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In Which I Talk About Myself and Fear

Recently, two of my favorite bloggers talked about fear. Elana Johnson confessed one her paralyzing fears in a Friday Night Confessions post and tons of people chimed in with their own fears. What a sense of community! Then, Beth Revis posted on Fear this weekend, fear of failure and fear of success, and it definitely resonated with me. I think fear as it relates to writing is something we all deal with, and I love that we're embracing that and sharing our feelings.

So what do I fear? Too many things to name. But I've been trying to figure out what I fear most. Something's holding me back. Well, I'm holding me back, but why? Why would I do that when I have every reason to be encouraged (and I do). I really don't know. But whatever that deep-rooted, paralyzing fear is, it's creating compound fears. I'm now frightened that it's not fear but maybe I just don't have what it takes to be a published author.

Amusing, since I've never even been in the trenches....

But that's sort of the problem. If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know I used to have trouble just finishing a manuscript. I'd fall out of love with an MS when I'd meet The Middle and allow myself to be seduced by a Shiny New Idea. I feel like I've gotten past that, but now I'm struggling with revision.

Every time I get deep into revision, I find I can't stand what I've written and want to rewrite the manuscript entirely. To the point that it makes me sick to keep working on it the way it is. Do you see the problem? I'm forever starting over. And if I keep doing this, I'll never have something to query. I'll never be the kind of writer an agent will want to represent. And I'll never have the writing career I dream of.

But there's no way in heck I'm going to query an agent with something I don't absolutely love and feel confident in. How can I expect them to get behind me and my work 100% when I'm not? I can't and I won't. So what's wrong with me? Why don't I love my writing like so many of you seem to? Where's my motivation to finish. What do I fear that paralyzes me this much?

I don't know, exactly, but I do know I'm afraid I won't live up to your expectations. I'm afraid I'll let you all down while I continue to let myself down. And I'm afraid I just don't have what it takes.

Some of you have noticed that I've sort of disappeared behind my blog features. I think this has a lot to do with that. I haven't wanted you to see that I'm not making as much progress as I'd like. That, as much as I've been revising, I'm no where near querying. That I could be a failure. But now that it's out there, I hope I can come back out a little.

Is there anyone else that has or has had the same problem as me? Everyone I know seems to have the problem of rejection and/or waiting and wondering, but I can't seem to even get that far. I'm feeling a little alienated by myself.

But it helps having you all here, around me, sharing your fears, and it especially helps when I see you succeeding.

What do you fear?


Mim said...

i struggle with pushing through the middle, and revisions I really do fear them, that somehow I'm going to lose the one or two good things about my first draft, and end up with something much worse.

For me my biggest fear is being unable to ever do it. Sometimes it is easier to sit it out and give myself this excuse or that excuse not to write during the day, but really I'm just hiding from the thought of rejection--when in reality I'm accomplishing something by actually getting it out there. If I never get it out there it won't be seen and rejected, but ultimately in my book never getting it out there is a bigger failure.

Good post!

Emily J. Griffin said...

You are not alone. I worry about not being good enough or being unable to complete a manuscript, as well.

I talk so much about wanting it, what if I can't put my money where my mouth is?

Elana Johnson said...

I so feel your fear. I'm terrified that I won't live up to the expectations people have. And it's worse on the Internet, because they don't really know you. They only know the you you allow them to see.

So yeah. Feel that.

Second, I'm not sure why you don't finish things... Or at least novels. Have you finished other things in your life? Maybe you've got the fear of success too.

Either way, I think you're fabulous and I love your blog. *hugs*

Heather Kelly said...

I feel like I'm in the same boat as you, Casey. I have had a fear of revision--of trying to make things as good as I can--because what if as good as I could make it, it still isn't good enough? What if I'm not good enough? But, I've had some personal tough stuff in the past two years that's scared me enough to know that this is something I have to do. Because there are worse things than not being good enough. I keep moving forward because I need to know that there is something different out there for me. A different future. More. In case the things that I hold near and dear aren't here forever. I need something of my own making to hold onto. And, if I'm not good enough now, if this manuscript isn't good enough, then I'll write the next thing. I have to try. No matter what my fears are. This is where I am.

