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Writer Anxiety

Things Writers FearWriters are brave people. We hang our hearts out on the line every time we show our work to someone, whether it’s a family member, an agent, or a reader. Working with and rising above fear is the dividing line writers who write and writers who plan to write.

Today we’ll look at some of the common fears writers face. Next week, we’ll look at the symptoms or the ways those fears present themselves. The more you know, and the more you understand you are not alone, the easier it will be to address and move beyond anxiety.

The fears we face:

Fear of failure: The anxiety of starting a new project without knowing if we will be successful in writing something decent and good hits us all.

Fear of starting: Facing the blank page is an anxious moment for many writers. Margaret Atwood said “Blank pages inspire me with terror.” Part of this is not knowing how to begin. Part of it is the realization that, as soon as we start writing, we have to face the fact that what we will probably never do justice to the story in our head.

Fear of judgment: We write from places deep inside and from our own emotional experiences. That leaves us feeling vulnerable when we let others read our work and our inner truths. It’s a fear of exposure.

Fear of silence: Nothing is worse for a writer than to hear “that’s nice” or worse . . . nothing. It’s hard to pour ourselves into the words on the page when we don’t know if the story will ever be read or appreciated.

Fear of comparison: So many times we fall into the trap of comparing our first drafts to the polished work of another writer and feel our skill and talent will never compare favorably.

Fear of the unknown: First time writers also cope with anxiety of the unknown. First stories involve feeling our way through the process for the first time. The first time we publish brings its own set of anxieties.

Fear of delivery: Once a story is written, edited, and polished, publishing writers face the moment of commitment to releasing their work out into the world. This can involve fear that the manuscript contains missed errors, that it might be judged wanting, that no one will read it, or that whatever hopes and dreams we have as authors and for the story may not (and probably won’t be, in most cases) realized. Another term for this is “fear of delivery.”

Fear of success: What if we have a breakout novel? What if we surpass our expectations? Then the pressure is really on.

Fear itself is not a bad thing. In fact, the more you fear a story or scene, the more it is likely to contain something powerful, something true. Writers live with anxiety. The writers who are actually writing have learned either to overcome that anxiety or have learned to use it.

Fear and anxiety are universal for writers and creatives. You are not alone. Talking about it helps. Having writer friends helps. Acknowledging the positive benefits of fear helps.


How have you overcome fear in order to write?


7 thoughts on “Writer Anxiety

  1. To be honest, I don’t think that I ever really overcome fear. Rather, I accept its presence, live with it as a companion instead of a foe, and acknowledge that it is a natural entity that accompanies every writer in some capacity. Just because fear exists, which it certainly does, doesn’t imply that it needs to control our actions. It’s certainly easy to say, and monumentally more difficult to do. But, so far, it has helped me to continue the creative process and keep my levels of anxiety at a semi-manageable level 😉

  2. Definitely having a friend/editor/proofreader/beta-reader who can be objective enough to give good feedback is crucial to my ability to conquer my fears. Few of us are able to conquer such intense fear without outside help of some kind. With writing, I need outside validation since my own never seems to help. Once I have an objective opinion, I’m much more capable and ready to take on the rest of my writing.

  3. My biggest fear is that when people tell me that they like my book they are only doing it to be nice. *shudders* I want honesty, especially if it sucks. How else am I supposed to get better as a writer. When my first book came out, I nearly had an anxiety attack. I was so afraid that no one would like it and I was afraid that they would tear it apart. But you just have to take a deep breath and jump in. Otherwise, you’ll never get to experience anything.

    • It’s an eye opener, the first time you publish, for sure. But until you do… You’re absolutely right. Jump in. 🙂

  4. Pingback: What Writer Anxiety Looks Like | The Sarcastic Muse

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