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Sometimes Our Fear Of Writing Is Telling Us Something Valuable

fear can be a friendI got a call from a former coaching client the other day. She wanted to talk about how afraid she was to start writing a book she felt she should write.

As talked about the book, it seemed to me that while the idea was decent, she was spectacularly unenthusiastic about it.

I asked her why she wanted to write it.

Her answer was that it would be a huge career boost.

“That’s a terrible reason to write a book,” I said, “unless, of course, you’ve also got a great passion for the topic.”

We talked some more and it came to light that several business coaches had told her she should write a book to take her career/job to the next level. It would, they assured her, position her as an expert or an authority.

Which may be true, but writing a book is a whole heck of a lot of hard work. And it’s not the only way to be successful. Most people never write a book and are just fine.

My client, who I knew can write articles with very little problem, explained that every time she sat down to try to write it or outline it or do much of anything she was immobilized by fear.

Do you want to write a book or want the book written?

I asked what proved to be a telling question: “Do you want to write a book or do you want the book written?”

There really is a huge difference between wanting, even needing, to write a book and wanting the book, somehow, to be written. And there are all sorts of ways to get a book written, including hiring a ghostwriter, working with a collaborator, getting coaching help so you don’t have to do it alone, writing a series of articles that grow into a book – and probably six or seven ways I haven’t thought of.

We talked some more and it turned out that what was really scaring her was the thought of writing a book all by herself.

“Sounds like your fear is your friend in this case,” I commented. “Your mind/body complex is trying to tell you something important. Probably something like ‘it’s not right or the right time for you to write a book by yourself.’ It might make better sense to honor that reluctance and celebrate that you noticed it.”

I could almost see her shoulders relaxing and the worry leaving her forehead.

Fear can be our friend, really

Fear isn’t always bad. Fear keeps us out of the way of big trucks, snakes and sometimes warns us about projects and ideas we have about what we’re “supposed” to be doing.

How can you tell when a fear is warning you from the fear that’s stopping you?

It probably starts with recognizing that not all fears are bad (actually, I suspect that can be applied to any emotion – they all have positive and negative aspects). Just realizing that the fear I’m feeling may be a legitimate warning is often enough to calm me enough to look within and see what kind of message the fear is sending me.

Of course fear sometimes, maybe even often, gets in our way. And often it’s my job to help someone let go of that fear.

But sometimes, as it was in this case, my job is to help someone discover that fear can also be a friend.

Here the woman now knows really knows she doesn’t have to write a book all by herself, which is what was scaring her half to death. That was the key to neutralize the fear. Now she can think creatively about how she wants to get that book written, because it turns out she does want to get that book written.

When I coach writers I come from the point of view that everyone is an expert on their own life. At most I can help them see that expertise, that wonderfully clear intuition that we all have. Sometimes a little help getting out of our way is all we need.

Does this make sense to you? When have you found fear to be a friend? Tell us about it in comments.


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Kevin B 3

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Interesting.

    I had a mentor tell me once that, “We should usually do what we’re afraid of doing. Once we do it, we realize that we don’t have to be afraid any more.”

    But I think he was referring more to things that I wanted to do, but were afraid of doing. Writing a book that you don’t want to write is a different story.
    David McWilliams recently posted..A One Minute Story: When Others Control Our Self-ImageMy Profile

  • Excellent post, Anne! When I feel fear about moving forward in my writing career, I take the time to examine why. Then I re-adjust my course as necessary.

    • Sounds like you’ve got it mostly figured out, Savannah.

  • Great story Anne. Thanks for sharing it.

    I think you and Jorge both have great points. Both fear and failure can be incredibly good for us, and that’s because they both teach us something. If I couldn’t embrace both as learning experiences, I’d probably get nothing done!
    Jenn Mattern recently posted..5 Reasons Your Writing Career is Going NowhereMy Profile

    • You’re welcome, Jenn and yes, I also agree with Jorge… at least some of the time.

  • jorgekafkazar

    I don’t think it’s always as clear cut as that, Anne. Sometimes the fear is a feeling that the writer is not up to the demands of the project. This feeling can be true or it can be false. Though the writer doesn’t know which, the fear may be enough to keep her from trying all-out. If she’s tackling new material, it will require growing beyond her previous limits. Of course this is scary. Of course she feels stressed. Of course she feels discomfort. That’s how growth feels, being on the cutting edge of life.

    I believe in making an all-out effort to complete a manuscript in a new field. If I fail, despite my best, most honest efforts, THEN I can call in a professional word-slinger in that field to help. But if I succeed, I’ll have gained more than a manuscript; I’ll have gained the valuable knowledge that I can overcome my fear and succeed. Calling for help too early lets that marvellous growth opportunity escape. Faint hear ne’er won diddley-squat.

    • Jorge, you’re right. Fear comes in many shapes, sizes, and shades. Pushing through fear is often a great way to move to a new level as it were. But not always… I suspect we agree more on this than disagree.

      • jorgekafkazar

        Definitely, Anne. None of this is cast in bronze. Each situation is different and requires a “best guess” regarding how to proceed. Some challenges are a “bridge too far.”

  • Love, love, love this, Anne. It also underscores how we are individuals and need to discover what we want to do with our writing. Easier said than done.

    It’s probably because I have an obstinate, don’t do it because everyone else is attitude that I can ignore what experts insist we need to do to be successful.

    There are many levels of success. My success is not yours and vice versa.

    BTW, my fear of dying and early death helped me walk away from corporate life. Best thing I ever did. Took me awhile, but I finally overcame the fear of quitting.. 🙂
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Posts in Friday Lite Write OnMy Profile

  • LOL don’t be afraid of snakes. They’re very beneficial animals, and will give you far less trouble than writing a book! 😉
    Elizabeth West recently posted..New–Microsoft Office 2013My Profile

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