• Let’s Talk About Our Common Writing Fears

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 41 comments

    tl;dr version: What I want from this post about common writing fears is for you to share, in the comments below, your biggest writing-related fear and at least one strategy you use to fight/face it. Do it anonymously, if you’d prefer. Because talking about our fears is scary business. And while you’re here, maybe lend some emotional support to a fellow writer, especially if you’re familiar with his/her own brand of fear. Tick “notify” to receive an email when someone replies to your comment.


    In therapy earlier this week I told my analyst that sometimes I wonder if part of the reason I don’t write as much as I want to is that at the end of a day spent helping writers create, I don’t have enough left in the tank.

    Enough what? would’ve been a fair question for her to ask. Creative juice? Am I allowed only x-amount of hours per day to think about writing? What, a science teacher can’t go home after school lets out and … do science?

    My therapist — because she’s good (i.e., annoying) — suggested that my problem has little to do with creative juices and much to do with FEAR.

    Ah, fear. The fuel that keeps some people running and most people running away.

    Let’s talk about it. Read on, if you dare!


    “Read My Work… No, Wait. Don’t!”

    Writers, like most humans, are susceptible to fears of success and fears of failure, often simultaneously. Some of these common writing fears are about having your work read; others are about having your work not read. Here are some examples:

    What if I spend all of this time — weeks, months, years even — and never get published?

    What if I do get published, but critics shit on me and/or the reading public stays away?

    What if I do get published but it doesn’t make me happy, satisfied, content?

    What if I do get published but it brings me all this attention and then I have to appear and speak at readings and other such events?

    What if I do get published and then there’s all this pressure to write a follow-up that doesn’t disappoint?

    Most writers fear every single one of these things, among others. Is it any surprise that many of us have so much trouble writing? It’s a wonder we can get out of bed in the morning.


    The Fear Barrel

    The failure/success thing often reminds me of that Jerry Seinfeld bit about how more people are afraid of public speaking than of death, and so most people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

    The thing is, if you gave those people a choice — speak in public or die — would more of them actually choose death?

    Seems that there’s an analogy to be found in here somewhere. Something about facing your fear of “speaking” in public or letting your work die.

    Seinfeld also once said something about how people afraid of success are “scraping the bottom of the fear barrel.”

    See, fear can be fun!

    But really, most great comedy — and much of our best literature — does come from strong negative emotions. Including, or maybe especially, fear.

    So how do we use this to our advantage?

    (I have no answer, I’m actually asking.)

    (For a friend.)


    Other Common Writing Fears

    Here are some other common writing fears. How many of them sound familiar?

    I lack talent.

    I lack education.

    Writing makes me feel vulnerable.

    I’m too old to start now.

    What the hell am I supposed to write about?

    I don’t know where to begin.

    I don’t know where to end.

    I don’t really, know where commas, go.

    My family/friends will think I’m a raging weirdo.


    A Scary Exercise

    I don’t really have a point here. This post is unfocused and lacks solutions. Just what I was afraid of!

    But I wrote it anyway.

    Here’s an exercise:

    Identify your most crippling writing fear. And then, after sharing it in the comments section below, duh, share it with yourself. Open to a blank page of your notebook or make a new document on your computer. Write your fear in bold, even capitalized letters at the top of the page. Face it. Stare at it. Stare it down.

    Then begin writing. Write about where that fear comes from, if you want. Write out some ideas for confronting and defeating it. Or just write about butterflies. Or cotton candy or Ross Perot or the Iditarod or Ross Perot competing in the Iditarod. Whatever. Just write.

    Then close your notebook or your computer. Whether with fear or without it, you’ve just written. And that’s cool.



    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    Paul Hansen

    Thanks for this. It seems like nobody is willing to talk about this stuff. I’m in two writer’s groups, and anytime I try to talk about fears or anything other than the work itself and where the commas go (LOL) I get shut out. Like only the product matters, and the process isn’t worth discussing. I have a fear not on this list. My fiction is drawn blatantly from my own life, and so even though I would tell friends and family not to try to identify themself in my work, I know they would. It would be impossible not… Read more »


    This is similar to mine, I think. The reactions of loved ones to our writing. IE, our thoughts! I wonder if this is some kind of indication that we need to be more open to the people in our lives. Rather than me writing “I’m angry at this person” and then fearing that they ever see it, I should have a conversation with him about that anger. I think that a lot of writers write to work out these kinds of feelings about the people in their lives. But maybe it would be better for some of us to combine… Read more »


    My biggest fear is clowns. My biggest WRITING fear is clowns. I face them/fight them by not acknowledging their presence, at which point they go away. My second biggest writing fear is passive voice. If I come across a clown speaking in passive voice, I’ll jump off a cliff.


    Sounds like someone, and I won’t say who, is avoiding confronting his/her fears by masking them with humor about a (legitimate, don’t get me wrong) unrelated fear. My biggest fear, I think, is a weird one. And definitely not listed above. I’m afraid that I’ll die unexpectedly and my friends and family will read through my journals and computer documents. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I would spend much of today throwing that stuff away. “Why not throw it away today?” Well, I also have notes about and work from my WIP in there. I guess… Read more »

    deb felio

    My fear is it won’t/doesn’t matter, my work isn’t strange enough and I don’t want to write in that way, and I don’t know enough which then always brings me to wondering if there is more important/relevant work I could be doing – this isn’t just about writing. I have begun writing several times throughout my life time – including attending writing workshops, small projects in small specific publications and professionally focused. Now I have made the commitment this year to really spend time writing and have several starts for fiction – stories into novels, maybe, and some poetry. I… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    It started off a the fear of not being able to write anything worthy of reading. OK. Past that. I’m now working on my fear of success. Failure I know very well, so that isn’t one of my fears. I’ve rationalized my fear of success by saying what ever happens, happens, but then I avoid marketing (I hate it to begin with) even though I market myself and have a website and facebook page. So far, all who have read my first book liked it. (hey, I’ll take 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon for a first effort) I… Read more »

