The Nasty Four-Letter Word that Keeps You from Writing

The Nasty Four-Letter Word that Keeps You from Writing

Reader Comments (132)

  1. It’s always been clear to me that the more important a writing project is, the more difficult it is for me to complete. Press releases and guest posts, for example, are two of the most difficult for me. They are the hardest because I think they matter the most—and I’m always afraid of mediocrity.

    I wonder though: assuming we do eventually get the project completed, do you think that fear can be a good thing? I know that in my case it practically guarantees an edited, reread, proofread, and polished product.

    I think without that fear there might be a lot more garbage floating around.

    Thanks for a great post, and discussion topic too.

  2. From my own perspective, I do some things in my blogging that would be considered amateurish or crude. The fact is that I am learning as I go, so I’ll accept that I’ll make mistakes. I also know that I am improving as I learn the “rules” and get more experience.

    As it’s been said before, “fear is the mind-killer”.

    Excellent article topic and excellent article!

  3. A good question to ask yourself when you’re not sure whether what you’re doing is the right thing to do or not, is this…

    “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

    Great post!

  4. I enjoy writing a lot however you summed it up by saying that writing for a blog just “puts your writing out there” … and it’s just so much more fearful knowing your work will be “out there!”

  5. Good post. We wrote about fears lately but you drive the message home much better than we do (no fear of making mistakes here; they’re good for self-improvement).

    What always strikes me as ironic, though, is that we’re often told to do away with fear, to be more confident. And yet those who are more confident, who lack no fear and who go after what they want, are often put down by those who hold themselves back.

    The line seems to be how much individuals display their lack of fear to others. Flaunt it too much, and you’re muttered about behind your back. Hold it in too much, and you become a wallflower. Tough call.

  6. I think for bloggers, especially the ones with a modest amount of readers, fear of rejection is the dominant one, bloggers who have a wide audience are already established and surely would not have this problem, while bloggers with a modest or small audience always have this monkey on their shoulders, always wondering if what they’re writing is good enough or likable.

  7. Well put Brian. The “F” word keeps so many people from getting ahead, it’s really amazing.

    @ James
    “And yet those who are more confident, who lack no fear and who go after what they want, are often put down by those who hold themselves back.”
    – The other part of pushing forth bravely is ignoring the fools playing armchair referee. Follow your heart, take what is constructive from those willing to give feedback (good or bad) and be even more successful next time.

    On the other side of the spectrum… there’s a funny thing on feedback… it’s so hard to get honest feedback from people, except the few how spew the negative stuff gratuitously. πŸ™‚

    We recently did a complete redesign of our site – and we didn’t ask our friends what they thought about it. Rather, we asked them one simple question: “What one thing would you change to make it better?”

    There’s a great quote we picked up in “Illusions” (awesome book, btw):
    “Live life in such a way that you will never be ashamed if something you did is published around the world. Even if what is published is not true.”

    To be a truly successful entrepreneur, it really helps to put your money where your mouth is on that.

    Onward – no fear! πŸ™‚

  8. @ Dan and Jen – Agreed. I’m all for taking criticism of any kind, learning from it, and coming out better in the end. Honest feedback, good or bad, is manna. That’s a good trick (the “one thing to change” question), by the way. I’ll be using that one.

    @ Bakkouz – It makes no difference for bloggers, big or small, established or not. Humans all want and crave acceptance. Remember, instincts tell us there is safety in acceptance. Some people deal better with less acceptance, some don’t – but yes, a large readership does reassure that a blogger is liked and respected and thus quenches much of that fear.

  9. Fear of mediocrity is my biggest buggagoo. I’m so worried that whatever I write will be laughed at or harshly criticized. But you’re right when you say it can never be perfect. So why not just do your best and then let the chips fall where they may.

  10. Brian, excellent excellent topic and post, fear being exactly what has been at the root of my blogging progress lately!

    I notice that when I first started blogging I wasn’t as afraid, I was much more joyous about the experience, and now I’ve become filled with so many fears, fears that can be immobilizing when it comes to writing and doing what needs to be done to progress with a blog.

    Since I don’t want to be immobilized, I got out my book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers, and was reminded that the feeling of fear never goes away, no matter how successful you become! The thing is that you don’t want to stop yourself from taking action just because of the feeling of fear, and to remember that whatever happens, you will handle it. This doesn’t mean that I’m cured of my fears, but I can say that even by publishing this comment that I’m not allowing my fear and perfectionism hold me back from taking action.

