Writing and the Fear of Success and Failure

Confession: I have 13—count ‘em, 13—works in progress at the moment. Thirteen stories vying for my attention, whispering in my ear, keeping me awake at night. That’s too many. Then my husband told me I needed to focus. A friend told me I was spreading myself too thin. They’re right.

So why do I have so many WIPs? I’m not really sure, but I think it might be fear. Fear that I won’t be able to get my stories where they need to be, so I keep drafting one story after another and not focusing. I’m productive, but I need to get some of these stories off my plate and into the hands of readers. After all, that’s where stories belong.

Is it a fear of success? Maybe I fear my work being out in the world, being seen by people. Or maybe it’s a fear of failure, a fear that I’ll put my work out there and won’t measure up. My guess is it’s both. After all, I’m human, and we humans are complex creatures.

So now I’ve decided to focus on just a handful of those projects. But choosing which one has proven tricky.

I once attended a voice workshop with Barbara Samuels, and one of the questions her voice worksheet asks is something to the effect of, “What story do you most want to write? Are you writing it now? If not, why?”

So I asked myself that question. I thought of books I’d read, books that thrilled me, books I wished I’d written. I thought of all 13 of those WIPs, and asked myself, “If I could only pick one, which one would it be?”

It was hard. I love all of these stories for various reasons. I love one character’s relentless strength, another’s quiet creativity, still another’s willingness to help others, even those who’ve slighted her. I love one hero’s Mr. Darcy-like qualities, another’s dedication to his responsibilities, still another’s earthy strength. I love them all, and I feel compelled to tell their stories as best as I can.

But that means getting something done, sending stories out into the world because I believe this quote:

“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

–Samuel Johnson

So I ask fellow bloggers and writers to hold me accountable. After a great deal of thought, I’ve decided to focus on The Cabot Sisters, a series of six novellas, about 20K each. That’s what I focused on this week, and that’s what I’m going to work on for a while. Because fear can’t drive me to hop from story to story. I need to stick with something until it shines.

So there it is. Fear is a part of the journey. What I’ve learned is that productivity is the best antidote, but we also need self-awareness. I’ve been productive, but my husband was right. I’ve lacked focus. And that needs to change.

ROW80 check-in

  • Wrote 2,388 words in a series outline and character exercises for the Cabot Sisters series. I now have a full series outline, though there are definitely some holes that need to be filled in. But now I know where those holes are, and which questions are left unanswered. Not bad considering that I only had two writing days this week.
  • Critiqued 68 pages of copy for my critique partners.
  • Finished reading “Dialogue” by Gloria Kempton. It’s a good basic discussion of dialogue with a few good kernels in there, but I think I’m looking for something more advanced. I’m just under halfway through Roz Morris’s “Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated.”
  • On a non-writing-related note, we’ve officially moved out of our apartment. This week was a whirlwind of U-Hauls and boxes, and now we’re looking forward to moving into our new home in a couple weeks.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

How many WIPs do you have going right now? How many is too many? How do you choose what story to focus on? Have you ever struggled with a fear of success or failure? How did you overcome it?

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11 thoughts on “Writing and the Fear of Success and Failure

  1. There was a point I was doing the same as you. I’ll say the above (fears) were part of it. However, so was not looking forward to editing (for a lot of reasons). I found creating and making new things the more “fun” part. So, I wallowed in it. While I’ll never be a one project at a time gal, I’ve finally got my projects under control enough that I can move forward.

    I currently have 3 WIPs: ALCHEMY (novel – 2nd draft in progress), PLANET (short story – starting 2nd draft), and HAMSTER (chapter book – 3rd draft needs to be started). I have inklings (ideas I’m starting to put on paper, so not to lose, but not flesh out just yet) that want me to get started on them. However, I’m waiting for my plate to clear some more before I go there.

