Fear is a friend and an enemy. It can protect us and keep us safe. But it can also keep us small, preventing us from stepping up and out.
For many years, I let fear stop me from writing creatively. I was afraid of what people would think or say, and afraid of failure and success.
I was terrified that I would never achieve my dream of being an author. But also paralysed by the doubts that I wasn’t good enough. Who did I think I was wanting to be a writer? Who’d be interested in what I had to say?
Eventually, in my thirties, I overcame the fear of putting pen to paper and worked hard at improving my craft. I studied for a degree in English literature with creative writing modules, took lots of courses in novel and short story writing, and completed a master’s degree in creative writing. I had work published. I wrote a couple of blogs that readers seemed to enjoy. But I lacked consistency and self-discipline. Despite making a living through writing, I never really believed in myself.
I felt frustrated at not getting to where I wanted to be, but deliberately kept myself small — procrastinating, not finishing work, and on those rare occasions when I’d publish a blog post, I’d never shout about it.
It took me a long time to realise that my fears were stopping me from becoming the person I wanted to be. I was stuck, and that is, without doubt, the worst place to be.
Looking back, it’s like I was waiting for someone to grant me permission. Perhaps I was waiting for the miraculous moment – sometime in the future – when a literary agent or publisher would pass through Barnsley, looking for writing talent. I’d be picked from obscurity and catapulted into literary stardom (with a bidding war and a multiple six-figure advance, obviously).
It wasn’t going to happen. And the clock was ticking. I turned forty in 2019, and then along came the global pandemic, and I realised that life is short, and I had to get going.
Rather than waiting for one of the gatekeepers to pick me (and I’m not sure how they’d do that when I’d never submitted), I decided to choose myself.
Putting my book out into the world was scary. People could read it and say things about it, and they might laugh at me. But the doubts and fears of doing it were nothing compared to the fear and sense of failure I’d feel at not publishing it.
To help ease my fears, I thought of the positives. Some kind readers said my words had resonated with them throughout the pandemic. Others said the stories made them laugh. That was enough.
I accepted that the book wasn’t perfect, and instead focused on the fact that I was making progress. Progress, not perfection, is something I remind myself of every day.
I asked myself, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’
That no one reads it, or they read it and hate it.
I asked myself, ‘what’s the best that can happen?’
That people read it and enjoy it.
Then I asked myself if either of those scenarios were to happen, would I be able to cope? And the answer was yes.
Finally, I thought about what would happen if I didn’t take the leap. Nothing, that’s what. Absolutely nothing would change. I’d still be frustrated and feeling like I was failing.
Publishing my book was the first step in taking action towards my dream of becoming a full-time author. I’m a long way from where I’d like to be. But sometimes making a start is enough to feel you’re winning, or at the very least, gaining some momentum.
My fears haven’t gone away. I don’t think they ever will. My inner critic will forever sit on my shoulder telling me I’m rubbish. But I’ve learned to acknowledge and then ignore her. She’s trying to keep me safe and small. And I’ve spent far too long playing small.
Has fear stopped you from achieving your writing goals? How do you manage your fears? Let me know in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org