Transforming Fear to Courage: Tip #2

Sage CohenProductive writing1 Comment

The more I speak to writers about productivity, the more convinced I become that fear is at the root of everything that gets in our way. Perfectionism and procrastination are two of the most prevalent and misunderstood faces of fear. Think about it: have you ever received a rejection note that is anywhere as nasty as the things you tell yourself? I didn’t think so.

The stories about who we are as writers that we drag around like a pile of bricks tend to be the primary interference when we can’t finish a piece of writing and let it go into the world. Which is why I’m sharing this six-week series on ways to work with your fear so it’s fueling–rather than limiting your success. Last week, I suggested that you try thinking like a dog. This week, I dear you to appreciate exactly who you are, what you know and what you’re writing right now.


“The lead story is one I wanted to write for at least six months. I just didn’t think there would be enough of an audience. I thought the pet magazines wouldn’t take it because it was too controversial … Then I saw it on the front cover: ‘A Dog Is Not a Human Being, Right?’ I have a bit of a different take than the author, but basically that article could have been mine. What did you say to me once? The only way to get published is to send it.”—Chloe De Segonzac, emerging fiction writer, poet, essayist and freelance writer

I am a recovering perfectionist. My lifelong litany has been that I don’t know enough, am not talented enough or impressive enough to present myself as an expert on anything, ever. This kept me from doing much of anything with my writing life for years. Then I had a rather simple but significant “aha” moment. I started noticing that writers who didn’t seem to be any more perfect than I am were enjoying success.

It occurred to me then that maybe it wasn’t my job to decide whether or not I was good enough. Instead, I decided it was my job to write to the best of my ability, take the risk of sending it out for publication, and let the folks who make such decisions decide whether my stuff was any good. This entirely revolutionized my writing life.

I want to be clear that I did not stop that inner voice from judging me harshly. I simply decided to step aside and focus on something else. I opened up the question of the worthiness of my writing to a wider audience, taking the chance that someone, somewhere might not be as negative as my own inner editor. And I was right.

The fact of the matter is this: While you’re busy obsessing about not knowing enough about a particular topic or market (and therefore not taking the appropriate steps toward developing your expertise, understanding your market, and sending it out), some other writer is going to write down what they know on that very topic and pitch it. This person is 100 percent more likely than you are to land the assignment, because they took the biggest step of all: Asking for it.

I’m not saying that you are guaranteed success in the form of publication; but you are guaranteed success in the form of evolution. Each time you set a goal and move toward it, you learn. And you are expert enough to do that right now. When you commit to listening to feedback, learning from rejection, and continuously refining your writing and publishing skills, you will be doing everything you can to increase the odds of getting the results you want.

So why not bury perfection’s handcuffs in the backyard and get down to the work of believing in what you are doing, trusting that you will get better along the way, sending that query (or poem or short story), and making the most of whatever comes next?

One Comment on “Transforming Fear to Courage: Tip #2”

  1. Sage,
    You nailed it–fear can be paralyzing, especially to one’s writing life. Once it’s infiltrated,twisting around inside your head and leaking into your veins,you’re powerless. Until that is, you identify it and strike back, by making that call, taking that class, hitting the submit button, pitching that query you’ve been mulling for ages, asking your editor that clarifying question, or showing up every day to spend time with your writing self. Thank you for helping us to put fear in its place, Sage!

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