Fear can be useful. It can get you out of bed in the morning, sit you at your desk, and help you do what you were meant to do.
Or, it can paralyze you, it can ask “why even try?”. It can tell you that nothing you do will ever be good enough, that you will never be good enough. This is the fear that sits on your shoulder, the terror of the blank page that undermines your efforts in subtle but pernicious ways.
The more you try to shove this fear down, the more insidious it can become. So don’t. Tell it to take a seat, ask it what it’s really on about. What, really, is the worst that can happen?
I am going to borrow a concept here from a very wise client of mine who is both a skilled psychotherapist and a karate sensei (if that’s not the kind of person you should listen to than who?): purposeful catastrophizing. It is a handy, if somewhat counterintuitive, tool that allows you to calm your fears by playing out the worst case scenario and in doing so, realizing that a) you would probably survive it and b) that it’s highly unlikely.
As a writer, you have to do many things that make you feel vulnerable: from the artistic process itself, to querying agents, submitting to editors, asking for blurbs, and marketing your own work. The whole process can make you feel like you’re standing naked on a street corner screaming for attention.
But in reality, what’s at stake is far more abstract. Writing may feel like life or death, but it isn’t. So in those moments of terror, have a little exploratory conversation with yourself, you may find those monsters under the bed aren’t so menacing once you pull them into the light.
Let’s practice. Ready?
What’s the worst that will happen if you query that agent? Ask for an introduction? Pitch that story? Email that stranger?
I’ll feel embarrassed and vulnerable.
They’ll think I’m an idiot! They’ll be irritated by me.
Keep going. What’s the worst it could get?
They’ll hold it against me forever, they’ll remember my name and blackball me for future opportunities.
Okay…that’s technically possible if the person receiving the email were deranged. Not terribly plausible. What’s the likely outcome?
They’ll either say yes, say no, or not answer.
And go on with their own lives. Right?
Okay, what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t do any of those things? If you never write your book, never try to get it published, never try to make a success of it.
I’d probably be fine.
I’d be haunted by regrets of a wasted life on my death bed.
That’s pretty bad.
It really is.
Maybe you’d better just do it.