How Fear Prevents Writing

How Fear Prevents Writing

One of the most frustrating aspects of writing for anyone, beginner or vet, is the moment when the novelty of a new story or article that has been floating around in your head pushes forth and demands to be written.

Many writers stumble at this point in time. I’ve done it both in school, while writing novels and short stories, and even recently while writing my political column at But what is it that causes writers probably more than any other profession, to hesitate?

Over the years I’ve noticed many people decide they want to write. I think it has something to do with the proliferation of cooking shows. Both writing and cooking are things we do on a daily basis, at least most of us do. And thus I think people who’ve written emails, Facebook posts, witty remarks on Twitter, or even seminar papers in grad school, tend to think if they can write a little, writing a lot would be no different. It’s the same with cooking (I swear I’ll end the analogy here). But people assume that because they can cook dinner and not burn it that they may be the next masterchef.

Both assumptions are wrong.

And both assumptions are rooted in the idea that because you can do something that you can also do it at a professional level. In the case of the writer, many people believe all they need is an idea and a few characters (maybe a theme or setting for good measure) is what they need to write a good book.

But then they start. And being inexperienced most people fail pretty close to when they began writing. After all most people have no experience writing novels. They have that one BIG IDEA they want to express but lack the ability to do so. And they quickly realize this. And away to the corners of the computer goes the story.

So I want to tell people in that similar boat – I wasn’t that different than you that long ago. I’d written extensively in graduate school (studies history, lots of writing there) and had many good ideas for books. But every time I sat down to write I stopped.


Was it writer’s block? No I don’t think so. I had the ideas and characters in my head. I knew the plot, at least what I had written down of it. But I couldn’t get the story out to save my life. I though maybe I wasn’t well read enough to write fiction. So I put off the novel for a year while I read one book per week in the world I intended to write (this was a fantasy novel I wrote circa 2010, and no it will never see the light of day).

At the end of that year I sat down again to write, and again nothing came out. I’d read many books on writing, knew the exercises, and understood that all I needed to write was what Jim Butcher calls “butt in chair time.”

Then one day I had what you might call an epiphany. I was failing to write not because I was afraid of failing, but because I was afraid of succeeding.

See, failure means nothing. People fail at things all the time, but most of us learn that we have to cope with failure. The key lesson is this: you will fail, and you will get over it. Nothing changes through failure. But success? Now that’s a different story.

I realized I was afraid of succeeding because success can change your life. What if the book was good, what if I got a publishing contract, what if I ended up going on a book tour, what if… I became even a little bit rich or famous?

I was unprepared to deal with all that, though it is a part of a writer’s life as much as spending time in front of a keyboard is. So I started an interesting exercise that might work for you too. I began using my real name on thing internet related. I came out of behind a curtain and showed my name to the world.

And it was liberating. Over time I built up a network of people I could talk to about writing (and politics). And I became secure. When people would comment to me on Twitter or a blog I was writing for, it gave me a rush. And those little jolts of adrenaline that come with someone recognizing and appreciating my work, gave me the confidence to get over my fear of success.

I’ve since written two full length novels, a collection of short stories, and have begun writing for a popular website. And I’m not afraid of success anymore.

So if you want to write as anything more than just a hobby, I would suggest you take inventory of your emotions and determine if all that procrastination you’re doing stems from fear of failure or the fear of success. Name the beast, then slay him.