The gap between where we stand and where we want to be is often measured in fear.
This fear energy is so elusive and effective at stopping us in our tracks, it’s difficult to diagnose correctly. We call it procrastination. We call it perfectionism. We say we don’t have the time or the energy or the right notebook. We don’t know enough, we’re not good enough…you get my drift. I’d go so far as to suggest that fear is the root system of any part of our lives where we’re stuck.
For writers, fear of rejection looms especially large.
Letting fear stop us is certainly one option – and we’ve all done it. But I propose that we could start practicing the opposite—for far more interesting results: lean into our fear by doing what scares us as much as is humanly possible. Then attune our writer’s curiosity to what happens along the way.
Here’s the most invigorating example I’ve ever heard of the freedoms and triumphs that await you on the other side of your fear.
In this TEDx talk, Jia Jiang shares how he took on his lifelong fear of rejection by seeking out rejection for 100 days. From asking a stranger to borrow $100 to requesting a “burger refill” at a restaurant, this man radically rewired himself and profoundly changed his life simply by staying engaged every time he got a “no”, instead of running.
What Jiang discovered along the ways is that staying with the no—being curious about the objections of others—became an expedited path to some of the most surprising and transformative yesses of his life.
In my own writing life, getting in front of an audience has been my 30-year “overcoming terror” project. Because the first time I spoke my poems out loud to a crowd of listening humans I was absolutely convinced it would kill me, I have sought out every opportunity since then to share my work with people in person.
Over the years, I’ve collected a body of evidence that reading my work in public is something I can survive. And I’ve learned so much about vulnerability, courage, and the power of connecting with an audience.
Jiang and I agree on this: the real gift is what happens when we keep doing the terrifying thing until it its sharp edges get worn down to tolerable—and eventually, even triumphant. When the energy of fear is converted to the energy of momentum (because that’s what happens when we don’t let it stop us), the curse becomes a gift.
Imagine what our literary landscape would be like if Stephen King, Madeline L’Engle, James Joyce, Dr. Seuss, John Grisham, and Audrey Niffenegger had given up after their first several dozen rejections—or more.
And our literary landscape needs equally whatever you’ve been holding back in fear.
That’s why I want to invite you to go get 100 writing rejections. Because this puts you on the path to all of the acceptances that are out there waiting for you to risk reaching for them.
I hope that you will celebrate each rejection along the way as a badge of honor for your willingness to be visible and vulnerable. I also hope you’ll ask yourself and others: What can I learn from this – about my work and myself? Is there a “yes” on the other side of this “no” that I could reach in some new way? With a revision? Or a more suitable agent or publisher? Or a willingness to take an even bigger risk?
Along the way, you won’t just reset your sensitivity to rejection—you may just stumble into grace.
How have you “stayed with the no”, and what has it taught you? Or what will you do next to risk rejection? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
P.S. Here are nine more ways to harness fear to fuel your writing.