Writing Fears…How I REALLY Feel

I think I’ve talked here before about how, in The Critiquer’s Survival Guide, I’m making up excerpts from “not-so-good” books, to use as examples. (I also have excerpts from real books, but those are for the better examples!) Anyway, today I was playing with a bit of text for a pretend self-help book called Overcoming Your Writing Fears. I didn’t have to come up with a lot of words, just a few paragraphs. I sat for a few minutes, thinking & imagining, and the muse answered my call.

The wicked, evil muse who sounded an awful lot like some vicious, boot-camping, pep-talking villain, the kind with a get-over-it attitude and butt-kicking motivation technique.

This is NOT me. Okay, it was kind ofย  fun to write, and I think it’ll stay in the book, but it also started me thinking about how (and why) I really deal with my writing fears. To be honest, this is a relatively new question for me. Call me cocky, but for years I pretty much wrote along, thinking I was a decent-to-good writer, learning my craft and putting words on the page. Then, as I started getting “closer” to the real thing, to submitting to agents, to getting contracts, to sending some of those pages off to an editor–the fear started to show up.

It’s not a fear of whether I can write. It’s, not much, anyway, a fear that I can’t write well. It’s pretty much a fear/worry that I will keep writing and writing and never “make it.”

Which is pretty silly, when you think about it, considering The Critiquer’s Survival Guide is scheduled to come out this fall. ๐Ÿ™‚

Silly, or not, the fear is real. As are all our anxieties about our skill and “success.” So how do I deal with it?

Well, mostly I try to be kind to myself, but not too kind. I don’t beat myself up for the days I make less progress, and I don’t try to press-fit myself into the computer chair with a big shoe horn, when it’s clear the shoving will only be painful. But when I take a break, especially if that break is from fear, I try to make that time useful. I get up and exercise or I tidy up some of the mess in the house that’s been driving me crazy. (This is different from procrastinating by cleaning–if I’d been doing that, the mess wouldn’t be there in the first place!)

And I bring myself back. I try very hard not to spend more than one day, other than the weekend, away from SOME kind of writing. I know that the best way to make progress onย a manuscript is to keep it at the front of your mind, and every 24-hours that you are not working on it is another layer down in your brain that you have to go down to dig it up. And because I know that staying away from the writing never feels good; it just feels frustrating and tense and makes me angry at myself. Even the fear is better than that.

That’s pretty much the how. The why–the reason I try and work through (or with) my writing fears–is perhaps even more important. When I look at the problem, when I face the fact that I am afraid and worried and too full of doubt, I have to ask my question. And that question is: With all this, will you, can you stop writing?

There is only one answer to that question for me: No.

So, if I’m going to write–and I am going to write–then I have to come back, fears or not, to the novel or the picture book or the nonfiction project. Because that’s the only way I’m going to get the flip side of that fear–the delight, the magic, the power.

I’m not alone in this fear, and neither are you. Here are a few more posts on the subject, some words from a few more writers.

And another post popped up today (Thursday)–must be that time of the year!

What are your writing fears? How do you handle them, to make sure you keep moving forward on whatever your writing path may be?


  1. Amy says:

    Hi there,

    First of all, thanks for the link! I truly appreciate it.

    Second, your experience with writing sounds very familiar to me. There are days when it is simply better–healthier, perhaps–to do something else. I find indulging in some visual art really helps. I live in the city, so occasionally I’ll take the subway to the art museum and just stroll. It seems to fill up my creative well. A really good movie on DVD can also help. I was very inspired recently by seeing Joan Didion’s play “The Year of Magical Thinking.”

    Like you, I find cleaning to be a cleansing break from writing. Going back to work with a clean house feels so…. right!

    When I’m at the computer writing, and I feel that fear kick in–what you describe is familiar to me, the idea that one will write and write and never achieve anything–that’s when I have to be bold. I find objectifying the inner critical voice–seeing it as “not me,” and telling it to shove off, makes me feel powerful. I feel lighter and better able to concentrate.

    Enough from me–have a great day!


  2. beckylevine says:

    Hey, Amy–thanks for stopping by. Yes, most days I can tell the voice to just go away. Every now & then, though, it sneaks up on you & until you fnally think, OH! That’s what’s going on. Then, again—just tell it off. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Andra M. says:

    The wicked, evil muse who sounded an awful lot like some vicious, boot-camping, pep-talking villain, the kind with a get-over-it attitude and butt-kicking motivation technique.

    I wish my muse was like that. Unfortunately she’s lazier than I am.

    Fear and doubt are my biggest (and most tenacious) enemies, but like you said: With all this, will you, can you stop writing?

    There is only one answer [little spelling boo-boo] to that question for me: No.

    Thanks for the links. I can always learn more ways to beat down the fear and doubt monsters lurking in the back of my mind.


  4. beckylevine says:

    Having to write something “bad” seems to be a great way to let in a dancing muse! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good luck with the doubt monsters.


  5. pjhoover says:

    I’m laughing because I never voice my fears. Maybe that’s my fear: to voice my fears and give them life.


  6. Shawna says:

    Thank you so much for the links. It is nice to know I’m not alone. My fear is not so much that I can’t write, it’s that I can’t write well enough to succeed.

    But I have a driving need to write so I’ll continue writing and learning. And if nothing else happens, at least my children enjoy the stories I write for them.


  7. beckylevine says:

    PJ–Hmm. Maybe they’re just not there! That woudl be fantastic. ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. beckylevine says:


    I know its native to say that success is in the writing, but the bottom line is for me, I’ll write whether or not I get that other–published–success. So I should stop streessing TOO much about it. ๐Ÿ™‚


  9. Vivian says:

    Ha! You’ve hit my fear right on the head. Hopefully far into the ground so it won’t pop out again. The fear that nobody is going to want to read what I write.

    So I’m going to throw this fear straight to the curb. Right now. Because, PJ said it well. No need to give this thing more life than it needs.

    Timely post! Thanks!


  10. beckylevine says:

    I want to read what you write!

    Get rid of that fear–yay! I’ll do it with you!


  11. free2cr8 says:

    The moment I decided to commit myself to writing – my fears surfaced. I was afraid of being turned down, criticized, not taken seriously, and producing work that only I (and family & friends, of course) would want to read.

    How do I keep my fears in check? Well, I hate not trying and now that I have the desire to succeed I can’t stop. So, I use my fears to push me to work harder and improve my skills. And for every negative thought I come up with I find two reasons why I should continue writing.

    Why? Because no matter how frustrating the process I enjoy doing it and I can’t imagine leaving it behind. I’ve been bitten by the writing bug – and I love it!


  12. beckylevine says:

    That’s it–its the commitment, isn’t it. Even if we thought we were committed before–that’s when it really hits, when we TRULY get there. That actually makes me feel better! ๐Ÿ™‚


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