Tahereh said...

awwww bestieeeee!!

this post broke my heart a little bit. in a good, empathetic way. we're all afraid of not being a success, and then even once we've got our foot stubbornly wedged in the door, we're still afraid of not being a success, and then even once we're sort of successful we're still afraid of not being as successful as others.

this fear never seems to leave us alone. i think the difference is in the choices we make. we can choose to use that fear to propel us forward, to make us stronger, to concretize our convictions. i think maybe you're sub-consciously self-sabotaging your own efforts because you're afraid of taking that next step. if you were to actually let down your guards and love your own work, that'd mean you'd have to start querying agents, and that only opens you up to more rejection. believe it or not, i think what you're doing now is just a defensive mechanism. if your book is never ready, you'll never have to believe that someone else didn't like it. it'll only ever be kept in your own little circle, and you'll never have to open yourself up, make yourself vulnerable.

because writing is so so so personal.

sharing that work with a loved one is hard enough -- but sharing it with a stranger?? and having them reject you? with a *form* response? after all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it??? it's scary. sometimes it feels safer to just never let it get past your own point of control.

but you have to believe that this business is super subjective, and the rejections aren't personal. we're all struggling. we've all been there. we're all afraid.

but we love you.

we'll support you every step of the way.

don't be afraid!!


Jenna Wallace said...

Perhaps you are afraid to finish and discover that your best just isn't good enough.

I know that is what I feared. When I stopped working to write full time last year, I knew that if I failed, it was all down to me and my ability. I could no longer blame not having the time to devote to writing. I've now reached the point where I can be extremely proud that I finished the novel. Maybe it isn't good enough, but I did accomplish what so many people can't.

I say, let yourself finish. It may not be The One, but at least it will be written. Perhaps you will find the first one is the hardest. Once you finish one, you will know you can and that will free your mind from the fear.

And remember, there is no deadline for making a career as a writer. You probably have fifty more productive years. There is time.

Molly Hall said...

You are so not alone. Every writer (and artist) I know is afraid at some point. That particular demon that says "you might not be good enough" plagues almost EVERYONE. It's insidious. KEEP FIGHTING IT!

I have a question. Is it possible that you are not writing from your pulsing, desperate, truest heart? I know that sometimes we write "around" what is most sacred to us, afraid to get to the soul of it, because that would be like taking our shirt off and showing people our raw, flawed selves. Once you get to the core of what you really want to say, then you will be compelled to say it, despite any obstacles.

Even then, it's really hard.

I want to thank you for being honest and starting a meaningful conversation in your post. That takes courage! I for one appreciate being able to talk about all aspects of writing. The joyful and the terrifying. And I fully believe you're going to get there one day.

Paul said...

Lots of words of wisdom here from the commenters. I don't know that I can add much but I'll share my thoughts.

I think fear is part of many intense experiences whether you are teaching, or raising a child, or writing. Thich Nhat Hanh, says to greet your fear and make friends with it. That was first thing I thought of when I read your post, that you are making friends with your fear by stating it. You aren't hiding from it.

I will say that it took me four years to complete the first draft of my first novel. And there are plenty of times when I hate what I write. And even though one of my novels is on submission now, there is no guarantee that it will be picked up, and I fear that what I'm writing now might not be as good as what I have out there, and it's supposed to be better. And, I fear that I won't have any more ideas that really strike me as ones that I'd want to write a novel about. I guess I just keep pushing forward because I love writing and feel like I've got this one life to live. Will Hobbs said that writing a novel is an act of faith.
Thanks, Casey!

Unknown said...

I'm right there with you. I'm not sure if it's fear or laziness on my part. But when push comes to shove, I usually have to just will myself to finish something, will myself to polish it, will myself to send it out to be critiqued, judged, considered, rejected, etc.

I'm always reminded of the Bible verse 2 Timothy 1:7. God didn't give me a spirit of fear. He gave me a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. It's the self-discipline part that's hard, though! :)

middle grade ninja said...

I worry that I might die after finishing a rough draft, but before I have a chance to revise it. What would people think? How could I tell them that it wasn’t as bad as it looks! I was going to rewrite it, honest. It was going to be so much better!

Karen Strong said...

"But there's no way in heck I'm going to query an agent with something I don't absolutely love and feel confident in. How can I expect them to get behind me and my work 100% when I'm not?"

I love this line from you...I totally feel the same way.

Acknowledging the fear is the first step. I think all of us writers have felt and/or are feeling like you -- so you're definitely not alone.

I have faith that you will face the fear and keep writing and you will finish a manuscript you 100% adore and you will query and find an agent and get published.

Best of luck to you. :)

Ann Marie said...

When we share with others what we have created, we let down our defensive barriers. We stand alone ABSOLUTELY NAKED and our REAL SELF can finally be seen;we reveal our souls. We reveal to all our passions, our fantasies, our strengths and weaknesses. We can no longer scurry for protection behind the skirts of social norms and the greatest fear of all in Western culture-the fear of not being liked and thus, the fear of rejection.
Casey,your writing, your creation is an absolute reflection of your inner self. It's your infant, your baby, your toddler, your child and finally your completed'adult.'Every parent knows that sometimes you don't like your child - but you always love your child. It's an extension of your own essence.
My biggest fear? REGRET.Take that child by the hand and go for the greatest adventure of your lives!! As Heather Kelly said, you "need something of your own making to hold onto."
We all empathise, we all encourage you. Ann Marie

Jemi Fraser said...