    Thanks Brian!

  11. As a coach, this is really familiar ground. My take: put the cart before the horse. Jump. We can all plan until the cows come home. But plannin without action is siding with the bugaboo saboteur rather than future you’re living into…

  12. Fear in any form is paralyzing. However, the greatest weapon against fear is pushing through the “feelings” and experience the relief on the other side. The only way to deal with fear is attack it and realize the illusion that most fear presents.

    I’ve allowed fear many times to keep me from “doing,” but was elated when I realized I was wrong at the things I had feared.

    The sad thing is fear can be felt, the awesome thing though is fear can be overcome.

    Great post, Brian!!

  13. Great post, Brian. It really hits the mark. I’ll be honest, I’ve avoided a lot of potential writing jobs because of fears of one form or another.

    This post will remind me to not let that happen again (or, at least, not as often).

  14. Well said! Fear of mediocrity is a big issue for me. Things never sound as good on the written page as they did in my head. The worlds I imagine for my fiction come out flatter than I imagined them to be.

  15. Thanks Brian for uplifting my spirit on this rainy Monday. The truth always wins out and fear is a factor in everyone’s life whether they admit this to theirselves or not. Change does cause fear! Your post will help us to remember not to let fear bring us down! Failures do bring growth!
    Best Regards,

  16. I read this blog all the time, and this is one of the best posts I’ve seen on it.

    I’ve never seen anyone sum up writer’s block so well, or give any real advice on how to overcome it. I feel like I will return to this post every time I’m having trouble coming up with words (or ideas for any art project).

    Thank you!

  17. Right now I think what keeps me from writing is the fear of time spent. I used to think of a topic and figure I could spend an hour and get a nice post. Now I find that as I get involved in writing the article, more ideas come and it expands, and next thing you know, I’m into it for over 2 hours, my wife is pissed because I’m obsessively tying up the computer and I should have been in bed 2 hours ago. So for me it would be fear of commitment because I know once I’m commited, my time is taken. And then I feel it from my wife, my kids, and my tired butt dragging out of bed the next morning. Thanks for the good post. – Karl

  18. You are so right! It really does boil down to that nasty little “F” word.

    Personally, when I ghostwrite for clients, I find it freeing because MY name isn’t attached to it. For some reason, knowing I have that anonymity frees me to write with the “F” word hanging over my head.

    On the contrary, when I actively seek publication in a manner where my name and bio is attached to the piece, I immediately freeze up and can’t write a single word that makes any sense.

    This is something I will DEFINITELY be working on more in the next few months to come. I *must* conquer that dirty little “F” devil, one way or another. πŸ˜‰

  19. Oh, how I love this post. Talk about calling me out on the carpet. πŸ™‚ I remember, way back when, I interned at a local tv station. On the trip out to my first interview, the photographer realized I was extremely nervous. He was a gruff old guy who had seen it all, and he barked at me, “Relax for geez sakes! It’s not brain surgery!” I don’t think I relaxed, but I jumped into the interview with both feet. πŸ™‚

  20. I agree, Brian! My problem in the past has always been perfectionism, or as you put it “Fear of Mediocrity”. Lately I have been able to accomplish a lot more, just by being aware of this, so I can tell myself stuff like “Don’t be silly – no one is perfect” etc. Then I just go ahead and do it. You are so right in saying that “Action beats inaction every time.” πŸ™‚

  21. What a fabulous post! Well-written, to-the-point and fun.
    It occurred to me that all of the “f words” could apply to a number of tasks besides writing…like following up on story pitches, crafting proposals or anything else where rejection, mediocrity and fear of the results of success apply. Thanks, Brian. I’m sharing this with my creative colleagues.

  22. I have to tell you, I accidentally stumbled across this website and I am SO GLAD that I did! This blog pin-points me exactly! It tells me every reason I do what I do with my writing, and everything I need to do to keep writing. I now have a new quote hanging in my cube: “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s doing what needs to be done despite the fear.”

    Thanks for such a great post, I’ll be back for more!

