Why I am Failing as a Writer: Part 2 – Fear

Writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch has released a topical series on her Business Musings portion of her site called “How Writers Fail”. Each essay or post focuses on a reason that writers on all levels fail. Given my interest in becoming a professional writer, I decided to run my own series as a response to her posts in examining how/if each of these is contributing to my failure as a writer.

Last post I wrote about Part 1: Attitude

This post is about fear. (Click right below for Kristine’s original post to which I am building from)

Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part 2): Fear (Established Writer Edition)

Admittedly, I am hardly an established writer. This post didn’t strike me as it wasn’t written for me. The fear she writes about in this post doesn’t manifest in the same way. But fear is absolutely relevant to me and why success is eluding me. Success and what it means can be debated, but for the sake of this post, success simply means this: to earn sufficient means of revenue from writing that one can displace their current job or career.

No matter how the market is, no matter how bad the economy is, there is always opportunity enough in most fields that one can forge a successful career from. Writing is one such career. It is part entertainer. It is part provider of information. It is part social commentator. Writers can find success in one form or another in almost any situation if they are willing to look and work hard enough. With the book markets in decline (although I doubt they need to be), people will react positively to a writer that can tell the right story. What’s the right story? No one knows until it comes. And even then, there’s a whole lot of room around that.

Rehashing what I wrote in a post preceding this little series is not something I think would be useful here, but then again, they share the same ultimate topic. Fear is what has kept me from really moving forward. Whether it manifests through a cynical view of the greater writing world, or it simply paralyzes me from action, or it prevents me from trying, fear is always there when the writing isn’t.

Fear is a frustrating emotion, too. It both makes sense and is utterly preposterous at the same time. (Try being afraid simultaneously of failure and success.)

Evolutionarily speaking, fear is a useful emotion. It’s meant to limit risk. Lower risk means being alive. When humans lived in small hunter-gatherer tribes and the preceding millions of years of animal evolution prior to that, risks meant things that could literally end one’s life or the lives of those they loved. Fast-forward to modern times where life and death situations are exceedingly rare in comparison, the fear mechanism often goes a little haywire. It became over-sensitive to stimuli. That means that your body responds to things that have no chance of killing you, as though they will. It’s all relative. That inconvenience is the worst thing that might happen to you, and since you aren’t going to die — well, you might as well with how your body thinks.

It takes work to isolate the sources for these fears to start to disarm them. Understanding fear allows one to conquer or move past them. For me, I am learning that both the fear of success and the fear of failure with my writing are tied in part to my fear of judgment, part to the unknown of what lies beyond each, and part in social aversion (being the deep introvert that I am).

That fear of the unknown is big, though. On the one hand, failure as a writer means that my life will continue as is. Big deal. I like how my life is, although there is plenty I am working to improve and make better. But even if I fail in writing, that isn’t a guarantee that life will simply proceed as if nothing happened.

And one might ask: if I love writing, but am afraid of all these things, why not just write privately and not worry about a damn thing? I’ll tell you — it’s fear again. I am equally afraid of not trying. Oh, how weird and convoluted all this is. Realistically, when death is not a factor, fear is only helping me not achieve my goals. It is interested only in homeostasis (keeping things as they are). Except that nagging fear of my not trying, that fear is tied to my deeper sense of being.

Hmmm… I hadn’t noticed that as a fear before. I’m afraid of not doing anything with my writing.

This one goes deeper than I had thought. Recently I had it out with myself in the sense that I was getting older and there was a lot I was just letting slip by: my writing, my health, my relationships, and more were all going through the motions. Sure, I was studying things like Stoicism and other philosophies and religions, but I wasn’t making the real effort in my life to be better. And then I suddenly understood the lesson of momento mori. I suddenly found myself imagining standing next to my body on my deathbed and I was disgusted.

Perhaps I am being a little melodramatic. The thing is, if I died today, I know for certain that I didn’t put enough effort into my life. I never tried to my capability. And that frightened the fuck out of me. Would I be happy — writer or otherwise — with how I lived when I look back at it at death? Nope.

Fear might be what has held me back for so long, but fear doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be good. Fear can drive me forward. Using it to achieve the important things in life, such as chasing dreams, spending more time and effort into your relationships, etc, is all worthwhile.

There is a lot more exploration I need to do in where these fears all come from. In the meantime, I am happy to allow the fear of not living to my potential drive progress. If it helps me reignite this drive towards becoming a writer. But there’s another thing I have to deal with: what am I expecting from a writing career?

Oh, that’s exactly the next topic.

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