Fears of the Writer

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” — Frank Herbert, Dune

That’s easier said than done.  Let’s crack open some of these little-deaths, and see what’s squirming inside.


I’m afraid I will fail.

This is the broadest, most insidious fear.  We all face it.  It can debilitate us in nearly any endeavor.

How does one fail as a writer?  I think there are lots of steps along the way.

  1. Get an idea for a story, but never start.
  2. Start the story, but never finished the first draft.
  3. Finish the first draft, but never edit it.
  4. Edit it, but never show it to anyone.
  5. Show it to people, but never submit it for publication.
  6. Receive rejection letters, but never get over them.
  7. Get the story published, but no one ever reads it.
  8. Finish the first story, and never start the next.

All but one of those points of failure are within the writer’s control.  That’s comforting.

Really, the only way to fail is to give up.  Surrender is far worse than rejection.


I’m afraid that I will succeed.

This one might sound a little strange, but I do worry over what can happen if I manage to get a book out and in front of readers.  My life will change.

For starters, I might feel emboldened to quit my day job and focus on writing.  That would make me very happy… unless I turn out to be a one-hit wonder.

What do you do if your dream comes true?  Will I still be motivated?  Will I continue working as hard as I’m working now?  What if I discover that I’m miserable writing full time?

It’s basic, raw, uncertainty.  I’ve faced this tentacled monster before at different stages in my life.  The good news, at least for me, is that this kind of worry doesn’t impede me anymore.  If I succeed, but the success is short lived?  Then I’ll enjoy what I can, and move on to the next thing.

Success is often whatever you define it to be.  So define it as a nice place to be, then go live there.


I’m afraid that I’m not a real writer.

I’ve talked about this kind of fear before, and I’ve pointed at a quote from Neil Gaimon to support it.

It’s not just a lack of confidence.  Confidence can play a part, but there’s more.  Perhaps if I define what a “real writer,” it will make more sense.

A real writer…

  • Knows what they’re doing.
  • Is good at managing their time.
  • Writes every day, or almost every day.
  • Has discipline.
  • Knows people that can help them with the business of writing.

Looking at my description of what a real writer is, I’m just seeing a list of things I wish I was better at.  I didn’t make any mention of having talent with words.  I’ve got that.  I didn’t mention how a real writer is passionate about writing stories.  I’m passionate.

We all can do better.  We all have some ideal that we try to measure ourselves against.

Having listed out what I think a real writer is, I know what I need to do.  I’m going to work on one of those attributes each day, and see where that leads me.  And, if I’m still afraid I’m not a “real writer,” well… I’ll take some comfort knowing that I’m not the only one that suffers from this fear.

6 thoughts on “Fears of the Writer

  1. Um…under fear of failure…Could you take number 5 off the list? It’s making me uncomfortable 😉 I totally get the “A real writer” fear. I had it for years. One day it went away. I woke up and realized, I am a writer. I may not be an author, but in no uncertain terms am I a writer. I realized this when I started going back to cons last year. I had no discomfort saying it. Judging from your work, Brian, I think you should get comfortable calling yourself a writer, too. The author thing…a whole ‘nother hurdle.

    1. Yeah, a lot of those things I listed for fear of failure aren’t going to apply to everyone. It depends on what the writer’s goals are.

      I’ll edit it later so that it says, “Here are the ways I could fail.”

      As for calling myself a writer… I say it now, but with qualification. I say things like, “I’m a full time programmer, part time writer.”

      After November, if I succeed with NaNoWriMo again, maybe I won’t feel like I need to qualify it quite as much.

      Thanks for commenting!

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