  23. Very good points Brian. I knew I’d be glad that I subscribed to your blog, and this post proves just that.

    Not everyone will like or agree with everything we write. For every post published, I believe that one person may think it’s great and well written, while the very next person will think it sucks and leave you a nasty comment telling you how much you suck. Just let it roll right off your back. No one, and I mean no one, always writes perfect posts.

  24. The fear of failure, success, rejection, etc., are all normal reactions and we wouldn’t be human without them. How we deal with fear is what separates failure from success.
    If I know I’m afraid and avoiding something, I go and do it anyway. I know I have two choices – be afraid and definitely fail, or be afraid and possibly fail. My chances for success are always better when I try, even when I’m not sure of myself.

    Best of Luck,
    Marcel Legros

  25. I just started reading Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver, today. He echoes your sentiments.

    Thanks for reminding us it’s not really any tangible thing that slows down our writing. We do it to ourselves.

  26. Yes, yes, yes, all so true. I coach people who want to write and much of the time is spent fending off these very fears.

    I’d also add another: fear of wasting time.

    People are very reluctant to write the c**p that we must inevitably start with. They cringe when I say they may get one good page out of every 50. In our hurry up, get it done, get it right culture, people are often afraid to waste time, look bad and be a beginner.

    Once we expose that, the writing can become much more fun and freeing.

    I personally got over my writing fears by giving myself five years to write without worrying about it being any good or publishable. It really freed me up to be a beginner and try all kinds of things.

    Not that I’m not afraid that my novel will s**k and won’t get published. I just don’t care so much about the fear. I’ve embraced that kind of fear as one of the best free adrenaline rushes around.

  27. Fear of Failure also shows itself when we refuse to quit doing something in a “particular way” that hasn’t been working. Because by quiting we would be admitting that our “particular way” failed. So, instead of changing our tactics we end up doing the same thing with the same result.

  28. I’m definitely afraid. Just having a site by the name linked above (chosen b/c of terms as opposed to out of arrogance) makes me afraid to run into someone who would by some small off chance recognize me from the site.

    And fear of failure, not b/c of failure but because of all the related reasons that Brian listed above, keeps me from diving head first into the newest idea. Now to get started…

  29. Great post Brian…

    I believe all of this boils down to the ultimate fear – the fear of the society. They are the ones who praise or criticize your work. In other words, you write for others to read it, so there will always be this fear of ‘what will they say/think?’. You never experience fear if you write for your own pleasure.

  30. how about fear of fear itself? I’ve seen people taking too many precautions because of fear itself till the plan goes sour. Doing things in mediocrity is good πŸ™‚

  31. I really love this post. My own fears have been reflected in your words. Thanks for reminding me of them, I’ll continue writing inspite of them in the future.

  32. I just kicked off my real estate blog yesterday. I’ve been trying to do so for about 3 months. I was fearful of writing articles that would not be relevent or would be challeneged by my peers. Finally, after good coaching, I took the dive. Thanks for putting into words what I already knew was true.

  33. Fantastic post! This has really helped me. I think many people even if they are wordsmiths are still finding the world of writing for blogs a learning experience as the whole process seems to change by the day. I will make sure I keep reading for more updates.

  34. Thank you for this. (I’m a long-time subscriber, first-time commenter.)

    Fears of mediocrity and risk. Nail on the head.

    Mediocrity: Rather than just start and see where it goes, I procrastinate starting my blog by building a wall of perfection: have lots of content ready up front, have the entire blog’s lifespan intricately organized, ensure I have lots of potential content for a few months before just starting to write.

    Risk: Can you say, “social anxiety”? πŸ˜‰

    Those are a brutal combination, the whole greater than the sum of their parts. Your post here has inspired me to cut through it.

    “I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer.”

  35. About a year and a half ago I decided to start a graphic design and photoshop tutorial blog based on the career of design that i was working towards.

    Starting that blog I have failed many times but it has taught me to write what my audience wants and not just what I want- especially now that it is of less focus and copy takes more of a bigger role than design these days for me.

    Anyway, thank you for reminding me to keep going.


  36. Thanks for such a refreshing view on what it takes to push ourselves forward.

    I especially liked your highlight that actions beats inaction everytime.

    Actually it’s the acting and moving-it-forwardness that separates the winners from the losers.

    Pushing through the fear is a core component of success.

    Thanks for sharing your insight!

