Writing Fears

This fall I’ve started work on a fiction project I haven’t worked on since the spring. This past summer I focused my writing time on nonfiction, especially in July when I did CampNaNo. My nonfiction writing feels like it’s getting stronger and I’m enjoying it more and more as time goes by.

That hasn’t been my experience of writing fiction, at least not lately. Recently I wrote an outline to a short story I’ve been working on and I sent it to my critique group for their feedback. Because it was between meetings, one of the members of our group offered to meet with me to discuss the outline. She thought there were some issues with it that needed to be addressed in person because they were difficult to articulate in an email.

I replied to her email saying:

“Honestly, I’m not sure if I want to keep working on this story. I think I need to start doing something completely different. The last short story I wrote had a similar setting and characters and I want to try something different. Or I guess I could just be sick of it. I don’t think we need to meet just to go over my outline.”

Since then I’ve felt like giving up on fiction: Maybe I’ve lost my fiction writing skills. Maybe I never had any to begin with. Maybe I should go back to writing prompts and free writing and stop trying to write something as ambitious as a short story. 

At this point in my thinking process, I realized I was in the grip of fear. I then asked myself if I wanted to allow my fear to lead me. I don’t.

I now see that the only way I’m going to get better at writing short stories is to keep writing—and rewriting–short stories.

I’ve been fearful of showing my fiction to my critique group—not because they are harsh critics, but because I am, at least with my own work.

I now choose to think differently about my critique group: I have the luxury of being part of a group of people who are willing to critique my work and to allow me to critique their work. I’m going to take advantage of this luxury by writing another draft of my short story and showing it to my critique group—as imperfect as it is.

I’ll become a better writer if I do. And that is my goal.

I know the fear I’ve been feeling is partly because I stepped away from fiction for too long, and partly because my fellow critique group members have been accomplishing so much while I’ve been doing other things.

I can manage my fear (not banish it, I don’t think that’s possible) by writing fiction more often and choosing to think how lucky I am to have an accomplished group of writers reviewing my work.

I feel much better now. Time to get back to my short story.

What are your fears about your writing life and how do you manage them?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’m dividing my writing time between a coaching book for physicians and a short story these days, and it’s only two days before NaNo starts and I haven’t made the commitment–there’s still time to decide!


26 thoughts on “Writing Fears

  1. I would definitely agree that writing more stories will help get you back into the fiction zone. I feel the same way after I’ve been away a while — wait, how do I do this, again? Another thing that works for me (sometimes, at least) is thinking more thoroughly about what **exactly** I’m afraid of. You talk about your fear, but the only thing that you mention being afraid of is your own criticism. So what I would ask myself is, What’s the worst that could happen if I write a mediocre story? Or even a totally crappy story? And what’s actually likely to happen?

    • fiction is fiction but I do get angry when I see people writing mediocre pieces and they force someone to read jargon but I think your blog is quite good. Well done Joy

      • Thanks Tim — and that’s a great example. If I write a story that someone gets angry about because it has too much jargon, what’s the worst that will probably happen? They won’t finish reading it? They won’t “like” it? So… that’s not the end of the world, right? I mean, I understand every writer’s (and my own) desire to have their work LOVED by everyone, but hey, not going to happen.

      • Technical question: I’m getting emails from WordPress that various people “liked” my comment, but I don’t see a “like” button on my comment and can’t “like” anyone else’s comments. Are the rest of you in some special “comment liking” club. and if so, how can I join?

  2. Thank you for sharing your fear about writing and the way managed to write again gave me confidence to continue my passion for writing. i am a student and loves to write stories but as for as taking writing as carrier i was afraid.

  3. I have two fears: 1) that I will put my heart and soul into a piece only for no one to read it; and 2) that I will continue to base my self-worth on the number of ‘likes’ a piece receives. Why can’t I just enjoy the process?

    • Patt, I think you’re being too hard on yourself. I’m finding great joy recently just putting all the outside influences aside and writing for me and what I’d be interested in reading. My heart and soul goes into something that is for me and I believe someday readers will see that and enjoy it as well. Just something which is working for me so far, hope it helps you!

  4. On occasion I do have fears that the rejections will never stop. Never.
    I manage by revising and sending the stories out again. Or if I feel the story is in its best form-no revision. I simply find another journal or whatever and send it out! As Chaucer said, “Go, little book.”