My fears? In writing? Hmmm. Probably rejection, failure, not taking a chance, taking a chance... maybe even success a little bit. *sigh*

Casey Something said...

Thank you for the amazing responses and support, everyone! I'm going to try to come back later and respond to everyone individually. I really appreciate each one of your comments.

Heather Kelly said...

*hugs* Casey!

*waving* Hey Ann Marie!

Karen Collum said...

Casey, I started about seven novels before I actually stuck with one long enough to finish it. Then it sat in my drawer for 18 months because I had no idea how to edit! I'm currently enrolled in a Year of the Edit master class at my local writer's centre and it's the BEST. THING. EVER!!! I now have the confidence to bite off a little piece at a time and make it better. And after just one workshop, I can see a huge difference in my manuscript. Can't wait to see what my MS looks like after another four!!

Hang in there. You've recognised your stumbling block - you can now choose to address it when the time is right. Remember, this isn't a sprint - it's more like a marathon and slow and steady can be a GOOD thing. Be brave!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I have the absolute same fears Casey. And sometimes I'm even more afraid that if I could get published that I won't be able to do all the marketing while trying to write. Like you, I have a job and family and it's hard to squeeze it all in. Perhaps some of the fear comes from so many demanding areas of life where we're trying to do a perfect job.

I also can't seem to finish a manuscript. I've been working on the same one for over 6 years. I just "finished" it but now think I have to make another revision sweep to cut the word count. But like you, I have to be sure it's ready because I know it has to be the best.

Perhaps your critique partner could help you work on finishing something. I found a new critique partner who likes my genre (fantasy, which not all love) and she's really liked my story. She's helped me get through some of the hard, despairing times. I think you should commit to finishing your favorite project. We'll all cheer you on too, though you don't need to give us weekly progress reports if you don't want to. I think with you working, going to school, being a parent, a wife, a blogger, and an author, you may have to accept that the writing progresses a little slower and that's okay.

K. M. Walton said...

Boy can I relate to wanting to just rewrite the whole damn thing. You get so many conflicting opinions thrown your way that it's impossible to figure out which one to listen to.

Just put really strong tape on the mouth of your fear - tell it to shut up - and do your thing.

storyqueen said...

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear."

You are worth it, Casey.

Allow yourself to risk it. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious barely live.

(I feel like someone is going to discover that I'm a fraud, that I don't deserve to be a writer all the time...and then I get over it and work even harder.)

Good luck. You owe it to yourself to let yourself be wonderful.


Marcia said...

Every single writer who tries to write for publication has to invest all the writing chops they've ever had and more, which means big time and big effort, WITHOUT knowing if they'll get published. If there's a writer somewhere who's not worried about that, it must be due to ignorance. I used to not finish books either. I can't count how many half-done books I had before I finished one. I've sold nine. I've got other finished unsold ones. I've got at least four partials. Sometimes you're scared you can't repeat a success. Sometimes you worry the market has changed in ways you don't understand. Sometimes unenthusiastic critiques make you doubt a WIP. These fears don't necessarily go away. I guess what it came down to was that I knew I'd have to FINISH a book, so I made myself.

Haste yee back ;-) said...


EMBRACE the ANXIETY of NO CONTROL. (control the areas you can, forget the rest)!

EMBRACE the ANXIETY of UNCERTAINTY! (nothing is guaranteed)!

EMBRACE the ANXIETY of PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT! (everyone is more concerned with themselves and how they're perceived anyway)!

EMBRACE the ANXIETY of IMPERFECTION. (perfection doesn't exist, and if it did people wouldn't recognize it, because everyone has their own perception)!

EMBRACE your MORTALITY (no one is going to do your dieing, so do your own living)!

Haste yee back ;-)

Casey Something said...

I'm blown away by your kind, amazing responses everyone. Thank you so much. I'd like to add that I'm not depressed about this or anything. I'm a really positive person and view my future as a writer as a pretty sure thing, despite my current struggles and thoughts. Things may be hard for me right now, but I know my time will come and I'll get it all figured out.

Now, responses!

Mim: It is easier to just not to do it some days, isn't it? I relate to that, especially when I'm struggling to enjoy the writing. It's definitely an accomplishment to get it out there. I'm really looking forward to that milestone. Know that you're doing great things for yourself by putting yourself out there for rejection!

