The Journal: Turn the Fear Around

In today’s Journal

* February’s Gone Already
* Topic: Turn the Fear Around
* Of Interest

February’s Gone Already

Wow. February was like a streaker at an old folks’ home. It flashed by, I hardly noticed it, and I didn’t really care.

Also it dawned on me that I’m keeping my hand in writing (fingers and keyboard limber, etc.) with this little Journal. Of course, that doesn’t add to my fiction output, but with every passing day, that day is drawing closer.

Anyway, with today’s Journal, I’ve written 42143 publishable words on the year, though most of that is nonfiction. Still, I’ll take it.

To close out the month, here’s another topic for you.

Topic: Turn the Fear Around

Over at the Kill Zone blog yesterday, James Scott Bell talked about a story in the news—rats in a Family Dollar distribution center—and then made the leap to things (rats) that stop us from writing, which he said reside in our subconscious. He wrote

“One big fat rat is fear. Fear that your ideas aren’t good enough. Or marketable enough. Or might offend someone. Or might make you seem like a drunken fool. Fear is always lurking around the writer’s mind, and needs to be dispatched forthwith.”

Yes, fear should be “dispatched forthwith,” but that’s almost impossible to do even though it’s an unreasoning fear. Meaning no harm will come to you if you ignore or “disptach” it.

But those unreasoning fears (“your ideas aren’t good enough or marketable enough or might offend someone”) come from the conscious, critical mind, not the creative subconscious.

The conscious, critical mind exists primarly for two reasons: to enable us to learn new things and to protect us via the fear impulse. It’s what enables us to feel the heat rising from a stovetop that’s recently been turned off. It makes us jerk our hand away rather than leaning on the hot burner.

It’s also what causes us to listen for sounds of traffic and to look both ways before stepping off a curb, and it’s what makes us feel intimidated and causes us to cross the street when we see what looks like members of a street gang loitering on the next corner.

But our conscious, critical mind doesn’t only protect us physically. It also strives to protect us emotionally, especially from the biggy: the embarrassment that results from rejection and the accompanying (albeit imaginary) ridicule.

That fear of rejection and embarrassment is why we believe our “ideas aren’t good enough or marketable enough or might offend someone.” That fear is also why we delay writing in the first place by choosing to attend to all those little chores that seem to crop up just as we sit down to write.

Even if we get past the initial fear and start writing a story, the fear comes back later. It tries to get us to find other things to do in order to extend the very short break we intended to take between writing sessions. Anything to keep us from writing or finishing or, if we do finish, from publishing. The conscious, critical mind will do whatever it takes to save us from the embarrassment of rejection and ridicule.

At least the voice of the conscious, critical mind is easy to recognize. It’s always negative, always ensuring us in one way or another that we have zero chance of success. (For help with this, see Quiet the Critical Voice.)

All fear about writing is unreasoning fear. Yes, it’s real. It exists. It will make sweat beads pop out on your forehead and goose pimples come up on your arms. But no harm will come to you as a result of ignoring it. It isn’t like someone’s gonna come to your house and shoot you if you write a “bad” story. Well, probably. (grin)

And who but the reader is to say what’s “good” or “bad” anyway? Certainly not the writer. Remember, in every case, writers are the worst judges of their own work. You can’t be both the worst judge of your work when you think a story’s good and somehow an all-knowing genius when you think it’s bad.

Turn the Fear Around—It’s really easy for me to say the fear is unreasoning and you should ignore it. Likewise I can tell you it will never fully go away, but if you repeatedly push it down it WILL get quieter over time. All of that’s true.

But so what? Every writer is different. What if you can’t ignore the fear or push it down? In that case, I suggest you turn the fear around.

Let’s harken back for a moment to that one big, overriding fear: the fear of the embarrassment of rejection. You’re scared to death about how you’ll feel if someone DOESN’T like your story. So turn that around. How will you feel if they DO like your story.? How will you feel if your work ISN’T rejected?

How would you feel if you knew someone out there was hungry for your stories but you’re too scared to write them?

Yeah, I know. Presumptious of me, isn’t it? I’m presuming you can write good, entertaining stories and that someone out there will like them. Silly me.

But that’s no different than you presuming you can’t write good, entertaining stories and that only rejection awaits.

Instead of fearing what will happen if you turn your idea into a short story or novel, maybe you should fear how you’ll feel if you don’t. For more on this, see “Some Thoughts on Writing and Writers”.

Chances are, if you write fiction, the 20/80 rule will apply. If you continue to learn and hone your craft—and most of all if you continue to practice, by which I mean you actually put new words on the page—a few readers, say 10%, still won’t like what you’ve written. Another 10% will love your stories. And probably 80% will think they’re good enough to read cover to cover and then go buy more. And that’s what matters.

It shouldn’t be easier for me to believe in you than it is for you to believe in yourself. But listen, I don’t personally have a dog in the hunt. Whether you believe in yourself or not won’t affect my bottom line.

I’m just saying, maybe you should give the readers a chance to make up their own mind about your work. The only way to do that is to write it, finish it, and put it out there.

It all starts with believing in yourself and not allowing unreasoning, unthreatening fear to take over. And you can do it.

Of Interest

See “Some people have a genetic condition…” at Maybe a new superhero? Tetrachroman?

See “An Easy (Easier) Way to Build a Series Bible” at If you create a reverse outline as you go, you’ll have no worries. If the novel becomes a series, simply combine reverse outlines to create a series bible.

See “Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two” at At the end of his post, PG includes a link to Part One of her post.

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

4 thoughts on “The Journal: Turn the Fear Around”

  1. I keep a Fear Journal. But a number of years ago, I renamed it Journal – my system for fear is to face it in writing, which always brings it down to size – and dismissal.

    It only seems to have power if I let it go circling around my brain unchallenged.

    And, of course, fear LIES (as you have duly noted), and its biggest accomplishment is to keep you from examining it and poking holes in it.

    Writing it all down also has the advantage of pointing out that I’ve seen this one and dealt with it before. So the next iteration of each is swifter, and I spend far less time even thinking about them.

    Now the feeling serves more as a reminder that something needs work or research, and has become a useful servant.

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