I was on a writers’ facebook page yesterday and was surprised to see several posts from different writers, all saying they’d finally worked up the courage to send an entry into a competition. I was surprised, not because they’d entered, but because they’d all had an attack of self doubt before thankfully overcoming it and pressing ‘send’.
Great that these people got over their fears and did it anyway, but imagine how many people didn’t. Then it struck me that there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of really great writers out there whose work will never win a competition, be published, or even be read, because a lack of confidence is holding them back.
And I’m sure it’s not just writers. There are people with all sorts of talents who’ll never be discovered because of crippling fear. What is this a fear of? I’ve felt uncertainty myself in connection with my writing, and in my case it’s always a fear of being judged, mainly by people I know, who might think my books are too erotic, not literary enough, and even based on them!
And I was right – to some degree all three of those fears have come true.
But what I’ve discovered is it really doesn’t matter. What I’ve got out of writing far outweighs anything I’ve been scared of. In fact, most feedback about my books has been complimentary and positive.
It isn’t all positive, however. I’ve had criticisms about my books that I hadn’t been expecting, and surprised myself to find I wasn’t at all offended – genuinely.
You see, you can’t please everyone, and you never will. Trying to please everyone is a fruitless pursuit that will never work, and therefore is a waste of time and energy. Instead, write something you enjoy writing – that you’d like to read, and you’ll find you won’t be the only one who gets pleasure out of it.
This is a picture of me in November last year, proud as punch at having my first short story published in a mainstream magazine. My colleague kindly took the photo. I didn’t ask her to. Actually, I cringed a bit inside when she suggested it, but bit back my fear and thought ‘just get on with it and be brave’. I thought if I put it on social media it would look showy-offy. It was actually one of my most popular posts.
People are generally kind and like to celebrate the success of others. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of an achievement – especially one you have worked hard for. Everyone can relate to this, and far from it having an eye-roll effect, it tends to lift the mood.
Submitting a piece of writing is like giving up a part of your soul. It’s going out there for the world to see. This is big. No wonder we get scared. That’s normal.
Here are some common fears. Ring a bell with you?
- You imagine the agent at Simon & Schuster / Mills&Boon / DHH / etc, etc is having a good old laugh at my submission. In fact, it’s so crap and hilarious, they read it out over the tannoy so the whole office block can enjoy a moment of laughter therapy.
- You want to enter a competition, but what if a bitter employee of the firm leaks out the worst entries and publishes them online under the title of ‘And they thought they could write…?’
- By some miracle, your work might get published (perhaps the intern was choosing that day). You’re happy as Larry until the following year when your child comes home with an English lit textbook containing samples of ‘how not to write’. You’re horrified to discover your work is a case study!
- Your book is published, all your friends, family and work colleagues read it. Due to the explicit sex scenes / dark humour / gory descriptions your mother-in-law won’t speak to you, your friends think you’re going through a psychotic episode and you get sacked because your boss thinks you’re a deranged pervert.
I’ve had all these thoughts at some point, but have managed to overcome them with a ‘Oh, sod it!’ and pressed send before thinking about it too hard. I highly recommend this as a way of overcoming fear.
So what if your work makes an agent spit out their coffee – at least they’ll remember you for next time. So what if your teenager reads it one day and thinks you’re a complete lunatic – they’re teenagers, they’ll think that whether you write a book or not. So what if your colleagues think you’re more sex obsessed than Michael Douglas on Viagra – better that than being known as the one who steals the toilet rolls.
None of it matters. What matters is you, your writing and the fact that if you don’t get it out there, the world won’t know how great it is. And that’s doing the world an injustice.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.