Emily: Exactly. I'm completely absorbed in this little writing world but what if I can't do it? Oi! Glad to know I'm not alone.

Elana: Yes. I'm really hoping to go to SCBWI-LA this year and I'm terrified! I don't know what people will think of me outside the internet.

My fear to finish, it could very much be fear of success. There are definitely a lot of thing about success that unnerve me.

Heather: It's definitely frightening - that fear of our best not being good enough. I feel that quite a bit about my writing. I'll keep trying if you keep trying.

Tahereh: It could very well be a defense mechanism. I've considered that but I've yet to figure out how to get past it. Thank you so much for the support. You know I appreciate it, my new found insta-bestie.

Jenna: I've been trying to force myself to finish revising this novel just to finish, to keep learning from the process, but it's so, so hard when I'm not in love with it. Love the advice that there's time. I know it. My resolution this year was to really take my time. Thank you.

Molly: I'm not really sure what my truest heart wants to write about! I just know when I get excited about an idea. This one has always excited me but the execution hasn't, unfortunately. I'll definitely give it some consideration. It's been nice coming out and being honest with everything. I think it's important to talk about the joys and sorrows of writing as well.

Paul: I love the idea that I'm making friends with my fear, thank you. I can relate to your fears some. I'm often afraid that my other ideas aren't as good as this one I've been trying to pull off and maybe that's why I've clung to it for so long when maybe I should leave it be for awhile. There's always time to come back to it, I suppose, when I've gained more knowledge, experience, and a fresh eye.

Casey Something said...

Karen: Laziness definitely comes into play. I get so tired of being the self-motivator at times. More will power to the both of us!

Robert: That would be awful! Maybe that's a good motivator though?

Karen: Thank you so much. Your support and kind words mean a ton.

Ann Marie: Beautiful words. You're so right. I also fear regret something awful. I've given up on a lot of things in my life but this is one of a few core things that I would really regret not accomplishing.

Jemi: Conflicting isn't it? All that fear of not making it but fear of making it? It's enough to make a person sick and dizzy!

Thanks again, Heather!

Karen: It's so nice to hear a story like mine! I have a lot of unfinished novels. More than seven, I dare say. Hopefully we'll both be able to take the next step with editing and revisions and see our stories though. Best of luck with your workshop! It sounds wonderful.

Natalie: Congrats on finishing your MS. Six years is a long time. It sounds like you're close even if you're not *quite* there. That's wonderful. I have a couple really fabulous critique partners who have given me every help and encouragement they can. It's definitely all me! And I know that. Thank you for the support. I'm willing to give it more time.

K.M.: Glad you can relate to the rewrite thing. I'm always re-envisioning my plots and stories, trying to make them stronger, and it just calls for more and more rewriting. Arg! Like the tape suggestion. I'll try!

Shelley: Beautiful quote and words. Thank you so much. I do owe it to myself. And you, my dear, are definitely not a fraud.

Casey Something said...

Marcia: Thank you so much. It's encouraging hearing you've taken a similar road and found the destination of success. I'm hyper-aware that it's all up to me at this point. I hope I can find the strength to push myself as you and so many others have.

Haste-Yee-Back: I will try to EMBRACE it all - everything in my control and everything I need to embrace to get passed this hump. Thank you!!!!

Laura Pauling said...

*Giant friendly writerly hugs*

My writer friends used to ask me why I'd stop querying after 2 rejections. I stopped because I knew I could do better. I'd recognized that I didn't want this to be my debut novel. I knew I couldn't rewrite that manuscript anymore, right then. So I moved on to the next one to apply all that I'd learned to something new. Fear? Maybe. But I think it's a good thing to listen to your gut. You'll know when your manuscript is ready to query like 100 agents with no regrets. And, of course, listen to trusted writer friends, who hopefully, will be honest with you.

I love getting to know the people behind the blogs. Thank you for sharing your deepest fears and doubts. We're all behind you!!!


Kim Cresswell said...

My biggest fear is that my internal editor will never shut off. Even though I've finished every novel I've written, I can spend a day on one sentence..revising...revising. It takes forever to write a book that way. lol

I think part of being a writing is taking little steps and conquering our fears as we go. No one can push us to get there. We seem to need to do it on our own terms and at our own pace.

It took me over 3 years after completing a novel to find the courage to start querying agents. I swear I didn't sleep at all during that time. I did land an agent, but it didn't work out. lol I do have a wonderful agent now, though.:)

When I look back, that first step has made every other step forward so much easier. :) Now all I need a remote control for my internal editor and I'll be a happy girl.

