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How Fear Impacts Your Writing
My friend, Lana*, aspires to become a published writer. She writes occasionally and did have one piece published locally but often wishes she had more time to write. Quite often she justifies her failure to really give her all to her writing by the fact that she is also a parent.
When we talk about our writing, Lana will often say things like, "Well, the kids are more important to me right now. I will write more when the kids are older." Or "With me, my kids come first. They're number one."
None of the children are toddlers or babies. They do not require her constant and immediate attention. All three are over the age of 8 and have become quite independent.
Still she lets her writing take a backseat to everyone else's priorities. Girl Scouts, school functions, sports practices and events, music lessons, and countless other activities that revolve around the kids or her husband take first place. I rarely see her take time out for herself-to write the things she wants to-despite the fact that she always says she really wants to write.
I used to take offense at the way she worded her excuses-"The kids are more important to me" and "My kids come first"-as she seemed to imply that I was putting my writing first and therefore neglecting my children. In fact, it used to really bother me, though I never actually told her so. But deep down I felt that she was judging me for doing something I wanted to do and taking the time to pursue my dreams.
After a time, I decided that perhaps she was actually jealous of my achievements-my ability to get published somewhat regularly and to have a fair measure of success with my writing. I decided she shouldn't be jealous of something she hadn't even really tried to achieve. The fact is, she's written things and then never sent them anywhere. And as all published and unpublished writers know, you can't get a piece published if you never send it in. It won't get seen sitting in a drawer at home. I've sent my stuff in; I've gotten published. How can she be jealous of me if she's never even tried? In return, I judged her somewhat harshly for never seeming to really try.
Now I've come to realize that I don't think it's the kids standing in her way of becoming a prolific, published author at all-I think it's really just fear. And I really shouldn't judge her at all, because we all have certain fears.
The first fear many writers commonly identify with is "fear of failure," but in reality it is so much more. After all, what is "failure" really? "Failure" itself is just a word. The real fears are the fear that we will be rejected, that someone will not think our work is worthy of publishing, that it will be published and someone will ridicule it, or that it might be published and then elicit a negative reaction bringing all sorts of chaos and misery down upon us.
So far, I've experienced plenty of rejection and suffered the blues that go along with rejection as I've submitted my work, but I've survived. I have had some of my work published, so I guess at least a few people think it's worthy of seeing print. I guess I've pretty much laid that fear to rest for myself. And to date, the fear that someone would ridicule my work or that my work would elicit a negative reaction has not yet been justified. I haven't received anything judging me too harshly-yet. But I know other authors who have been far more successful than I, and they've experienced plenty of criticism. It hurts, and there's no getting around it, even when you know it's not justified, and eventually if I achieve my goals, I'm likely to experience that, too. Some of those writer fears are pretty well founded.
Another fear-which seems almost ridiculous, but really is very real for many people-myself included-is the fear of success. Again, the words don't mean a whole lot. But the fears behind the short phrase are really the crux of the problem. Fears like: What if we succeed and by drawing attention to ourselves, we become a target for ridicule and/or hate? What if we succeed once and can never match that kind of success again? We don't want to be one-time wonders. What if we succeed and it changes our lives as we know them-robbing us of valuable time with our family, stealing our right to privacy, and destroying the quality of life we now enjoy? Needless to say, I haven't yet achieved that kind of success, so I need not worry about those fears becoming a reality just yet. But someday, I might have to deal more seriously with those issues.
Sometimes I was amazed-and appalled-at the way it seemed my friend let her fears control her. I really do think that's why she doesn't write as much as she could-not because of her kids at all, but because she's letting her fears take over.
Really, though, I am in no position to judge her. We all let our fears rule us, myself included. We just pick different fears that we let take the upper hand in our respective lives.
The big fear I sometimes cloak in confidence is just as real as Lana's fears. My ruling fear is the fear of what might have been. I write with a passion and commitment because I fear looking back someday and wondering if I could have been a prolific and successful writer-someone who could have written something moving and motivational that would touch people's lives and make a real difference-and knowing that I will never know because I didn't take the time and the chance to try. I fear looking back and finding I missed my chance to find out. I fear wasting the gift I know I've been given.
And so I write. I write to silence my own very real fears, just as Lana may not write as much as she could because of her fears.
Each of us makes our own decisions in our lives to quell our own inner fears. None of us is without fear. And while we may never overcome all our fears and some of them may very well be justified, it is helpful to know what our real motivators-or roadblocks, as the case may be-are. Who knows? Someday you just might get paid to write an article about them. I did.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Tina L. Miller is a freelance writer, the author
of When a Woman Prays