Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fear of Failure

   "If you never try, you will never fail, but if you never try, you will never succeed."

   "Show me a person who has never failed, and I will show you a person who has never accomplished anything."

   "Failure is success if we learn from it."

   "Failure is nothing but an opportunity to learn from your mistakes."

   Why is failure so terrifying? Fear of failure is the number one reason that aspiring writers kill their own dreams. Some don't even realize that their writer's block or stalling tactics are a fear of failure. I recently read an article on the subject* and it gave a list of behaviors that could help a person recognize a 'fear of failure' in themselves. I looked through the article and then applied the traits and behaviors to the ways they might manifest in a writer.

Never Starts 
   For some this might manifest as telling themselves they couldn't possibly do it, even if they've never tried.
   There's also a common malady among genre writers that has killed many a young novel. We call that one world builder's disease. These writers might plan a novel for years without ever writing one word of it. Over planning can derail even non-genre writers however. Knowing your characters is good. Knowing that their third-cousin's cats eat Purina's 'Yummy Tummy Tuna Delight', and that her best friend's great uncle had a drinking problem and spent 6 months in the Betty Ford clinic, not helpful.Unless the third-cousin lives with her, and has 18 cats... that might make for a funny short story actually.
   Another type of 'never starts' is the person who sits down in front of a blank page and freezes. They want to write but they don't know WHAT to write.

Starts but Never Finishes
   There are a lot of this type.
   People who rewrite the first chapter over and over.
   People who get half way finished, decide it isn't any good, and start over.
   People who get half way finished, decide it isn't any good, and start something else.
   People who get half way finished, decide it isn't any good, and just quit.
   People who get writer's block.
   People who wait for "inspiration".
   People who procrastinate.
Finishes but Never Shows Anyone
   This type is rarer than the others. These people have finished a novel, maybe even several, but they're too self-conscious to let them out into the world.
   The over-editor falls into this category as well. This person finishes the rough draft but never seems to be done "fixing" it. They rewrite, change, and tinker to eternity. They just never quite seem to be able to let their work out of their hands.

Let's Rejection Become Truth
   This type can happen anywhere along the route to writing a novel, during planning, working, or upon completion. Someone says they can't do it, or they aren't good enough, and the person takes it to heart and gives up. It might be a teasing friend, a nagging spouse, a critical beta-reader, an uninterested editor, or even the writer's internal critic, but someone says something that destroys the writer's confidence... and they give up.

   I can't say that there's one universal fix. For some people it helps to imagine their goals. For others that seems to paralyze them. For some people it helps to set themselves 'rules' like... "Write for x minutes every day" or "Only do x number of edits" or "Only spend x number of hours planning a novel". But some people don't work well with rules or can't seem to follow them.
   I only know what works for me, and I have had almost ALL of these self-sabotaging problems at some point, so here's my secret... just write. Forget all the other crap. Forget about people maybe not liking it. Forget about how long it's going to take. Don't worry about the fact that you don't know what you want to happen in chapter 35 when you're still writing chapter 10. Don't stress over the AWFUL paragraph in chapter 2, you can fix it later. Because no one will ever like it if they never get the chance to read it. No matter how long it takes, a finished novel is still an accomplishment. Once you get to chapter 35 you'll find a way to fill in the hole in your timeline, just trust yourself. You'll get the chance to go back and fix those broken pieces but if you never finish, then it doesn't matter anyway, so just write. For now, at this exact second, don't worry about any of that, just write.

Jimmie Hammel

*Fear of Failure article at

P.S. I would also like to say that after scanning through several articles on, I actually subscribed to their Newsletter. It has been years since I subscribed to anything, ((I think the last one was for OfficeMax sales and coupons)) but Mind Tools offers loads of really helpful tips and tricks to keep yourself focused, and motivated.

Post a Comment