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This Writing Life: Ambition, Writer’s Block and Fear

1 February, 2012

Before I start, I want to direct your attention over here, to this excellent blog post about getting blocked in your writing, and how often that stems from fear. Next, I have to make a confession: recently, I’ve been feeling exactly as that posts describes. Every time I contemplate starting a new piece of work, I get struck by The Fear, and can’t make any progress.

You see, I have both a short story I want to write and another novel I want to start. Whenever I consider them though, I’m assailed by doubts and become ‘blocked’. What if the short story gets rejected by the editors of the anthology I’m specifically writing it for? What if I get the details wrong? (It’s historical fantasy, which makes this a more pertinent fear than ever.) What if the novel doesn’t live up to the great expectations I have for it? What if I can’t even finish it?

Yeah, my writing brain is a bit of a mess at the moment, as I shuffle between projects and try to work out what I actually want to be doing. Fear and doubt, of course, don’t make it any easier, even though I can answer all those questions easily. If the story is rejected, I’ll try to sell it elsewhere, or treat it as a learning exercise. If the details are wrong, I simply haven’t done enough research. The novel won’t live up my to my expectations – they never do – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good. And I will finish it, if I plan it carefully enough to begin with.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been thinking about where this fear comes from. Partly it’s insecurity, which I don’t think any writer quite gets over, no matter how successful they are. Part of it, though, comes from ambition.

We should always be ambitious as writers, always striving to improve our work and try new things and potentially break new ground in our chosen genres. In being ambitious, though, there is always fear. If we did the same thing over and over again, we’d know exactly how to do it. Trying new things brings doubt, and the fear that we might fail abyssmally – but it also allows us to grow as writers, and ultimately improve. Then we can accomplish more things without fear, until we decide upon trying something new and go through all the doubts again…

It’s a never-ending cycle, or at least never-ending as long as we keep writing. Perhaps that’s no consolation, but I’m trying to look at it this way: the fear is there because I’m being ambitious, and as long as I keep feeling it, I know I’m pushing myself to write better and better.

  1. 2 February, 2012 12:02 am

    “The fear is there because I’m being ambitious,” — what a great way to think about it! As I deal with my own doubts about my work, this is a good way to counter them. Thanks for the timely post!

    • 2 February, 2012 1:32 pm

      I think all writers suffer from doubts, so I find positivity is the best way to counter them. In fact, the same can probably be said of most things in life!

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