Don’t let fear hold you back!
Even the bravest among us are probably feeling a little bit more fearful these days. After all, when you’re being told that hunkering down in your house surrounded only by those you love and trust the most is your best strategy for pandemic survival, who wouldn’t be a little more afraid than usual? And from an evolutionary perspective, a healthy dose of fear is what kept many of our ancestors alive long enough to pass along their genes from generation to generation until we were born. But sometimes fear can do more harm than good, especially when it’s keeping us from achieving our potential.
Sometimes, the biggest obstacle an author faces is themselves.
Back in 2013, a line from Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In really stuck with me: Done is better than perfect.
We’ve written before about how perfectionism is the enemy of the writer – but I think there’s another enemy we creative types face that is far more insidious – fear.
So often, I’ll talk to authors who were delaying hitting ‘publish’ because they weren’t sure if they’d get their book back from the editor in time, or that they didn’t think the cover was quite right, or one of a million different reasons that sounded more like excuses to me – and I know, because I’ve made them all myself.
The real reason is often none of those things – it’s fear.
Fear is one of the other silent killers of successful writers. The fear of failure. The fear of criticism. The fear of falling short. So many of us writers are so scared of falling short of our own wild expectations that we sometimes ensure we never reach them by blocking our own progress.
We use perfectionism, excuses, distractions, and procrastination – but at the end of the day it all serves the same grim purpose: Ensuring that if we’re going to fail, we’re going to be the authors of that failure.
It’s a battle I’ve faced during the pandemic, when things didn’t go quite according to plan and it robbed me of my enthusiasm, ambition, and will to go on. Disappointment impacts artists harder than other people because we’re literally reaching into the depths of our souls to create what we put out there. It can be incredibly disheartening to see it fall flat.
But if there’s one difference between successful writers and those who fail to meet their goals, it’s the willingness to face that fear. To keep on working on your craft, putting things out there, and trusting in nothing but the sheer bloodymindedness to go on. Again, I speak from experience. It took five years and a dozen full-length novels before I found my groove and published my first best-seller, but since then I’ve (rarely) looked back.
It’s not success that defines a ‘successful’ writer, but the six previously published books that failed. It’s their willingness to do the work and expect to get nothing back in return except knowledge and experience. It’s taking a hundred swings of the baseball bat before you feel the resistance and hear that ‘thwack’ which sends a ball into the stratosphere.
So, my message to you is to face that fear.
Because nobody who has been successful in writing got there through talent or luck. There are probably four people with as much potential as you have on the same bus as you each morning – but only you are willing to invest the time, effort, and heart to achieve what they never could.
That’s why that line resonates so deeply with me: Done is better than perfect. It’s what kicked me in the butt and made me click ‘publish’ on books I was still wringing my hands over. It’s what got me to book promotions and advertising for books I was convinced were going to fail. It’s what let me take the leap of faith to keep working through the process even if I didn’t believe in it any more.
Because at some point in your writing career – when you’ve learned what readers want, and how to give it to them – you don’t need to believe in yourself any longer.
You just do the work anyway. You just follow the process. If you’ve learned enough, you’ll find that those steps lead you to your destination whether you ‘believe’ in yourself or not.
Recently, I had to face this fear when I decided to ‘come out’ to the readers of my romance novels. Since 2013, I’ve been publishing under the penname Simone Scarlet and have sold over 65,000 copies of the books written under that name. However, I was really struggling to keep connected with things while I remained living under a penname, so last month I made the momentous decision to share my real identity.
In all my years writing, it was perhaps the most stressful decision I’ve ever had to make – but the response was beyond my wildest dreams. I received dozens of emails from my readers congratulating me, and realized that the ‘fear’ I’d been living under all this time had been just in my own head. It reinvigorated my enthusiasm for writing, and allowed me to be much more authentic with my readers – which is one of the key ingredients for a successful writing career.
But before I posted that video, I nearly lost my mind with anxiety. I kept thinking: What if my readers think I’ve mislead them? What if the things I wrote under a female penname are offensive if they were written by a man? What if people Google my name and don’t like me?
I was practically hyperventilating when I made that video – and yet I had nothing to be scared of. Just as my readers have supported my career, they supported me. I was so grateful for them that I nearly cried.
But it makes you think of all the times you’ve held back because you’re scared. I know I’ve held back from promoting books because I was worried about them not selling. I’ve held back on clicking ‘publish’ because I didn’t want to release too many books too quickly. The real fact is, however, that almost nobody cares about the things you’re worrying about.
If you find yourself hesitating to take the next step in your writing career – whether it’s hitting publish, or even just sitting in front of the keyboard, there’s one piece of advice that I’ve found really useful:
How could you fail?
Think about why you’re hesitating – what’s stopping you from doing the thing you know you need to do. For me, there’s usually some worst-case-scenario in my head – like if I finish this book, it’ll flop and all those weeks of hard work will be wasted.
But think of it the other way around. Imagine your goal is exactly that – your worst-case-scenario. How could you guarantee that failure? What could you do (or not do) to ensure that your worst-case-scenario came true?
For me, I quickly found that the only way to ensure failure was to continue putting off the one thing I was too scared to do.
The only way I can guarantee not to make any money from the launch of my next book is not to write it, for example. Every time I have writer’s block, I remember that the only guaranteed way to fail in this endeavor is simply not to do the work.
It’s a simple shift in mindset, but it instantly made me realize that my fear of failure was the only thing guaranteeing it; and the moment I realized that, I was able to plug ahead even though I didn’t ‘believe’ in myself.
Do the work. Follow the process. Get it done.
Done is better than perfect.
Because if whatever you’ve completed fails, at least it does so on its own merits. That’s a victory in and of itself.
However, if you simply don’t do the work – who knows what you could have missed out on! Even if your book was a complete failure, it would still make it 100% more successful than never having completed it.
So if this pandemic has left you lacking enthusiasm, self-belief, and the will to get stuff done – you’re not alone. But you’re also the only person who can get yourself out of that rut.
Take action – do the thing – and the worst case scenario is still going to be so much better than if you didn’t.
And the thing you should really be afraid of? The thing that should really worry you? It’s not failure. It’s the inevitability that if you keep swinging and missing enough times, you’ll eventually not miss – and you’ll wind up a quantum leap closer to success.
Do me a favor – in the comments section down below, let me know what you’re most scared of in your writing career – and then add in how you’re going to take action to face that fear and get the thing done.