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Failing and the Anxious Writer

April 6, 2011

“Failure seldom stops you.

What stops you is the fear of failure.”

– Jack Lemon

This is going to be a very difficult blog post for me. Hopefully not for you. Just promise you when read this you won’t think I’m crazy? At least, not crazier than any other writers you know. Thanks.

I call myself an Anxious Writer. Sometimes I call myself an Intimidated Writer. Let me give you a list of some of the symptoms:

  • experiences anxiety and sweaty palms when faced with a blank screen/page
  • listens to writing podcasts and/or reads writing advice blogs and books to avoid writing but to feel as if they have been productive
  • a perfectionist of the type who either does or does not (there is not try)

There you have it. The Anxious Writer.

I first recognized myself as this type of writer when I attended Uncle Orson’s Literary Boot Camp. During the camp, you have to write a story. A new story. And everyone is going to read that story, including Orson Scott Card. No pressure. Riiight.

I knew that if I didn’t volunteer to be part of the first batch of stories, I would never get it done. So I left camp to go write, stared at my computer for a while and then proceeded to have a tear-laden meltdown for about three hours. I called my mom and my sister, crying about how I was never going to be able to write anything good enough. I told them I was crazy and stupid to come to this camp. I said I wasn’t a real writer because real writers don’t freak out like this. Everything they write is wonderful the moment they write it. Yeah right.

Luckily, they both knew better and told me to just write something. It didn’t have to be perfect, it just had to be written. They reminded me that something I had written got me accepted to this camp so I must be a good writer. And if I failed, that was life. I would pick myself up and learn from this experience.

So I dried my tears and wrote. And I realized for the first time that it was okay to try when there was a possibility of failure. Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure. I was overwhelmed by fear.

This was a huge revelation for me. So huge that I wrote myself a list of the things I learned about myself at Boot Camp and I have that list on my desktop and read it at least once a week.

And you know what? My story didn’t suck. It was nowhere near perfect. I’m currently re-working it as a novel. But Orson Scott Card complimented me (!) on my humor and voice. I will never forget that. And yet, even that experience doesn’t make it easier to sit down to write every day.

However, one thing it has taught me is that when I do sit down to write, it usually turns out better than I thought. It may be nowhere near publishable but it’s not horrible. That is the truth of the first draft. You are getting the story out in any way you can so you can polish it up later. You can’t polish what hasn’t been written. So write fast and write often. Letting ideas fester in your mind for too long is the best way to make sure they never make it out.

One of the best tools around to help the Anxious Writer is Write or Die. You can use it online for free or download it for a mere $10 (worth every penny). Basically, this program is a word processor that will “prod you” if you stop typing. You’ll see. Just ignore my evil villain laughter as you go.

I’m sharing this for all the other Anxious Writers out there. Because you have to write it down. Whatever IT is. Otherwise, it’s just the white noise of your mind that only you can hear. But maybe you like that.

But seriously, just go write something.

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