  37. Thank you. Fear has held me back from doing many things in my life. This is a brilliant and insightful post. Thank you again πŸ™‚

  38. Great post, Brian. It’s a timeless topic really. In my experience, it had been fear that causes more problems that anything else. The day I gave myself permission to fail is the day I started enjoying more successes.

    In fact, to support your post here, I’m going to link to a post of mine that complements this one: Fearless Writing.

    You’ve been hitting some real home runs lately. Great guest columns, too.

  39. I thought the four letter word was going to be “fail”. My problem is neither, it is just having a solid beginning, middle and end. I usually have two.

    -Sue Orkin

  40. There is only one thing that matters when you start writing – the ability to transform your thoughts into proper and accurate instrument to say something. It does not really matter if you are a good writer or not. If you are not, then you just won’t be noticed. The “F” word – it stays until you get use to writing – the negative thing here can be if the fear is transformed into self confidence!
    Nice article anyway :)!

  41. Brian,

    How true! Thanks for those words of wisdom!

    Writing always involves a certain degree of vulnerability; but that can be part of its magic–because without it, we could never truly touch the heart, soul, or mind of our reader.

    Congratulations on being a finalist in the Writing White Papers Top 10 Writing Blogs competition! (Of course, it’s no surprise!)


  42. You took the words right out of mouth. I’m relocating from Istanbul to the states after 10 years and fear reared its ugly head in my writing two weeks ago; my one anchor. I fear my articles on Arabisto may not live up to the pro’s who write there, and for my own blog I know what to write but can’t seem to put it out there.

    I always ask friends, colleagues and clients what is the fear behind their concerns, and now I must ask myself this same question. Most issues we face come back to fear: Fear of self, fear of decisions, fear of writing, fear of criticism, fear of not being good enough, fear of our own confidence, fear of success and on and on.

  43. Fear isn’t usually what I experience, distraction is much more of a problem for me. There are times, however, when uncertainty creeps in, but I can usually vanquish those feelings by doing something else. But then, I get distracted!


  44. Fear is the #1 factor that paralyzes a writer. Most bloggers would have started earlier except that they were fearful of the task at hand.

    The # 1 fear is content. More precisely coming up with fresh content on a daily basis.

    The reality of blogging is that content is much easier to find, along with your voice, than comprehending the technology curve.

    The other fear? Fear of repetition.


  45. Thank you for writing this piece. I’ve been handed a book deal. My deadline is racing toward me. The nearer it gets the less adequate what I’ve written seems to me and the less qualified to finish I feel. I’m petrified of writing a book that’s OK. This fear of mediocrity, like you say, manifests itself as perfectionism – creativity chilling, sentence killing perfectionism.

    All my friends’ pep talks haven’t done have as much to talk these demons out of my writing room as your brief essay here. Thank you for being brave enough to make the rest of us brave again.


  46. Brian, I’ve enjoyed your article on fear immensely as it has a close correlation towards my procrastination to completing the work that I’ve outlined during my research phase. Even though similar articles and books have been published with similar analogies, I enjoy your writing style and honesty a lot more sincerely than my previous encounters with related information.

    Keep up the excellent work Brian and I look forward to meeting you during pubcon or the next marketing event. Until then, stay healthy and enjoy your holidays.

  47. I have been searching for a solution to my writer’s block for so long, and I’m relieved to have finally found such useful advice. I was never afraid to write until recently. Writing has always been an indescribable joy that would keep me company until the early hours. So feeling this paralysing block, all of a sudden, is especially scary. I think I can cover the entire spectrum of fear… mediocrity, risk, failure. But I have come to realise something while reading through the comments above. Fear, in a strange kind of way… is good. I admit myself to be a fickle person who flits from one form of art to another. But losing my interest, or finding difficulties in these activities never frightened me. I understand now that the more I fear, the more I care. The more terrified I am, the more passionate I am about the project. So although it prevents me from doing what I love, fear itself encourages me to try harder. I am afraid of writing for all the reasons you have listed above, and because of this I know that writing is what I want, and I am ready to fight fear to the death to get it back!

  48. Thanks Brian! I don’t know if you realise how much you have accomplished: this was not just a very well, concisely written and immensely helpful article (as so many people have testified). It was also an opportunity for all of us to be brave and share our fears. Your article has been as useful as the number of comments, which are clearly demonstrating that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

    I am personally struggling writing my phd thesis and I would only like to add one more advice I stumbled across the net: “The best thesis is the one that is finished” πŸ™‚

  49. I’ve been reading Copyblogger for some time now (I love the headline series), but I just now discovered this post.

    Brian, it’s excellent! So I wanted to post a comment in order to say “thank you” for the tips and motivation.

