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Fear of Failure

What keeps writers from writing?

Let’s be more specific: what keeps me from writing?

I asked some scholars about current challenges that keep them from making progress on their projects. I confessed one of mine: Fear of failure.

There’s this project that I am making no progress on. I pitched a piece to an online magazine in the fall and got an encouraging response. I know what I want to write, and how to do it. So what’s the obstacle? It’s for a general, non-academic audience, and I’m afraid it will suck. No one will like it. The editor who liked the idea will hate the piece. And so it goes…

I’ve been writing and publishing for a long time. I shouldn’t feel this way. I have spent hours reading and taking notes. I even scheduled time in a special collections unit at the library to consult a rare book. These are perfectly legitimate research tasks, but seen from another direction, they are also really good procrastination tactics. Sometimes procrastination research leads to useful outcomes, such as new knowledge, or blog posts.

Sometimes the fear of failure can be stronger than the motivation to succeed. And it makes sense to me that fear of failure is rooted in a fear of shame, which makes us feel bad about ourselves not just about our actions. Both of these ideas come from a 2013 article in Psychology Today.

How to combat the fear of failure? On strategy (suggested by another Psychology Today article) is to recognize our own competence. I know I can do this article. And if the editor doesn’t think it’s perfect, he may work with me to improve it. When I put myself in this position, when I view my goal from this standpoint, my fear is still there, but it doesn’t control me.

I had this revelation in December. It’s now mid-February. I still haven’t written a word of that article. But I’ve cleared my desk of other big projects.

And I have a very clean bathroom.

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