As a writer, what are you afraid of? Many new writers have fears because they don’t know yet if they can succeed. But even experienced writers have fears. Most writing fears can be grouped into three categories: fear of failure, fear of rejection (and these two are different), and fear of success.  I’d like to talk a little about the difference between the fear of failure and the fear of rejection as well as how to determine which of those three you may be dealing with.

A fear of failure is when you don’t think you’ll make it because you believe your personal efforts, skills, achievements, and so forth aren’t good enough to help you reach your goals. The fear of failure is very inward based and points directly to your personal efforts as a writer.

When you think about reaching a goal or making it as a writer, do you have doubts that say you can’t because of an intrinsic ability or characteristic? Do you look at your shortcomings and think they’re going to hold you back? Granted, we all have insecurities when it comes to our writing. But if they great enough to keep you from thinking you’ll ever succeed, you’re likely dealing with a fear of failure.

A fear of rejection is more outward based. This fear believes that even if you do your part others in the writing world will reject you and cause you to fall short of your goals. This may take the form of a publisher not being interested in your book or magazine article, or other writers not being accepting of you for whatever reason, or the writing industry not ready for your writing style or approach.

Many writers are actually way ahead of their time, and industry influencers aren’t willing to take a chance on them, so they get rejected. It’s only those writers who can rise above this fear of rejection and remain persistent who will eventually find their way.

To combat the fear of rejection, it’s imperative to learn not to personalize the rejections. Often books and articles get rejected, even if they’re well written, due to market trends, budget constraints (for books), topics that miss the mark, etc. You must approach each project realizing that rejection is a very real possibility and have a plan of action in the event you are rejected. Maybe you can re-target that article or send it to a different magazine. The more market research you can do before submitting any work, the greater you’ll decrease your chances of rejection.

Determine beforehand that you will not take the rejections personally. Use them as a learning tool to see how you can improve next time. I had a writer friend who used to say she’d visualize each rejection letter as a stepping stone that was paving her way to being published. I thought that was a great image to keep in mind! So, if you’re adequately confident in your own ability to succeed, yet believe there are “forces” “out there” that are going to stand in your way, you’re probably up against a fear of rejection.

“[Fear of success] is definitely a sign that we’re running out of fears. A person suffering from fear of success is scraping the bottom of the fear barrel.” — Jerry Seinfeld

I laugh every time I read that quote. But for many people, this is a very real fear. In my earlier post on the fear of success, I go into detail on ways to overcome it based on getting at the root of what you’re really afraid of. For now, I’d like to simply identify it so you know if it’s affecting you.

When you think of succeeding, are you happy about it? Do you have a sense of accomplishment, of satisfaction, of joy when you see yourself succeeding? Or, do you have a sense of dread, of anxiety, or uneasiness–even if you can’t put your finger on why? Most people with a fear of success can’t really identify it as the culprit, maybe because they think it’s absurd. But being successful launches you into the unknown–and fear of the unknown is a very strong fear.

There are various roots to the fear of success, but if you have any negative reaction or emotion to the thought of succeeding, then you’ll have to look further and find out what about success is making you wary. Because, regardless of what fear it is or where it comes from, it will absolutely paralyze you as a writer and create roadblocks you may not even be cognizant of. Your fears will ultimately become self-fulfilling prophecies that dictate how far you will go as a writer. It’s worth checking into!

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted about writers’ fears,but if you’d like to learn more about conquering the fear of failure as well as the fear of success, please take a moment to read those articles.

“[Fear of success] is definitely a sign that we’re running out of fears.

A person suffering from fear of success is scraping the bottom of the fear barrel.”

— Jerry Seinfeld

Is this true? Should fear of success be validated as a genuine fear? For many, it certainly is enough to stop their dreams dead in their tracks. Where does fear of success come from, and why is it so damaging?

I’m certainly not a psychologist, but from hearing other writers’ stories of how fearing success has slowed their writing progress, I think I can maybe shed some light on this interesting phenomenon.

It seems one of the biggest reasons people fear success is that it means they’ll have to take on more responsibility and more work. I believe there’s something built into us that wants to take short-cuts whenever possible, and we realize that when we’re successful, there’ll be more work involved. As writers, this may mean we have to hire others to help with the administration, financial, or marketing aspects of our job. Or, it could just mean that we’ll have more clients and more people requiring our services, which in turn translates into more responsibility. Although this is a good thing financially speaking, for some, they don’t want to have to put forth the effort required to maintain this level of responsibility.

Another issue I’ve heard from writers is the fear of the unknown. Most people are not big risk takers, yet they realize they must take risks to reap rewards. Success is never risk free. The reason something is considered a risk is because we have not experienced it before or because we feel our investment in it may not pay off. In terms of writing, if we do become successful with our novel or by becoming a sought-after article writer or speaker, what then? We’ve never been there before, so we have no idea what it’s going to take to keep up the status that others have bestowed upon us. What if we don’t live up to their expectations?  What if we can’t follow up our bestselling novel with another?

A third reason for fearing success is the thought that success may change us negatively. While this is certainly true for some who have achieved success, it does not have to be the norm. I know people who have said they’re afraid of wealth because they don’t think they could manage it wisely. Others feel success would bring out the worst in them.

While these are all valid fears that people have, it seems like they’re all symptoms of deeper root issues. If you are one who struggles with a fear of success, it would probably help to dig deeper into your fear to uncover the true root of the problem. Is it that you don’t want additional responsibilities that success may bring? Is it that you need to honestly evaluate your risks involved to see which ones are hindering your progress? Or, maybe you lack confidence in yourself in specific areas, which leads you to believe  your character would somehow become damaged if you were successful.

Fear of success can be just as paralyzing and real as the fear of failure, only for different reasons. If you are one who has experienced the fear of success, I would love to hear your story and how you’ve learned to overcome it.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose

the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

— William Shakespeare

Procrastination is an obstacle writers must learn to overcome at some point along their writing journey. But what lies at the root of procrastination? Often it is fear–either fear of failing or fear of succeeding. Let’s talk first about the fear of failure.

As in any profession — even life in general — fear of failure can be detrimental, even paralyzing. Many people never achieve their dreams because they’re afraid to take the risks necessary to accomplish them.

If you’re a writer, you must approach the fear of failure practically, and ask yourself, “If I don’t succeed, what’s the worst that can happen?” Usually that answer will include retruning to your day-job full-time or finding another career, and only writing as a hobby. But…what if you do succeed?

The benefits of being successful will, no doubt, far outweigh the effort and risks involved. Keeping your “eye on the prize” should provide enough motivation to keep you writing.

But, if not, take the following steps:

1. Write down everything you can think of as to why you’re afraid of failing.

2. Now, think of ways you can minimize your risk involved for each thing you just wrote. What are some practical steps you can take to minimize your risks? This may involve tightening your budget or setting aside some extra money for those rainy days. Or, maybe you can minimize your risks by investing in your writing career with classes or by attending conferences.

3. Next, develop a step-by-step plan of action along with specific and measurable goals for your writing. Where do you want to be in 6 months? 1 year? 5 years? And, how do you plan to get there?

Having a vision and a blueprint for developing your vision will go a long way to help you minimize your risks, and therefore, conquer your fears. Sometimes, the big picture is just too overwhelming to consider all at once. So break that picture up into smaller frames, tackling them a little at a time.

Take baby steps of faith, one day at a time. Before you know it, you will be well down the path to becoming a successful writer.

Next time, we’ll look at mastering the fear of success.