In his book Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela wrote, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Though these words are in the context of his autobiography, I can say with full confidence that his wise words also apply to writing. The art of creating written work is just as methodical as it is emotional. And fear is one of the most familiar emotional experiences that a writer encounters. As much as we want to be fearless writers, navigating the process of creating written work without fear, it is impossible. But we are given opportunities write courageously, to acknowledge our fears and still write in a way that is genuine, meaningful, and purposeful. I created a short list of actionable methods one can use to face their fears while writing courageously.
1. Remember your ‘why,’ especially when you are most afraid to write.
Our initial desire to write often comes from that unexplainable urge to give life to the thoughts and plots that have been floating around in our heads. And that urge to give life to those thoughts and plots usually comes from a sense of purpose. There are those of us that are interested in expanding the scope of fictional characters that are portrayed in novels, allowing people who are in the margins to see that they, too, are worthy of being seen in the books we read. There are a number of us who are about the business of sharing our own personal stories, hoping that by revealing our scars, others will learn to heal. Whatever purpose drives your desire to write, it deserves to be honored and respected, especially when you feel fear’s grip.
2. Recognize when fear creeps in while you write or when you are about to publish.
Being honest with our emotions is generally a good way to live. And our writing lives are no different. I find immense freedom in admitting to myself (and sometimes to my closest writing and blogging buddies) when I am scared of writing an essay or pitching a publishing company. When it comes to sending pitches, fear usually does not hit me full throttle until after I have sent the email, so there is nothing I can do in that situation but wait. But when it comes to blog posts or essays, sometimes, I have to fight harder. Most times, I do it on my own, telling myself, Yes, I am afraid, but I must to do this. I must honor and respect my purpose. I remind myself that my purpose is not about me; it is about those I aim to help (fellow writers) and those I am advocating for (immigrants, women of color, etc.). Once I realize my purpose is not about me, my fear must, in turn, take a backseat. But there are times when I cannot do it alone, and my close writing friends are there to remind me and encourage me to move forward with the pitch or to go ahead with publishing a post. I have said it before and I will never get tired of saying it but writing is just as much of a personal journey as it is a fellowship. And without the company of my very small writing tribe that encourages me behind the scenes, so much of my work that has resonated most with readers would not exist.
3. Become uncomfortable with “what if?”
So long as your pitch is never sent or that completed blog post or essay stays in your drafts out of fear, you will have to live in a world where you did not try with that particular piece of work. Do not become comfortable in that world.
4. Honestly evaluate your motives for writing if you ever think something along the lines of, “I’m afraid that no one will care to read what I have to write.”
We live in a world of hyperboles, so when we say “no one,” we usually mean a very small amount of people. If we think that there is a quota that needs to be reached before people can have access to what we have written, we need to seriously reflect on our motives. We will have to honestly ask ourselves, Is my writing about me or is it about the people I am born to serve? There is nothing wrong with being a fan of your own writing, but if we see “numbers being too small” as a legitimate reason not to make our work public, then we are saying that those handful of people who need our pieces the most are unworthy of reading them. This is one example where our fears are born out of our egos and it should not be something we endorse. Even if only one person who needs your writing the most reads it, you have done a fantastic job. You honored your purpose and, in turn, you were able to serve that person who needed your message.