That I’ll only end up drowning in the sea of online voices. That no one cares. That I’m not interesting enough, attractive enough, young enough, clever enough, or technically adroit enough to catch and hold anyone’s attention no matter what I blog/post about, when, where, how, or how often.”
This is how Karyn Henley, an author I am working with described her fear of promoting her books. I had two reactions when reading this:
- Wow – how honest she was.
- How common these fears seemed. (even if we rarely share them publicly)
And it made me consider: why do we often hide these fears? From ourselves, and from the world, perhaps because they somehow seem shameful?
I have heard a lot of quotes akin to “the brave aren’t those without fear; they are simply those who feel fear, yet move ahead despite it.”
Too often we avoid talking about fear because it seems like an embarrassing debilitation – something that if we pretend isn’t there – if we don’t discuss out loud, that at least we can give the illusion that we are brave and unaffected. But bravery is usually FULL of fear in the mix. So let’s talk about it.
I think that the more we try to pretend that fear doesn’t and shouldn’t exist, the more we hurt our own chances to create whatever it is you dream about.
I have been talking to writers about this – what are their fears as authors. I mean the stuff that keeps them up at night. The stuff behind why we procrastinate, and why we do or don’t take actions to create or share our work.
Today, I would like to explore what I have been hearing. Here are a few of the fears we discussed:
This seemed to be the number 1 fear among writers: That no one will care, no one will read their books, no one will feel any sense of enthusiasm about this thing they created.
I think this is what people who put themselves ‘out there’ learn through experience… They, at first, worry about failure: people HATING their book. But the reality is that the WORSE thing is that you create and share something, and no one even notices. The conclusion is that it was so bad, it wasn’t worth anyone’s time to notice.
As one writer shared with me on Facebook:
“I think I’d rather someone hate my work then not be affected by it in any way.”
JUDGEMENT AND/OR LACK OF CONFIDENCE
I wasn’t entirely sure where the lines were between these too. Basically it boiled down to a fear that “I am stupid or wrong or not good enough.” I suppose the line is this: an INTERNAL fear of not feeling worthy vs an EXTERNAL fear of taking the risk to feel you are worthy, and the world slapping you across the face as a correction.
The external stuff is what we would expect from any creative venture where you put yourself out there: “That people won’t like my voice/content/style,” said one writer, “and “It wavers between ‘I can’t write worth a damn’ and ‘no one will care about what I write’.”
For the internal stuff, it can become extremely personal. One writer shared: “Sometimes I think when things feel like they’re starting to work out, I sabotage myself.” The complexity of what goes on inside of ourselves can be dramatically more difficult to understand than external factors.
But it gets even more complex than that – it can wrap up into our public identity. As Karyn also shared with me:
“We [writers] often appear intrepid and expert in how we present ourselves, because we want to be seen as competent and worthy of attention. Inside, most of us are very insecure.”
Whenever someone signs up for my newsletter, I ask them what their biggest challenge is an author. This is a response I received earlier in the week that I have heard so often in the past: “[My challenge:] A new book launch, finding my readers without coming off as annoying.”
This one seems age old for anyone who is creating something considered “art.” That, if you do anything to “promote” it, you are somehow selling out, or becoming needy in the eyes of others. I have written a lot about this in the past, and my gut is that each of have considered this (or experienced this feeling) in the past.
This too can go deeper as well, as one author put it: “I fear engagement. There, I said it. Eeeek! Engagement is an intimate process. I am an introvert who can behave in an extroverted way when I have a clear need, goal, motivation.”
The conversation around introverts/extroverts is too involved to adequately cover here, but I wanted to at least mention it. My biggest concern with this one is if this fear of being annoying silences people, and prevents them from sharing their writing, and connecting with like minds. But, I know, that there is a big line between “I wrote this and think you may like it,” and an unending series of Tweets to “Buy my book, buy my buy, buy my book!”
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Another author’s fear: “That I’ll invest loads of time I can’t get back, and it go nowhere.”
To me, this spoke about a fear of return on investment. Every writer has precious few resources, often split between writing, family, work, and so many other things. And what we invest in can affect how others view us. For instance, if we spend months & years building something, and then it flops, we feel “stupid” in the eyes of others. I’m not saying this is a rule, but the “fear of embarrassment” is such a big driver in my opinion as to why so many folks don’t take chances in their personal life or career.
This is one I am adding here myself because I believe that in general, people fear change. And because of this, a lot of smaller fears are wrapped up in the service of this larger one. This can play out in a myriad of ways for writers, since so much has (and continues to) change in how we share writing and communicate with each other due to digital media and the internet.