  50. I agree. I’m usually a shy person, and the thing I like about the internet is that I didn’t tell anybody what my real name was and I didn’t tell anyone I knew what my blog was (It took me a while to get any readers though.)

    Now my problem is that it seems like I know my readers and don’t want to post anything that might make them think i’m an idiot (or worse pity me.)

    Time to move on to a new blog. ANyway this was an interesting read πŸ™‚

  51. Brian, thank you so much! There aren’t enough words to express how it important it was for me to run into your post at this precise moment in time … but please know that your wise words have given me the kick in the butt I so desperately needed right now. I’ve asked my hubby to print your post and have pledged to myself that I will read it daily. Again, Brian: Thank You!

  52. Hey there,

    Fear is a real joy killer… or success killer..
    Fear is really something that one has to beat and overcome…
    I read and learn from everywhere and are greateful for this information..
    Thanks a lot..

  53. This is an excellent article. Perhaps the root of much of this fear is the fact we try to live up to the expectations of society, in terms of professionalism and perfectionism, before we have the skills to accomplish something of that standard.

    To be sure, to strive for a standard is wise, but I believe everyone needs an outlet, even for their not-so-good work! The internet is mine.

  54. I enjoyed reading this post. Honestly I do not fear of anything while writing something as writing is my hobby and I do not care whether it’s gonna rock my audience. However, there’s a barrier that affects my writing and that’s the language barrier. As English isn’t my primary language, I feel limited while writing something. All of my blogs are in English although I have a really little knowledge in English. Well, now I think that’s what I fear.

    I wish I could write outstanding English. πŸ™?

  55. It’s called “Failing your way to success”. We have a choice to let fear run our lives and likely destroy our chances for a happy and successful life or to use that fear to drive us toward success.
    Great article, Brian, it’s an excellent reminder to put fear in it’s place.

  56. How do you keep going with a creative project when doubt and rejection loom larger than belief?
    For years I wrote one unpublished novel after another. I knew about the struggle to create, all right. I had 5 children to support. I loved writing and the texture of a sentence. Yet I faced such doubts that at times I almost couldn’t carry on.

    It was easier at the start, when I could still believe in the possibility of success. I wrote seven novels before one was published. How to keep going? I still didn’t know. I was stuck halfway through yet another novel and nervous about taking on a project to write a mythology textbook. A writer friend, Bridget, and I came up with a plan ~ we would text each other two random words at night and in the morning, before dawn, we would make something out of them. In this way we would shortcut doubt and procrastination and begin each day already being writers.
    On the third day, I started to write what seemed like lectures from a guide I called Godfrey. I thought I would photocopy them for Bridget. On the day I wrote there were fifty more lectures to come, I realised it was a book length project. I wrote almost every dawn over a winter, in my house beside the sea. I wrote a book I didn’t set out to write and I did it without thinking, without stopping, for twenty minutes a day. That was the first thing I learnt ~ that by simply doing it, something would grow.
    I went on and wrote the myth book, finished the novel, published two more. The fear has mostly gone. Doubt still lives on and procrastination thrives in many guises. But after meeting Godfrey in these pages, I think I know enough now to carry on.

  57. I just think about Nike all of a sudden, “Just do it!”

    I’m thinking now maybe I should wear a pair of Nike as an anchor to remind myself of just do it!

    Or “Just write the damn thing!”

    When I looked back now, I realized the biggest thing that was holding me back was my perfectionism. I wanted every sentence to sound eloquent, every words to be perfect, every possible grammar error was avoided. Doing these things conflicted with my writing process as my creative mind was trying to come up with ideas while my logical mind was interfering. Now I just write whatever comes to my mind and silence that critical mind and worry about the correction later.

  58. Fear does interfere with our brain activity and thinking patterns. This article presents problems that come from it and then how to overcome them. Excellent points.

  59. I am working through my own fears about being my authentic self online and I am doing it on my blog as I go. It routinely gives me panic attacks but every time I take that leap and do it anyway, I end up feeling better about it and I have learned something about myself along the way.

    Thank you for this post!

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