How Fear Helps You To Write Better

    Being a writer means living in terror.

    I don’t mean the terror of a zombie apocalypse or of circus clowns.

    I mean the incessant nagging of self-doubt.

    Do you ever ask yourself any of the following:

    • Do I really have what it takes?
    • What if they reject my proposal?
    • What if no one takes my ideas seriously?
    • What if I’m just not meant to be a writer?
    • When will they discover I’m a fraud?
    • Who am I kidding anyway?

    Self-doubt can be completely debilitating.

    But if you listen to it closely, this type of fear can become a potent tool for revealing your deepest desires and showing you how to attain them.

    Fear Tells Us What We Need


    We tend to think of fear as something to avoid, but it often turns out that behind self-doubt hides something we desperately need.

    For example, I have numerous fears about writing a novel:  the fear of criticism, not finding enough time to write, finding out I’m not as talented as I like to think I am, etc.  However, beyond all the things that make me hesitate, there is a powerful desire to hold the finished work in my hands, to have my ideas perfectly articulated, and to receive praise from friends and family.

    This tension of being drawn toward something and simultaneously repulsed is what creates the visceral discomfort of self-doubt that makes us want to run.

    The fact that self-doubt is ultimately rooted in desire is precisely why it’s so hard to ignore – we don’t want to lose sight of something precious! If there is no strong need or desire, there’s no self-doubt either.  For example, I have no fear of getting a pilot’s license – though objectively, flying is more dangerous than novel writing – because I have no desire to learn to fly.


    Fear Tells Us What It Will Take


    While self-doubt reminds us of our goals and desires, it also tells us – as nothing and no one else will – the price we must pay to achieve those goals.

    When I think about writing a novel, I immediately start imagining the frustration of writer’s block, the sting of rejection slips, and the fight-or-flight terror of one-star reviews on Amazon.

    Now, I have a choice.

    I can accept these fears as challenges I need to overcome to reach my goal, or I can let them become excuses to put off doing the work that will get me closer to my desires.

    If I push on, then my fears have given me the chance to prepare myself mentally before facing the challenges the real world will throw at me.

    If I let myself be discouraged instead, then my fear has still served me well – by testing my resolve and keeping me from diving into something I wasn’t sufficiently committed to.

    Either way, my fear shows me clearly what I need, how to get it, and makes me choose deliberately, instead of blindly chasing my desires.


    Fear Helps Us to Grow and Makes Our Achievements Matter


    I’ve often bemoaned how much more I could accomplish if only I was more courageous.

    However, I’ve found, like so many before me, that courage isn’t the absence of fear; it is the decision to proceed in spite of it. As we face our self-doubts and overcome obstacles, our courage begins to grow, allowing us to face bigger challenges. Little by little, we become the kind of person worthy of the goals we’ve set.

    Overcoming fear is also part of what makes achieving a goal meaningful.

    For example, when I was a child I consistently brought home straight-A report cards.  My parents and teachers always made a fuss, but at the time school was easy for me, so it never felt significant.  No major obstacles meant no self-doubt, but no sense of accomplishment either.

    Several years ago I entered a talent show to play the guitar and sing in front of an audience of fifty friends and coworkers.  I was nearly frozen with terror, certain of imminent death by humiliation, but I have never felt as victorious as when I finished my set – not even when I found out at night’s end that I had taken second place.


    How to Use Fear to Write Better


    Self-doubt presents us with a choice:  “Here is something you need, and here’ what’s keeping you from it.  Ignore it and avoid the struggle, or go for it and maybe gain something priceless.  Your call.”

    This challenge can liberate us from a life of complacency, and can also help us know ourselves better, but only if we learn to make use our fear, to friends with our fear.



    Step One:  Acknowledge and name your self-doubts.

    Go ahead and write down one of those big fears.

    Then break it down into all the smaller fears that it consists of.  For example, if writing and publishing a novel is my big fear, the small fears might be the fear of criticism, being accused of self-promotion, or learning that my ‘profound ideas’ are just clichés distilled from watching too much television.

    If you have trouble coming up with your big fears, just try to think of something you’ve always talked about doing, but have never gotten around to.  That’s doubt’s calling card.


    Step Two: Think about what you really want that’s on the other side of this fear.

    Think about the reward you will get when you face and overcome this fear. Write this down in as much detail as possible. Imagine what it will be like to sign copies of your book for fans, to receive your first five-figure royalty check, or to give a reading in front of a thousand people.  Have fun with this step!


    Step Three: Take the fears you listed in Step One and rewrite them as steps to be taken to reach your goal.

    This is how your fear and self-doubt can literally provide you with a roadmap to your goal.  For example, I might reformulate my worry about having my writing criticized as “Find an online critique site where I can practice receiving anonymous criticism.”

    This process allows me to change my mindset from “I don’t have what it takes to write a novel!” to “If I follow these steps, someday I’ll hold my story in the palm of my hands”.


    Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway


    It’s almost impossible to make friends with the gut-twisting, visceral experience of fear, but if we wait for fear to go away before acting, we might end up never doing much of anything!

    So practice pushing through the physical sensation by first overcoming small fears and then building up.  Visualizing the rewards of going beyond the fear is another way to motivate yourself.

    The good news is that even if you try and fail, facing up to your fears is a meaningful accomplishment in and of itself.  If your goal is to get a raise and you make your best appeal to your boss but still get a “no”, you can at least feel better knowing that you tried, and you’ll be that much more confident – and better prepared – the next time around.

    When you make friends with fear, you win either way.

    What are your big fears, and what might they be calling you to do?  Share your answers in the comments below to help others start thinking about how to make the most of their self-doubt!