  5. My greatest (writing) fear is never actually finishing a story. I have so many I’ve started then stopped, then went to a new one, then something else, on and on and on. I stopped calling myself a “writer” about 10 years ago and settled into my day job accepting I may have to wait until retirement age to try again. Finally this past Spring I put my foot down and got back to it. I still have loads of other things taking up my time but fortunately technology today is allowing me to get back to my story where ever I am. Plus I too joined a critique club with some great people and have found a few podcasts I listen to at work which helps keep me motivated to get back to work whenever I have/make time. I’ve still not finished my first novel but I’ve done more work than ever before on it which has helped me discover a new a direction to take it. This has the characters speaking to me for a change so I’m excited to hear what they tell me each time I open it. You’re not alone with your fears and hopefully you find comfort in all the great responses this is getting you! Hang in there!

  6. My main goal is making people happy, in what i write and do, and since we’re talking about writing, let’s just stick to it.
    I always seem to write without putting much effort to it, i think i write what i think. my fear is mostly that people don’t receive my message as i want it to be delivered. I mean, i’m writing for THE PEOPLE after all.
    I want to be an inspirational writer someday… and i always work on that. But… when i read the comments and replies my readers leave on an article, i feel satisfied and relieved..
    Writing is a huge part of my life. If i lose people’s satisfaction, i’ll lose everything .

  7. I used to fear being an incompetent writer but that was before I began devoting more intensive time doing it. Gradually I realized I was primarily interested in writing for myself, for the transcendent experience and joy of it. Still, I believed good short stories to be out of my reach. As did you, I tackled that by writing them more often. Now I write a short story per week for my WordPress site; I write creative nonfiction once a week as well. I still see this fast writing as learning the craft but it stimulates ideas and frees me for me to work about 8 hours on a piece and then leave it. Stories I submit may take weeks, months, years–but I am not certain they are any more remarkable, in the end. Critique groups have often aided revisions, but they do not have the last call. I think more and more writing strengthens our craft and our imaginative reach.

  8. I have been one lucky guy. A lifetime of observation and even a good bit of interaction with all sorts of characters in all sorts of situations. And some of them I even remember! From all of this comes stories. Some true stories that really happened, some stories I can never tell without twists and turns that would shield the characters from being revealed. But stories just the same. Putting them down so that others will enjoy them is the real challenge and that’s where the work is. Find those stories from what you know. Add some heart and some fire and some ice and try to get the commas in the right place. Tell those stories though, we do want to read and enjoy them.

  9. I write for fun,and I’m not all bad of I should say so myself. I’m fresh out of highschool doing my first year at college and its been hectic. I haven’t written in a while. I’m not a published writer or anything, I write because i want to express what is inside. For me writing fiction is too easy, but takes a lot out of me. I fear that if i were to be published they will change the initial meaning of my work and milk the raw feeling I had when writing it with all their editing. But my biggest fear is not being heard at all…

  10. Great and honest post! I love writing as a hobby and would love to become a published writer. I have such a large fear of people reading my work because I’m afraid they won’t like it, or think it’s not original, or too cliche. Hopefully I can follow your lead and just understand that is what makes us better writers. Thank you!

  11. I’m a Master’s student currently working on my first novel that’s been in progress since middle school. It’s on draft number 12 (I lost count around 7) and I am seeing new mistakes after the long break.

    I’m determined to complete this novel, and I’m not afraid of what other people say about it.

  12. Fear and doubt has killed the best writers. I believe the only true failure is not wielding the pen at all when there is a story tell. I understand craft can be learned through practice. Whats to fear about practice? I haven’t had an English course in more than 15 years. My grammar is atrocious. And I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’ve got a story to tell. I’m doing nanowrimo this year. 50,000 words is pretty steep in month’s time. But we’ll give it a whirl!


  13. Thank you for taking the time and effort to put down your honest thoughts on a topic that can be a true problem when writing fiction.
    When writing reviews or creating your own non-fiction piece there is the security of knowing you are working on a subject that exists; be it someone else’s work, or your own interpretation of facts.
    With fiction, the starting point is a jumble of thoughts and a blank page. The challenge is to bring order to the former and then translate the order into coherence upon the page. The latter is not an easy as it sounds. Often the mind in the intention to form coherence skips some of the practical parts of placing a description into a written format, a bit like that very simple idea you have to re-decorate the spare room in one afternoon only to be confronted by…well you know the store of problems.
    How true when reading the part concerning loss of fiction writing skills. I write Amazon reviews and can produce one with relative(stress that word) ease. My own efforts at fiction have fallen flat and I am starting again. Now the ‘I am not worthy’ syndrome creeps in, everyone else seems to make it so effortless. This of course is a statement made without knowing the efforts every writer puts in. So it was a great comfort to see that someone else falls prey to questioning their own ability.
    It is uplifting to read that you are not giving up. Keep on Keeping On as it were.
    Best wishes, and I’m sure you will get there.

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