In last week’s blog, I asked you, what is holding you back from investing in yourself as a writer? I touched on something that I believe is a big issue for all creatives – fear of failure.
Do you remember as a child being given a blank sheet of paper, and a pencil, with the invitation to draw something – anything? At some point, I went from a child freely expressing herself with wonderful scribbles, to the paralysing fear that what I tried to draw would look ridiculous and so I said, ‘I cannot draw,’ and I believed that for many years.
In my forties I signed up for an adult education class called, Drawing for the Terrified. I discovered to my amazement that when I learned to relax and enjoy the process I could draw. We are all capable of achieving astonishing things if only we would open ourselves up to those possibilities. Fear of failure can prevent us from pursuing our goals, as we stop trying or unconsciously undermine our efforts.
Oh, the angst of writers! We are our own worst enemies.
I have a friend who would write a novel until it was 80-90% complete and then abandon it and start another. Her computer must have had at least ten incomplete novels. Eventually, she worked through her fear of failure and I am pleased to say that she is now completing and publishing one book after another – with great success.
Looking for perfection
It is good to take pride in your work so that it shines, but to take this too far can be another indication of fear of failure. I am a bit of a perfectionist myself. I have to commit to a deadline or I would never let go of a book always believing that it could be better. Of course, it could always be better, but whilst we concentrate all of our efforts on that one project there are others that will never see the light. I know of one writer, who has now sadly passed away. She dedicated years and years to writing the one novel, it was never quite good enough. Sadly, that novel has not yet been published. Life is too short to wait for perfection.
Publishing a book without any promotion
This is a common one. The Indie author who works hard to write a book and self-publish then as soon as it is out there – runs for the hills! When it doesn’t sell they might lament the lack of marketing opportunities for Indie authors, or attribute the lack of sales to not being able to afford fancy promotion, etc. This is a good example of subconsciously undermining one’s efforts.
Sending just one or two query letters to agents before giving up
Fear of rejection is the worst, but we all know as writers that we have to develop a tough skin. I hated sending out query letters and waiting for a response. Every rejection feels personal – it reinforces our fear of failure. I think the writer’s wisdom is that you receive about one hundred rejections, whether they are from agents or publishers, before getting that treasured YES. So, start counting as every rejection is taking you closer towards your goal.
Sometimes you can feel like the child I described at the beginning of this post, sitting staring at a blank screen terrified to write in case it’s no good. There are ways to overcome this and stimulate the flow of creativity, perhaps a topic for a future post, but sadly some writers turn away from their passion saying ‘I can’t write.’ One writer recently shared with me her distress at not being ‘good enough’ or ‘writing like she was meant to.’ This writer was trying to fulfil other people’s expectations of what her writing should look like and that is a sure way to kill creativity.
Overcoming the fear of rejection
Overcoming the fear of rejection takes courage and some inner work. Understanding where that fear comes from is a good place to start. Sometimes an early life experience can contribute to these feelings. I can pinpoint the first time I felt the impact of disappointing my parents. They wanted me to attend a certain secondary school. I attended an interview and was pleased with my performance. At eleven or twelve years old I wasn’t worried about the interview and neither was I too concerned about getting into that particular school – but pleasing my parents was of primary importance to me. I remember my mother’s face when she came into my bedroom one morning with the rejection letter. She was very disappointed and having been present at my interview went on to do a post mortem of my failure to impress.
We are afraid of failing because:
- We worry about what other people will think of us
- We don’t want to disappoint the people we love and admire
- It will prove we are just not good enough
- It will end our dream of success
It doesn’t matter what other people think. Those people who love you just want you to be happy and always have your best interests at heart. My mother did that day when she read out my rejection letter. If fear of failure stops you from pursuing your dream then the only person that you are disappointing is yourself. Confident people know that they will not always succeed at everything that they try but it doesn’t stop them from having a go.
How to succeed
Recognise your fear of failure and understand the cause. When you have acknowledged it, accept the feeling for what it is, and move on. It may always be with you but it doesn’t need to control how you act.
There are so many things that we cannot control as creatives: getting an agent, getting published, receiving good reviews. All we can do is give ourselves the best possible chance of success by learning from others who have achieved what we are working towards and modelling our behaviour on what has worked for them. Control the things that are within your power and let go of those that are not.
Have a vision of where you want to be but set small achievable goals. This could be as simple as sitting down to write for fifteen minutes a day. Congratulate yourself on achieving each small task as one by one these will lead you to your goal.
Do not attach yourself to one particular outcome, for example, signing with a literary agent and publishing your book traditionally. There are always many options, you just have to be creative. Sometimes we have to try several different things before finding the right path.
When things do not go as you hoped see what you can learn from the experience and then try something else. You have not failed, just have just got a little closer to your goal.