you really want?
Do you actually want to be an author? Do you want to reach readers? Change their lives with your words? Do you want to read to a room full of kids words that you wrote? What do you want?
Really stop and figure this out. What do you want? What is your definition of success?
Fear is a powerful force and it comes from inside you. You need an equally powerful force to get past it.
By the time I sat down with this question and really considered it, I was two years and six books into publishing. So I wondered, what would I do if I wasn’t writing, publishing, and helping authors? The answer for me was, I’d still be writing and helping other authors. So why stop publishing?
Different Kinds of Fear
Once you’re positive you’re on the right the path for you, you need to start paying attention to yourself. Look for those moments when fear is stopping you and figure out A. What you’re afraid of, and B. How to overcome it.
The following are common fears among authors.
1. Fear of judgment:
How to overcome it: Seek it out. Ask for those reviews.
Then you have two options. You can be smart and not read the reviews. Have someone you trust keep an eye on them and give you any relevant or helpful feedback.
OR you can be like me and read them all. And then read your favorites a few more times and after the hurt is over you could go back and look for the bits of constructive criticism usually lurking in critical reviews (at least the ones by normal people and not trolls).
[From Joanna: Fear of judgment is definitely one of my biggest issues! Check out my video on it here. ]
2. Fear that you’re not good enough:
This one goes beyond judgment. It’s the fear that you as a person are not good enough and don’t believe you deserve to be successful. The fear that because you don’t have an MFA or a marketing degree, you somehow don’t deserve to be successful in this field.
This one is harder than most of the fears listed because it goes so much deeper and takes so much more than a mindset shift to get over.
How to overcome it:
This is a negative mindset and you need to rewire yourself towards a more positive one. This can be done with a little exercise where every time you catch yourself in a negative thought, think of two positive things about yourself or the situation.
For example: If you’re at an event and you haven’t sold a book all day, you might be inclined to think “They can tell I’m self-published and don’t have a degree. I’ll never sell a book here.”
Instead, think about the interactions you’ve had, the other authors you’ve met. Find some way to put a positive spin on the day. Even if it’s just that at least you were able to get out of the house that day.
Here’s a video Joanna created to help you deal with self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
That being said, if you have a little (or not so little) voice in the back of your head that is constantly putting you down or saying you’re not good enough, you should seek help from a professional.
You need to retrain your brain and learn how to love yourself for who you are and all that you offer the world. Don’t suffer, get help and start living the life you were born to live.
3. Fear Your Book Isn’t Good Enough:
Anyone ever felt this way? Me too. When you worry that your book isn’t edited properly or the cover is wrong for your market, these are things you need to pay attention too. But the fear that you didn’t write a good enough book, or it’s not done is whole other can of worms.
How to overcome it: First off, is this fear founded? Have you received feedback that your story is unrealistic or has a ton of typos? Are all your reviews negative or leaning in that direction? Is your book just not selling?
If you answered yes to any of these, it might be time for your book to get a makeover. I recently took down my first and second in series and redrafted the first one and I’m looking into new covers.
Why? I knew something was off from the start but when I found the Story Grid by Shawn Coyne I figured out what.
With this tool, I pinpointed what my books were missing and wrote significantly better drafts. This is a slippery slope that can lead to always fixing and never publishing. So if you decided to do this, set specific measurable goals before you start tweaking. Give yourself deadlines and stick to them.
As for your covers and editing, take the time to find an artist/designer and editor you really like and trust–and who creates on-genre work. I’ve been through several editors and have found that some are definitely better than others.
Check out this video Joanna made about finding and working with an editor for more information.
4. Fear of Failure:
This one is incredibly common among authors. Some authors don’t even tell their friends and family they’re publishing a book because they don’t want to have to tell them they failed if things don’t go perfectly. (This excludes people who don’t tell their family out of concerns for their safety.)
How to overcome it:
My approach was a bit counterintuitive but works for me. I told everyone what I was doing. Everyone. Because every time someone asks me how things are going, if I can’t say well or really well, it strengthens my resolve.
Not everyone is like me though. So another option is to start keeping a journal. Set small time-based goals and track them. Inch forward. That way when someone asks you how things are going, you will have a list of all the positive things that have happened and what you’ve actually accomplished.
Talking about it with other people can help you realize how far you’ve come. I rarely feel like I’m doing well until my husband points out my accomplishments, so don’t underestimate the power of talking things through with other people.
That said, make sure you surround yourself with supportive people, and while in-person support is best, a virtual supportive community can make a world of difference.
5. Fear of Success:
This might seem odd but it’s also pretty common. Success is the unknown for authors. Will you sell lots of books and then drown in the pressure to write another good one? Will you have people wanting to make movies and agents wanting to represent you and all those eyes just watching and waiting for you to screw up?
How to overcome it:
The unknown has a pretty good stranglehold on me. I’ve found resolving to do a little bit each day, is the best approach. If you feel the anxiety of other people’s expectations creeping in and holding you back. Take a baby step forward.
Nothing stops me faster than when someone says they enjoy my work. I hate it. For me, this fear manifests as writer’s block. I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing when it’s starting to settle in. I allow myself to write 500 words a day in any project I’m inspired to write.
If 500 is too much for you, start with 150, 100, or even just 50 words. Just don’t let it stop you. Name it, recognize it, and put it in its place until you’ve done your work for the day.
On a larger scale, these are the steps you can take to overcome fears and blocks.
Write down your why
This is why I told you to think long and hard about what you want. Put it where you can see it every single day. You want this thing bad enough you’ll be able to face even your most crippling fears.
Don’t just leave it at that, reevaluate your why often. Every three months or so. Make sure it still drives you forward on the really hard days.
Resolve to inch forward one day at a time
You’ve figured out your why now figure out some SMART goals. I like to have quarterly goals because I write down my yearly ones in January and then forget about them until December. Which is not helpful at all. But you need to do what works for you. I’d just recommend checking in monthly or quarterly no matter which you choose.
Figure out a system to you to your goal and beyond
Goals are a great way to motivate yourself into action but systems will actually get there and beyond. Again it’s about inching forward. Find something that works for you.
For example, if your goal is to sell a certain number of books in a certain time frame, you’ll need to do outreach. Rather than sitting down and reaching out to 100 influencers in one day and getting burnt out. Have one day of outreach. Plan to send 2-5 emails and then have another day dedicated to following up with the previous week’s emails. Small steps.
If you do two things a week to reach your goal that’s 110 things a year. You’ll get there before you know it! It’s just important to find what works for you and your schedule.
Continually and cautiously step outside your comfort zone
Once you start facing your fears, it gets easier. So keep doing it. You’ll find new fear crop up in the old fears places but they’ll be much easier to handle.
Don’t give up!
Keep doing it and you’ll find the success you’ve been looking for is a lot closer than you think.
Is fear what’s getting in the way of achieving your dreams? Stopping you from reaching your definition of success? If you think it is, take a moment to identify it. If you know what kind of fear it is, what exactly you’re afraid of, you can change it.
Change it by taking small steps. Face your fear and change your life. I dare you.
[Note from Joanna: For more on conquering the fears that might be holding you back, check out The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Author Journey.]
Are there fears that are getting in the way of your writing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Marissa Frosch is the founder of Raven's Quill Publishing. She got her Associate’s Degree in Marketing from Southern New Hampshire University in May 2018, is a Certified Book Launch Coach trained by Tim Grahl, and is working on her Story Grid Editor Certification.
After working co-founding Amphibian Press and working there for five years, Marissa started Raven’s Quill Publishing. Be sure to download your free Author Platform Guide. Marissa also writes fiction under the name Cameron J Quinn.