Confronting My Fear of Failure

Sometimes I’m so excited to work on a particular novel that it’s all I can think about. I’ll sit down at my computer, the smell of my apple pie wax-melt wafting directly into my olfactory receptors, and I’ll put my hands to my keyboard. And as I stare at the blank screen in front of me, I’ll urge my fingers to just move. But they won’t. My brain just won’t work.

Why does this happen? Why, when I was so eager to get started, do I have such a hard time beginning?

I suppose there are probably a lot of answers to this question, but the one that I’m finding to be my biggest problem is the fear of failure.

The thing is, I don’t have any problem sitting down and banging out a few thousand words of backstory. But when it comes time to write the actual story, then suddenly the words flow like molasses.

A lot of my words during this Milwordy challenge have been backstory/outlines. I’ve done a lot of drafting as well, but it’s noticeably more difficult.

What it comes down to, I think, is that those backstory words aren’t meant for anyone but me. I don’t have to worry about them being particularly well-written because the prose isn’t really the point. The story is the point. Getting to know the main character is the point. Worldbuilding is the point. But with drafting…well, I do hope for people to see that writing someday. And despite the fact that I’m still just talking about first draft words here, I put so much more pressure on myself to get things right. Sometimes I can’t get myself to commit any words to paper for a story that I was previously obsessively excited to start. And it sucks all the fun out of writing.

Now, I’m not saying that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to write better first drafts, but everything has a limit. If I’m so afraid to fail that I can never begin…well, that’s its own kind of failure, isn’t it?

This isn’t an advice post. I’m not offering up any solutions to a paralyzing fear of failure. I don’t know the answer myself. Like, I can tell myself or you—until my fingers bleed from typing it—that perfection is the enemy of finished, but that’s not actually practical advice. It’s true, but it doesn’t change the reality of sitting down to a blank page and being afraid to get things wrong.

This is more of a declaration of intent. The fear of failure is something I want to overcome. More than anything, I think this is my biggest obstacle to learning to write well. So, as someone who wants to write well, this is what I have to tackle first. I’m still working on the how to get over this fear of failure, but it wouldn’t be a journey if I just arrived at my destination in an instant.

If you have any suggestions for how I’m going to tackle this problem, I am all ears (or eyes). Have you dealt with fear of failure yourself? Have you moved beyond it? How? Or does it trouble you still? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Published by Robin J

I’m an aspiring novelist who hasn’t quite figured out this whole writing thing. I’ve been scribbling down stories since I was a little kid, but only dared to dream that I could write something worth reading as I became an adult. At 33, I still feel like I have a lot of progress to make before I’m ready to try publishing, but I’m getting better every day. Typically I write Fantasy (of both the Adult and YA varieties), but I have dipped my toe in Romance and Sci-Fi. When coming up with a story to write, all I care about is that the plot grabs my attention and the characters tug at my heartstrings. The genre is an afterthought. I tend to set myself lofty goals. Mostly I fail, but occasionally I surprise myself and succeed. Either way, I enjoy being pushed beyond the limits of what I thought I could do. That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish with the Milwordy challenge. I may or may not reach the full million words, but I know I’m going to learn a lot along the way. I hope you will, too!

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