    Glynis Jolly

    I don’t have just one fear. One leads into the next, which lead to the next, etc. Without the first one, I probably wouldn’t have the others, though. So here’s my first fear… Do I really have the talent to pull this off to the end? Okay, I sneaked in the second fear too. I promise you they do go together. I got A’s in English all the way through school. I loved my creative writing courses in high school. But then I had a stroke two months after graduation. Parts of my memory were gone. That included some of… Read more »

    Elizabeth Westra

    Don’t worry about what you might have forgot. Just concentrate on what you are now. You could write about what it’s like to have a stroke and the memory loss that you experienced. You have ideas now that you didn’t have before. So, write about them even if they’re personal. You just might help someone who is facing the same thing as you. Good luck and keep writing.

    Elizabeth Westra

    I’ve always been afraid that I’m not good enough and don’t have the talent. That’s been my fear through all the years I’ve been writing with a bit of success in the magazine market. However, whenever I doubt myself I stop writing for a while–as long as a year or two. Then it’s twice as hard to get back into it again. I’m writing now but the old fear is still there. I also fear that if I should get successful I would have to speak and talk in front of people. That terrorizes me. I don’t like to speak… Read more »

    Gregg Gusta

    I actually believe I am a good writer and I have a great idea for a story, series of stories. (Eyes roll, how obnoxious!!) My fears are – in no particular order – I will not be published by a satisfactory publisher who will promote me, fear that the book will land with a dull thud and not be well received, have no commercial success, I fear that I will fail to breathe life into the story adequately for people to relate to it. I fear I won’t get the characters just right, I fear the details that create the… Read more »

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    If I have any fear at all it’s about not having the money needed to get my manuscript ready for publication. Then if it is published, doing the marketing. I am moderately disabled and about to be 83 yrs. old. By the time anything I produce may be published…..well, I believe any reader of my comment will get the picture.

    Valerie Marquez

    Hi Eleanor,

    Thank you. For putting yourself out there in a time when being over 30 is considered passe. You have inspired me to face my own fears of not having a relevant voice for the times. As for the money question, I would hope that, unless you plan to self publish, a reputable publisher (and agent) would cover costs. If not, I’d look elsewhere.

    Bruce Carroll

    I am afraid I won’t be able to connect the dots. I have a strong beginning and a powerful conclusion. I even have some good things in the middle, but the piece lacks unity. There are huge gaps which need to be filled in (but not with “filler”) so the story makes sense and seems like one story. As it is now, it is like watching a television series while having missed some of the episodes.

    It is ironic that the fear of not being able to complete my work keeps me from completing my work.

    Bruce Carroll

    The gaps do both. Akiko seems to simply plunk down in the middle of a new scene without having gotten there at all.

    I have written *a* conclusion, but it is not etched in stone. (It is just sitting quietly on my hard drive.)

    Bruce Carroll

    Again, both are true. I even have some cliffhangers that just keep hanging. (Akiko appears in the next part I have written, in a different town, apparently unscathed and unaffected by whatever I haven’t shared with the reader.)

    And, no, I am not wowed by the prospect of writing these scenes.

    David Duhr

    Have you considered setting this book aside for a while and working on something else? I know you’ve been frustrated about not hitting your word counts, so maybe doing some writing not related to this project will help you rebuild some momentum *and* take your mind off of this problem. Which may then help you find a solution you hadn’t considered before. It’s like that thing where you can’t remember where you left your keys until you stop trying to remember where you left your keys. Do you have something else you can work on? Maybe a shorter project?

    Bruce Carroll

    That is EXACTLY what I have been doing! I’ve been writing short stories, and managing to hit my word count with those. It isn’t my novel, but it is writing

    Thank you — you’ve helped confirm I am on the right track.


    MY writing fear is do I still have the knack for This? Am I as good as when I first started out. I find myself doubting myself. Like this morning around 4am I got up brewed some coffee and started writing what ever came to my mind and I then got scared. Would if I don’t get to my goal of 1000 words. Will I have failed in my goal for today. Then my laptop kept messing up. I was actually having a conversation with my laptop!! I don’t have a name for him yet but I like where this… Read more »

    […] https://www.writebynight.net/abcs-of-writing/strategies/common-writing-fears/ Mine is being afraid to put my work out there. I sometimes sabotage myself. What are yours? […]


    I have read all of the comments thus far and have all the same fears except success. I would welcome that. I dream that. I send it out to the universe. NO! I do not have fear of success. But all the rest, that deal with insecurity and self-defeating thoughts are mine, too. I think my biggest one ever though (regarding writing) is I am not making any sense to anyone and no one gets me or cares enough to finish the paragraph. It is not being understood. It is a profound lack of confidence in my expression of choice.… Read more »

    […] Last week we had a frank discussion of our writing fears. That doesn’t have to end just because the week is over. The comments sections of every WBN […]


    Thanks to all for these interesting comments about fear of writing which is just another name for writer’s block.
    I want to sha

    David Duhr

    Hi Alfred! Thank you for stopping by and for reading, and I’m glad this discussion was helpful.

    I’m afraid your comment was cut off, so please come back and try again. You really left us with the quite the cliffhan

    […] weeks ago we manage to have a great discussion about our writing fears despite the fact that the post opened with me whining in my usual syntactically off-putting manner: […]

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