How to Overcome Fear of Failure

02.08.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course How to overcome writer’s block by Jurgen Wolff


If you get stuck as your project nears completion, it could be that a fear of failure is getting in your way. This could be the case even if you’re not aware of it—often, our fears lurk outside of our consciousness, but that doesn’t make them any less troublesome. In this lesson, you’ll find out how to vanquish that fear.


Scary Questions

It’s natural to wonder how your work will be received when it’s done. Scary questions come up:

• What if publishers (or producers) reject it?

• What if readers don’t buy it?

• What if I get terrible reviews?

• What if I’ve done all this work for nothing?

It’s easy to spiral down into depression and to find yourself unable to finish the project.


Step Back

The scenario in which you imagine getting rejections from publishers or producers is only one part of the larger picture. The more we zoom in on that, the greater our fear.

Here are a few questions to help you step back and put it into context:

How many rejections equal failure? One? 10? 100?

C. S. Lewis got more than 800 rejections before he sold even one piece of writing.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times before it went on to become a best-seller.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 40 times and went on to become a huge best-seller.

Even the classic Gone with the Wind was rejected by 25 publishers.

Set your number at the start: how many rejections will it take for you to give up on a particular manuscript? If you say 100, for instance, rejection number 20 will not bother you all that much. You fail only when you give up.

What will you learn along the way? Selling your work is not the only positive outcome of writing it. What will you learn about the subject? About yourself? About writing? Stepping back means not focusing only on the sale.

What would you have done with that time if you hadn’t been writing? The fear of wasting time suggests that if you weren’t writing, you’d be doing something more worthwhile. Would you? Or would you be watching TV or surfing the web?

If you find that a fear of failure is threatening to derail your writing, step back!


Give Yourself a Safe Way Out

If stepping back isn’t enough to get you back to writing, create a series of “escape hatches” for yourself.

Commit to finishing writing the project with the understanding that you can still decide at that point not to show it to anyone.

When the project is finished, commit to showing it to only one person whose judgment you respect and who you know will be constructive.

When you’ve had that feedback and done any rewriting necessary, commit to sending the manuscript or screenplay to only three agents to start off with.

You can use these kinds of agreements with yourself to make each step of the process feel safer.

Now that you’ve discovered several ways to take the sting out of the fear of failure, you should find it easier to move forward.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how to overcome the most destructive critic: the harsh inner one.

All the best,



Recommended book

Writer’s Doubt: The #1 Enemy of Writing (and What You Can Do About It) by Bryan Hutchinson


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