    About the author

      Ryan Urie

      Ryan Urie is a freelance writer living in Moscow, Idaho.  Check out his freelancing advice and samples of his creative work at

    • I love this post in theory but I’m struggling to put it into practice. It’s stage three that’s proving troublesome. I’d really appreciate some help with this as it’s something I’m very much struggling with at the moment.

      My main fear is failure. Which, broken down, looks like: fear that I’ll never like it/feel the idea’s been done justice; fear that no-one else will ever like it; fear that I will never capture on paper what is in my head; and fear that no-one will get to read it because it will never be good enough, by my standards. I guess I’m afraid my standards are too high, but how do I lower them? How do I make myself like what I write? Or make other people like it? I can show it to people but only ever for feedback or critical commentary, never for them to enjoy. I can’t imagine ever showing someone something I’ve written for them to enjoy. Maybe that’s just part of being a writer, though (there are many recorded instances of brilliant writers saying they hate their own work). Maybe my fears (and dreams!) are too big.

      Help, please!

    • I like your step three. Fear can be a compass. It can tell you where you need to head.

      On the other hand, you have to be careful about letting fear overwhelm and paralyze you. Deadlines, even self-imposed ones, can go a long way. When I used to write weekly columns for gaming magazines, the fear of getting it wrong had to give way to the deadline of putting something out.

      Great post!

    • What a great post – I’ve never come across that technique of breaking your fear down and then rewriting them into practical steps to take. I think it removes some of the mystery and power of fear when you can pull it into pieces – it seems much more manageable (and much less scary!). Thanks for a really insightful and helpful post.

      • Ryan Urie says:

        I’m glad I could be of help, and thanks for reading! I’ve found over time that when my right-brain runs up against a roadblock (i.e. fear) that it’s good to try and hand it off to the more logical side of my brain for a time (as in this article). Similarly, when my logical brain starts to think that something is impossible, it’s a good time to hand it off to the right brain where hope and passion and faith can be brought to bear.

    • liliana says:

      mr urie thank you so much for such an inspirational post !!

    • Thank you so much; I have been through all the fears you list. I would say my fears have slowed my progress, but not stopped me. I really like the Do It Anyway step. That’s the bottom line. Just keep going no matter what.

    • Very true about fear motivating us to push past our conventions. There seems to also be fear of staying still, for sure.

      • Ryan Urie says:

        That’s a great way of looking at it – using the fear of staying still or getting stuck to propel you to act on your other fears. I sometimes use the fear of reaching the end of my life having never taken a chance on my writing to get myself moving when part of me would rather just run away.

    • CLJ says:

      This comes at a REALLY good time for me. I just listened yesterday to Ray Higdon’s advice on getting where you want to be from where you are now (it was addressed to a financial issue but can easily be applied elsewhere) and I realized some of the fears which hold me back. Your article is a concrete plan of action ~ thank you.

    • Tracy says:

      Thank you so much for this article. My fears have been keeping me from believing in myself and my work and even my voice and my writing for years now. And I have tried to run away as much as possible but to no proper avail. The writing always returns, like a banished lover begging for romance and a second chance again. Now slowly I am learning to navigate these fears and to push forwards any way because deep down in my heart I know I am destined for this writing business. Despite my fears or perhaps really because I fear it so much.

      • Ryan Urie says:

        Thank you for your comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I too spent years running from my fear of writing only to eventually find that the reason the fear wouldn’t let go was because what it was pointing to was far too important to me. It sounds like you’re in the same place. I won’t promise that it will be easy or comfortable to face up to your fear (it certainly hasn’t been for me!) but the discomfort is no worse than when I was running from it. The difference is that now the discomfort is building up my confidence and bringing me closer to the life I want to lead. I wish you all possible luck with your writing, and thank you for reading my post.

    • Great points, Ryan. Fear can be paralyzing, but if you know how to tackle it, it can be a great source of motivation, as well. Putting a positive spin on your fears is a great way to make that critical switch from paralysis to action.

      Feeling the fear and doing it anyway is critical to success. I think we sometimes assume that successful people never feel fear. We watch them and we get jealous of their success and we assume they never once felt scared. But the truth is, everyone is scared. i bet even the most successful people in the world are still afraid of silly things. They just learned how to push through to the other side.

      • Ryan Urie says:

        Hi Prudence,
        Thanks for the comments! I’ve always noticed that I only feel fear when there is something truly important at stake, and realized that successful people are the ones who don’t let the fear prevent them from achieving it. I think fear only become paralyzing when we try to run away from it, which turns out to be nearly impossible anyway. The amazing thing is how liberating the very same thing can be if we turn to face it.

    • What a great way to look at fear! Thank you for the great insight into fear.

    • This is such a positive way to look at something we all battle with. Thank you!

      My fear has been self-publishing clichéd stories that aren’t good enough for other people to read.

      That fear helped me to push myself past my first ideas on to more interesting stories. Once I’d written the stories, I worked with a writing coach during the editing process who gave me positive and helpful feedback. Now my manuscript is going through beta readers to get their feedback. Then it will go to a line editor who will help me polish it up before publishing.

      Maybe I have one or two steps too many in there, but each is helping me deal with my fear and giving me the confidence to publish my work in the knowledge that it is worthy of publication. I’m sure it will be a better book because of those steps.

      • Ryan Urie says:

        What a perfect illustration of what I was writing about – taking your fear, breaking it down into pieces, and pushing through them one by one. I wouldn’t worry about how many steps it takes, as long as you’re still moving forward and growing more confident. No doubt your book will be better for it, but even with that aside I would guess you’ve already benefited personally from the simple act of facing your fears. Thanks for reading!

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