On Saturday, I went hiking at North Table Mountain Park near Golden, about thirty minutes from Denver. Apparently I need to update my map-reading skills, because I meant to take the easy loop and ended up on what I suspect was an expert loop. (Not the first time this has happened—why are trail maps so confusing?) The slope was probably a good 20 degrees. But it got me up to a gorgeous scenic overlook.
While I was up there, I encountered two boys who had bikes with them. I suspect they were brothers (the boys, not the bikes 😉). They started heading down around the same time I did, and the younger boy kept saying how scared he was. Given that this part of the trail involved many step-like areas of rock, I didn't blame him. I certainly wouldn't have liked to take my bike on those.
But as they passed me, I surprised myself by what I said to the younger boy:
"Focus on the trail, not your fear."
I knew from experience that fixating on how scared you are can cause you to miss important things, such as an upcoming bump that you need to brace for or a tricky area where it'll take some work to keep your balance. In other words, by worrying too much about falling, you can actually cause yourself to do it, because you're not giving enough attention to doing the things that'll keep you from falling.
But almost immediately, I realized that my advice applies to a lot more than just biking. In some ways, we writers have chosen a terrifying profession for ourselves. We're taking the deepest thoughts of our souls, arranging them in what we hope is a persuasive/entertaining/informative order, and putting them out there for the world to judge. Yikes.
So, naturally, we encounter a lot of fear and self-doubt as we write and especially as we're being edited. Sometimes without even realizing it, we say things to ourselves like, "Is this good enough? I don't have a clue what I'm doing. Will anyone take me seriously? This is garbage. People will think I'm a doofus. Nobody will ever want to buy this," and so on.
Good grief. We can be really mean to ourselves.
But you know what? Those fears are valid. We've all seen books, movies, articles, YouTube videos, games, and other pieces of writing that have gotten ripped to shreds by both critics and regular consumers. Just as falling and getting hurt was a genuine possibility for the boy on North Table Mountain, receiving less-than-kind, even mean-spirited feedback is a genuine possibility for writers. Who wouldn't be scared of that?
So how do we keep those fears from paralyzing us into not writing at all?
I'll tell you what not to do. Don't invalidate your feelings by telling yourself things like, "Buck up. Don't do the dishes twice. Be positive. Don't be an Eeyore."
Such tactics were a big part of my parents' emotional abuse when I was growing up. Just about every time my siblings or I expressed negative emotions, we were shut down with these kinds of sayings.
Please, please don't do that to yourself. Your feelings are real, and they're okay! Denying them or criticizing yourself for having them won't make them go away. And it certainly won't make you feel better about yourself or your writing.
At the same time, staying stuck in fear isn't helpful, either. So what can we do?
I like to take the approach suggested by this quote from The Princess Diaries films:
"Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."
So you don't have to pretend you're not scared. (Does that ever actually work?) You acknowledge it and go ahead anyway. Essentially, you tell your fear, "Thank you for warning me about potential threats. I still think this is worth the risk, so I'm going to do it."
I once worked with an author who'd never published a book before and seemed extremely nervous about the process, judging by how often she emailed me with questions. But as we worked together, she calmed down, and her book is now a bestseller for that publisher.
Though I can't guarantee a bestseller for you, I can guarantee that my top priority is always what's best for you and what's best for your writing. If you're ready to start working together on your masterpiece, click on "Services Offered" at the top of this page to find the right service for you.
(Thanks to Alexandra Gorn for sharing their work on Unsplash.)