WE FEAR THINGS WE DON’T UNDERSTAND
We are often afraid of things that we don’t fully understand. So the obvious solution here is to better UNDERSTAND what it is we hope to achieve and how they will come to be. Key to this is focusing on the human side of this, questions such as: “Who is my ideal reader? Where are they? What do they love?”
I had shared this in a blog post three years ago, but I think it is applicable here:
I am a huge fan of Andrew Warner of Mixergy.com, who interviews entrepreneurs. This is what he has learned when interviewing entrepreneurs who have written and published books:
“Authors don’t want to talk about their books after they’re published, for the most part. One of the reasons I heard is that they have this big vision for how big their lives are going to be, how much their lives are going to change after they publish their book. And they imagine their publisher is going to get them publicity, that they are going to get themselves publicity, they are going to be on Oprah, and then…”
“They have to hustle to sell their books, just like they have to hustle to sell anything. People aren’t paying attention to them. Once they realize that, and they push as much as they can, they don’t want to talk about the book anymore, because some of them are just a little embarrassed by how poorly it did compared to their vision. So they move on with their lives.”
Does that sound familiar to any of you? A big problem might be a lack of reasonable expectations on one’s own goals (beyond blindly hoping for “success” without a clear sense of what that looks like), and a lack of understanding of who they want to reach, and why those people would care.
When I work with an author, we first focus intently on their goals – getting very specific about what they hope to achieve short/mid/long-term. Then we switch gears to focus on their ideal audience, and learn about who they are, where they are, and what their core motivations are as it relates to books, writing, and worldview.
Whenever I consider that fear an author has in sharing their writing and developing an audience, I consider the value of LISTENING to their idea audience. This, as opposed to setting a strategy of just blanketing social media with updates about their book. (bleh!)
I recently watched a video of a designer from Nike – one of the people behind their innovative new shoe designs that are based off of woven threads, essentially a complex sock glued on top of a rubber outsole.
When I first heard of this, I thought it was a joke, and now that I have run in them, I am sold on an entirely new way that running shoes should be crafted. How did they move past the fear of what they have to lose in order to create something new? A classic Nike response:
“For us, having that single focus, which is our athlete, and listening to and observing them from the beginning of a project all the way through to the end is extremely vital.”
His talk is filled with other product design truisms, including:
- “We begin our conversations looking back at our history – story is very important to us.”
- “We fail [in order to] learn where our boundaries are.”
- “We are always building and creating products. Build it as quickly as you can.”
But his reminder that when you are serving someone else’s needs, you focus intently on them throughout the process is a good reminder when it comes to how to share your writing in a way that feels natural and resonates. (BIG note here that I am referring to the process of SHARING your work, not writing books by committee. I 100% know that your writing is YOUR art, YOUR voice.)
Inherently, this is a process developing an emotional literacy of understanding your own goals and fears, and those of the reader.
SUCCESS DOES NOT REMOVE FEAR
One writer told me: “[I'm] working on writing my second book now, I fear it won’t live up to the first.” That, with any amount of success can often come the feeling that now you have something to lose.
When I asked the question on Twitter: “What is your biggest FEAR in terms of sharing your writing with the world?”, author Emily Gould shared this response:
@DanBlank that hordes of assholes will attack me for it without even reading it and I still won’t be able to make a living from it, I guess?
I had met Emily at a meetup a year or two back, and had a nice conversation about her work. But this week, I saw an intriguing profile of her in The New York Times, which shared a backstory I never new, and perhaps explains some of the context for her Twitter response to me.
What fascinates me about Emily’s story and responses is that it indicates that our fears don’t go away, they simply evolve as we evolve. As she moved from one phase of her career to another, as her goals and challenges changed, so did the risk and fears attached to them. And that the past can compound with the present to make a weird amalgamation of new fears remixed with previous accomplishments. Is your head spinning yet? Mine is.
Too often, I believe “new” writers assume that if they just get over some mythical hump in their writing career, that things become easier, at least on an emotional level. I haven’t found that to be the case when talking with writers. Everything is relative, and no “success” can stop us from being human beings who oftentimes run on survival instincts, and who have a difficult time processing a complex social world.
All this to say: I don’t think fear is a shameful thing that we must rid ourselves of. It is a natural part of taking the risks that writers do. And that the logical reaction to fear should indeed be bravery.
So tell me writers, what are you afraid of?