I'm sure you will find the strength, Casey. Thanks for the great post.

Katie Dodge said...

I think my biggest fear, like others have mentioned, is a feeling of exposing myself. Writing puts you in a very vulnerable state, and I worry people won't like what they see.
And of course there is the fact that I have no degree and that somehow makes me feel less legit. Like I am less capable of writing than everyone else.
Once again, love your blog!

lexcade said...

i think my greatest fear is being considered a failure. i'm one of those people who's never felt good enough due to my almost perfect older sister. it's a deep psychological thing.

anyway, the one thing that i can really do that she doesn't is write, so i pour my little heart out. and sometimes the characters take on some of my traits, sometimes they don't. but i think that i'm afraid i somehow still won't measure up even if i get published. if i publish 50 books, i'm afraid i'll never be 'good enough.' after all, no one in my family has read my MS. my boyfriend didn't make it past page 1 (not an avid reader anyway, but still!). none of my friends have read it. i've depended on people i've never met in countries i may never travel to to help me with this and give me some positive feedback.

but i've chosen to trudge through it. i've been rejected a lot by guys and people i thought were friends, so that's not an issue. i just have no self-confidence, and that can be crippling.

Lisa Nowak said...

I don't have this problem now, but when I first started writing back in junior high, and all the way up through college, I never finished anything. Then I began writing a book that had personal meaning for me because I was paying tribute to a community I card deeply about. I created characters I loved, and because I loved them, I couldn't abandon them. I stuck with those characters through many years and revisions because they became like family to me. You've met those characters, Casey. :)

I don't know if you can use my experience to figure out what it will take to feel passionate about your work. Maybe you haven't yet found characters you love that much. Without passion, it all feels like drudgery. But maybe thinking about it in this way will give you some insights.

One thing you might try is to force yourself to keep working on your current revision until it's finished. Every time that negative voice starts talking, tell it to shut up and go on to the next chapter. No looking back. When you're done, send it off to betas. Take their feedback and use it to do the next revision. I guarantee your betas are going to point out good stuff you've stopped noticing because you're so focused on the flaws. Maybe an objective perspective will help you fall in love with your story all over again.

One other thing, don't sell yourself short. You're going to school, raising two young children, running an enormously successful blog, and trying to do a revision. Of course you're going to struggle! Give yourself a break.

Thermocline said...

I am still trying to find that line where the fear of my MS not being good enough to submit changes into it's not good enough to be accepted. I know it doesn't sound very different but, in reality, I'll have moved to actually submitting.

I am getting close to my second round of submissions after a massive rewrite and hacking-crap-away fest. It did me good to get rejected before because I'm less scared to cut and cut more.

Fear can be a tool. Grab hold of it, Casey.

Christina Farley said...

Great post. Fear is a huge factor for writers. For me its the feeling that I've spent all this work and nothing comes from it.

But then when I was watching the Olympics, it struck me as amazing to see those athletes who give up a normal life for a moment in the sun. And there's the possiblity of falling (figure skating) which could ruin everything. Wow. That was really inspiring.

Carrie said...

You know, Casey, I just want to say that it is evident from this wonderful website you've created that you're a wonderful writer, a great thinker, you have an organized mind and a thoughtful approach. In short, I can't believe that the creator of this site would not also be the creator of a most lovely novel. You have the goods!

Casey Something said...

Laura, I can totally relate. I always feel like I can do better and that's a huge part of my problem. It compels me to open a new document and start something new. We're both going to have to trust our writing eventually and get it out there. Thank you for the support!

Kim, I've been having a lot of problems with my internal editor lately. I have the hardest time just letting the writing flow. Thinking ahead really stumps that. Congrats on finding the courage to get out there! And I'm glad you've found a great agent.

Katie, I only have an AA degree and I feel less legit than writers who have BAs and MFAs too. I'm back at school working toward my B.A. now, so it's never too late! But honestly, I don't think it matters that much in the writing world.

Lexcade, I can relate. I was never really good at anything when I was younger and I totally have a complex now. Sometimes I convince myself I'll never be a great writer, because I'm just not that type of person, but sometimes I feel like I've really found my thing and will prove childhood me wrong!

Lisa, your experience with writing is encouraging! Hopefully I can find the stories and characters that really matter to me. I've decided to rewrite the MS one more time, and I'm really going to try and push through this time.

Thank you, Thermocline. It can definitely be a tool. I just have to figure out how to use it!

Inspiring words, Christina! I know I've got to stick with it and figure out how to push forward if I want to achieve my dreams. Sometimes it's just so dang hard though.

Thanks so much Carrie. Those are some really kind words, and I hope you're right!!