A Writer’s Greatest Barrier to Success Isn’t What You Think It Is

It’s not the competition. It’s not a lack of ideas or time.

Writing success means something different to everyone who strives for it. Some want to be able to live off their stories, so to speak. Others simply want to reach as many people as possible and create spaces for conversations about topics they choose to write about.

Some people are in it for the fame and recognition and not much else. Good luck with that.

In general, though, succeeding as a writer pretty much means you want to get to a point where you can or have written something that reaches and/or impacts an audience in some way. We all want that. We all want to feel as though our words hold weight, that they matter to more people than just our parents and the one friend who actually gives us helpful, honest feedback when we ask for it.

So why is it that so many creatively inclined, driven, talented aspiring writers never even come close to publishing something they have written? What’s stopping them from achieving their grandest desires?

At first consideration, you probably assume it’s the saturated market or the fact that most aspiring writers aren’t as skilled as they like to believe they are. These are certainly potential factors. There are a lot of people trying to get published at the exact same time and in the exact same spaces you are. And as much as we’d all like to believe we’ve far surpassed mastery of the written word, we’re not necessarily as good as we perceive ourselves to be. It’s the nature of humanity, to tell ourselves we’re better than we are.

But these are not the most common reasons aspiring writers fail before they even begin.

It’s not the competition. It’s not a lack of ideas or time. It’s not that you aren’t capable of writing or learning how to improve your writing skills over an extended period of time.

It’s fear.

Fear of wasted time, of not being “good enough.”

Fear of failing. Fear of disappointment, of looking stupid, of disappointing other people.

Some writers are so afraid of things that haven’t even happened yet that they can never bring themselves to physically sit down and write something. They’re afraid of putting themselves out there, because what if they try and don’t succeed? They’re so terrified of not making it that they never even bother trying.

There are many reasons fear becomes crippling enough to dampen a dream. For many people it’s an anxiety rooted in a lack of self-esteem or confidence. For some, it’s a learned aversion — they have failed before and don’t want to expose themselves to that experience again, or they have been told one too many times that their efforts aren’t worth it

It could be a matter of poor mental health, a reality many writers don’t even realize they are struggling with. It could just be the simple fact that we all long to be told we are worth something, and put so much of our value into our work that when we don’t succeed professionally, it affects us personally.

No matter the reason, if you’re too afraid of attempting to succeed to even try, you’ve wedged yourself into a very small space that isn’t going to be easy to squeeze yourself out of. Fear is easy to hold onto and difficult to shake. Fear is predictable, and therefore comfortable. We let it control us without even realizing we’re doing that, because we lock ourselves into the same routines and behaviors and thought patterns for so long that being afraid becomes the normal and expected reaction to everything that threatens to disrupt that.

So how do we break that cycle? How do we go from “I want to write but I’m scared of x” to “I’m scared of x but I’m going to write anyway”?

I’m not a psychology expert and I’m not licensed to tell you how to fix your personal problems. But I CAN tell you that in cases like these, the hardest part is getting over the hurdle. Starting a project is the scariest part for most people. At the very least, it’s one of many challenges you’re going to have to overcome along the way — but if you don’t make it over this step, you’ll never make it anywhere.

The only way to conquer your fear of doing something is to do it. It won’t make your fear disappear and it won’t make the process itself any easier. But if approaching the blank page is what’s holding you back, then it might be time to sit down at an empty desk, open that blank page, take a deep breath, and start writing.

You might be surprised at how “not scary” the experience is once you get into it. You might still have far-off worries. You still might not think what you’re writing in the moment is worthy of publishing. You still might struggle to get the words out as quickly as you’d like to.

But you’re writing — something you may have been convinced you couldn’t do before.

You did it. You wrote something.

The more you keep coming back to that, the greater your chances of Just Writing Anyway. Regardless of the fear. Regardless of that voice in your head saying you can’t.

You can. You just don’t know it yet.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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