Overcoming the Fear of Failure: Every Creative’s Battle

Recently I was writing down answers for an online author challenge called #authorconfession (see my blog post on writer hashtag communities on the Crosshair Press page) and I came across an interesting question.

What are you most afraid of as a writer? 

It kind of took me aback and I had to consider the question for a moment. Certainly, my greatest fear is fear of failure. But then, what is failure? For me, failure isn’t so much about the number of books sold or which publisher picks up my manuscript.

For me, failure looks like not being able to do justice to the story in my mind and heart. It’s failing to capture and communicate it in a way that makes it real and brings it to life.

But then, I’m never going to be able to do that perfectly. There are limits to the English language, after all, and part of the joy of reading is filling in the gaps in a book with your imagination. That’s why every reader sees the same book a little differently.

I posted my answer on my Facebook page and was astonished by the flurry of comments and conversation it stirred up. Many authors–both newbies and well-established professionals–identified with my fear of failure and had their own nuance to what that meant for them. It got me thinking.

Is the fear of failure something every Creative struggles with on their journey? Is pushing through that fear simply the toll we pay to create something amazing and beautiful? 

It’s easy to let that fear be paralyzing and waste time revising a paragraph for the umpteenth time, browsing Pinterest for “research,” or just letting the many household chores or complexities of life steal all our creative time and energy. It’s that fear of failure that keeps us from sharing our work with others because we feel that if they don’t like it, we’ve failed–stunting our growth in our craft through lack of constructive critique.

In the course of the conversation, I asked my fellow Creatives for tips on how they overcome their fear of failure. My favorite response was from the fabulous Yaasha Moriah Wheeler (Side note: Isn’t that an awesome name? I’m going to steal it and use it in a book).

“Define failure. This is what happened when I tried: Failure means I never get published. Oh, wait. I am published, and as long as self-publishing exists, no one has an excuse not to get published. Okay, failure means I don’t sell many books. Well, what’s ‘many’? I need a number. Wait, what about that one person it makes a difference to? Would it be worth it for that ONE person?”

What does failure mean to you? Or, flipping the coin over, what does success mean to you? How do you define it? It’s a pretty nebulous concept, really, for us to be so concerned over. Is the fear of failure really just the fear of an illusion? Yaasha says as much.

“When you start asking questions about what failure means, you start realizing that failure isn’t real. Everything you do will impact somebody, teach you something, or bring you joy. Failure is pretty much impossible.” 

Can I just say that again, nice and slow, to let it soak into our souls, to make sure we get it? When you start asking questions about what failure means, you start realizing that failure isn’t real. I’ve been letting fear of failure paralyze me in my creative endeavors, fear of some dire consequence that isn’t even real.

Why do you write? (Or scupt? Or paint? Or dance? Or whatever fabulous creative thing you do?) Is it for accolades, to achieve some nebulous sense of having “arrived,” to sell a certain number of books, to have the largest fan club or have your face on a poster?

If so, you’re destined for frustration and disappointment. There will always be someone who hates your book and thinks it’s the worst thing ever written. You will never be “successful” enough to eradicate that fear of failing. If anything, it gets stronger because you have to live up to your successful reputation.

The only way to push past fear of failure is to dig deep into why you write. Why you create. The meaning and purpose behind your labor. Is it your love for your characters or craft? Is it to inspire young readers like you were inspired as a child? Is it to bring glory to a Creative God? Then failure is only failing to pursue your craft to the best of your ability. 

Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from creating the amazing, beautiful things you were created to create. Don’t let fear of something that’s not even real keep you from achieving more than you ever thought possible.

You will learn. You will grow. You will impact others. You will glorify an infinitely creative God. You will not, cannot, fail.

Photo by Silver Fern Creative Photography. All rights reserved. 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Taonga Tembo says:

    This is very true. I for one used to think failure is failing to reach up to the standards people have set for me. And quite frankly it suffocated me, led me in and out of depression. I would feel like I am a disgrace to myself and everyone I knew, not knowing it’s human to fall back, to not succeed every time. I have finally come to realize that failure is simply an imaginary line that is set up by everyone including ourselves,that if we put our magnifying glasses down,would by pass and reach our destination,that is success.

    1. Yes, failure is a learning opportunity and a necessary part of the creative process.

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