top of page

The Fear of Failure. Or Success.

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Fear. It can be crippling. Especially for the writer.

Literally, fear of failure can make an author stop in their tracks, abandon finishing their novel or short story and shrink them into a moping, unsatisfied and depressed mess. Even published ones. So can the fear of success -- what if this is the story or novel that gets me noticed, wins a prize or a publishing contract? What if I can't meet the deadlines, the schedules become too overwhelming. What if I lose my talent?

That's on top of all the other self-doubt you drowned in when creating the piece -- this is rubbish; who will want to read this, let alone buy it? However, if you got to the end of a first draft, and certainly if you got to the end of a second or third, you really should pat yourself on the back. If you submitted a piece, even if it's imperfect, have a lollypop. You've got guts. Some writers never even get to that point. Some writers have a multitude of stories whirling away in their heads, but they never get around to putting those ideas down on paper (or screen -- whatever). This is the fear of failure in the extreme.

It's self-rejection.

Don't do it.

Every writer does, at some point. It's inevitable to some extent unless they're a complete narcissist. It's a conversation that's cropped up quite a bit recently, in my own circles. As soon as you hear of another writer not writing, not submitting, complaining they lack motivation, you realise that, hey, it's not just me! There's some comfort in that, and I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. Reach out to another writer, if you are suffering from this incapacity, and listen to their tales of woe, too. What do they say? Misery loves company? Not that I wish for any of you to be miserable -- far from it.

So, today is about dragging you out of the quagmire if you find yourself unable to face the page, unable to contemplate how you're going to execute this huge story rattling around in your head. Especially because NaNoWriMo is looming and October and November is the best time to get back to the wheel while so many writers are actively online and creating.

First, understand that big, abstract ideas need to be concreted in tangibility. Focusing on the more micro details can act as your friend and tie those balloons floating around your head to the ground. You can't incorporate details until you know who will shoulder the story, and thus you need a main character.

Draw up a character profile of them and each of your main characters so you know who you are writing about, what motivates them and what dictates their decision-making process. How detailed you make the profiles is up to you.

If you have a complex magic system or society or interplanetary politics it might be worthwhile drawing up a sheet for that, too.

It's not necessary to write out an exact plot summary prior to writing the story scene. Just keep in mind the major events. You can write down four major plot points on a piece of paper without breaking into a sweat. Do that and take it from there.

Then, bum-in-seat every day and write about the characters interacting with your setting and other cast members while following your plot. However, be flexible and allow the plot to change if it is more in keeping with your character's nature. Focus on the items and people in front of them, while keeping in mind the major plot events you are working towards. As I say, the smaller details are key to anchoring your ideas.

I repeat, because it's the most important part, it boils down to good old-fashioned bum-in-seat. If you do not sit down each day with a real commitment to pushing yourself through this, well, it won't write itself. That might seem like a hackneyed line, but it's the truest I ever heard, so accept it and get your head around the work involved. Embrace the idea and it won't seem so hard. Even if that means staring at a blank screen and writing nothing by the end of your writing time, eventually your brain will connect that time of day is creative time. We are hardwired to problem solve, so your brain will kick into gear to find solutions at some point.

Essentially, though, stop over-thinking it and just write. If it's rubbish, so what? You are the sole reader of your text at this point and you can change it whenever and however you wish (though, I advise writing a full first draft before you do so). Getting the initial idea down is just the first step, the magic happens in edits where you can put every single sentence, paragraph, character and event under the microscope and genetically engineer it.

If you really need a push, sign up to NaNoWriMo and write that first draft in November while you have other people around to gee you on. It can be very therapeutic for those who fear getting it wrong. Lose the fear and get on with the joy of writing. As someone once said (don't ask me who)

Writing is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride!

If you have no confidence in your ability to write, maybe take a class and see how you go. A learning environment expects you to succeed through trial and error and to help you along the way while boosting your confidence. You should be able to get some feedback on what you produce that will give you some insight into where your strengths lie and help you to understand what areas need the most work. Subscribe to my blog and get a free class on basic story structure and see how you fare.

As with life, talking yourself onto believing you cannot do it instead of asking yourself how to solve it only leads to one outcome: not doing it. This is true of the small but enormous task of getting that bum-in-seat as well as plot and character conundrums. If you shy away they never get resolved, the story never gets finished. The more application to the chore, the more focused your mind becomes and the more likely you will reach the end.

Just remember the mantra: bum-in-seat, bum-in-seat, bum-in-seat...

Hope to see you on the other side!

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


From Penned to Published

Get your tailored plan to authorship. Take the quiz and discover your best next steps!

Plotting planner fear & ambition character-driven plots. Creaete a full outline for your novel.
Learn some quick tricks to boost short stories in the slush pile with Anvil & Ink online class by the Storysmith
Forging Description Online Writing Workshop 1 Beginners Class with Anvil & Ink by the Storysmith.
Smelting Personas Online Writing Workshop 2 for Beginners  Class with Anvil & Ink by the Storysmith.
Character Profile Fillable PDF Worksheet
Structural Manuscript Assessment for novels.
Development Manuscript Assessment for structural and line editing.
How to write a novel synopsis full guide
bottom of page