    I hope things continue to go well with your move! Take care! 🙂

    • Good point, Gloria. That could be part of it, although once I actually get into editing, I tend to enjoy it. I’ll remember what I loved about that story, I’ll see its weaknesses honestly, I’ll get to problem-solve. I like it more than I used to, but I still prefer drafting.

      Three WIPs sounds very manageable. It’s nice to have more than one because you can switch between them if you get really stuck. I think if I could max out at three or four instead of 13 I’d be having a much easier time of it. I need to do what you’re doing–jot those inklings down than go back to what I’m working on, not follow every idea down the rabbit hole.

      Thanks! 🙂

  2. I have a few WIPs in my notebook, all of them short stories. I usually write out my drafts instead of typing so I won’t succumb to the urge of editing while typing. That might be a fear thing because I want my stories to be the best and I’m always struggling for that right word or sentence.

    I flipped through my notebook and found a couple of stories I actually finished. I haven’t typed them out because I’m uncertain how CPs will take to it. And then I have plenty that are incomplete. I arrive at a stopping point, but don’t finish them. One reason is fear. Another is boredom. And yet, another is rejection from family. The reasons—excuses—go on and on. But I need to be more organized, which means I need to overcome my fear of perfectionism and type out my drafts.

    • I have a similar problem. Nothing ever seems good enough to share with people beyond my trusty critique partners. I have to remind myself that perfection is the enemy of good–and it’s certainly the enemy of “finished.” Nothing we write will ever be perfect or loved by everyone who reads it. We have to balance writing our best work and pushing ourselves as writers with letting go of a story when it’s time. I’m certainly working on that. I’ve let non-writer friends read my stories, entered a contest, etc. So I’m getting there.

      Good luck with your stories! Typing them up sounds like a good start to overcome that perfectionist streak. What are your stories about?

      • I’m sorry I’m just now responding to your comment. I try to respond as quickly as possible.

        My stories vary in subject matter and theme. But what I’m working on now is a series of stories I call “The Cell Games.” They follow an employee at a cell phone store and the myriad of customers and situations. They’re loosely based on my experience. The stories won’t solely be centered around his dealings at work. I plan on a few stories that surround his family and his schooling.

  3. I currently have eight WIPs, most of them short stories and novellas. What I’ve done is prioritized them, with my focus on three projects at a time and changing them up from month to month depending on my progress. This system seems to work for me. I just can’t seem to work on one project at a time…

    • I like that approach. Having multiple WIPs definitely helps. If you get stuck on one, you can work on another for a while. If you’re writing shorter work, eight WIPs sounds reasonable. I mean, how many short stories are there in a collection? Ten, maybe? So that’s not bad.

      Happy writing!

  4. Yikes! I have…6 that are more than 100 words, but I’m focusing on just one for this round. Although every once in a while some random idea will float to the top on another WIP, so I write it down and throw it in that WIP’s file.

    I can’t believe all the writing and planning you’ve done while packing and moving!

    • Yeah, some of those are first chapters I wrote that have potential but I haven’t plotted them out yet. Others are completed first or second drafts that need revision. It’s really a mix, but I’m determined to get a few off my plate in the next couple years. Six WIPs isn’t bad, and I think you have the right approach–jot the idea down, then go back to your main project.

      I’m teaching in the fall, so I’m trying to get as much writing in while I can. I know I won’t be able to write as much once the semester starts. Thanks, Amy! 🙂

  5. I am pretty sure that fear was why I couldn’t focus on whether I wanted to write or not for the years in college and beyond. But the day that I realized that I was standing in my way was one of those days of infamy. Hence my sponsor post. I’m more focused and certainty more determined get my writing out there..

    Congrats on finding that thing that you want do do (call it what you will: joy, passion, the perfect story, the right story, etc, etc, etc)!! You have been a biggest reason for my tightening my focus and trying harder with my WIPpet posts, pointing out my use of passive voice (I am more aware of it when I write), and enjoying your WIPpet posts. So, thank you!

    I will be here cheering you on. You got this, Denise!!

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