If you want to be a writer, then sooner or later you’ll have to face THE FEAR. However confident you may feel as you start to write your latest novel or story, at some point you’ll look at what you’ve written and hold your head in your hands.

“Give up,” a little voice will whisper in your head. And that little voice is THE FEAR.

THE FEAR will plant questions and doubts in your head. It will tell you that everything you’ve ever written is crap. It will tell you that you’re not a real writer, and that you should quit now before people find out what a talentless hack you really are and expose you as a fraud.

I have spoken about THE FEAR to other writers, and they all recognise it. They all have that inner demon whispering to them in their darkest moments, undercutting their confidence and self-belief. For some, those dark moments are at the beginning of a project, when they’re staring at a blank white page awaiting inspiration. For others, THE FEAR creeps up on them during the editing process, or just prior to submission.

For me, THE FEAR tends to manifest around the halfway point of a novel, when the end seems very far away, and it becomes almost impossible for me to objectively judge whether what I’m writing is any good or not. I start to worry that the characters are jabbering trolls gesticulating their way through a nonsensical plot, and that I’ll never reach the final chapter.

If you let it get hold of you, THE FEAR can paralyse you, leaving you unable to function. The only way I’ve found to fight back is to keep writing; to keep soldiering on until you stagger over the finish line. Only then will you be able to look back with anything resembling objective clarity.

But how do you keep going? How do you keep the motivation going when the voice in your head tells you that you’re wasting your time? You can blot out THE FEAR with alcohol, but that’s only a temporary solution; and most people find it hard to do their best work when they’re smashed.

The only practical way to prevail is to keep your goal in mind. Get in front of your keyboard every day and do the work. Tell yourself that you will finish what you have started. Listen to THE FEAR and learn to identify it. Don’t let it trick you. When it starts sowing its seeds, gather them up and lock them in a quiet corner of your mind. Tell yourself: “This is just THE FEAR talking.” And try to ignore it. Or, if you can’t ignore it, try turning it to your advantage. Harness the nervous energy to make you more productive. Surf that anxiety wave! Tell yourself that you are going to feel THE FEAR, and do it anyway. Keep your eyes on the prize, and keep buggering on until you get there!

Author: Gareth L Powell


14 thoughts on “THE FEAR”

  1. Hi Mr. Powell,

    Thanks for this post.
    Right now, I am writing the draft of my first novel and I just passed the halfway point, and like never before, THE FEAR is striking me terribly. I am having many insecurities, even when I know exactly how the story follows and how it ends. What is happening is that, every time I sit to write, I can only pull off 400-600 words, compared to 2.000-3.000 words I used to write every day at the beginning.
    Reading your post lets me know that I am not the only one who goes through that, and that there are ways to overcome THE FEAR.
    However, it is very difficult to face THE FEAR, because it is in ourselves. Defeating it is like fighting to oneself, like that chapter in The Fight Club.
    I’ll try your advices, try to stop THE FEAR tricking me, and try to keep work constant, even with only 600 words/day.
    Once again thanks for this post, since I fell totally identified with it.

    Good luck!

    Ronald Delgado.

  2. Gareth, Thanks so much for this post. I’ve written short stories in the past but I’m working on my first novel too (Ronald, I SO know what you mean!) and by now I know this FEAR very well. How to overcome it it’s a constant work in progress. Has to be if I want to get to the end. I’m in the middle of the novel and, just like you say, it’s impossible to see it with some objectivity. Everything (characters, plot lines, all) feels out of control and self-doubt is slowing me down a lot. Knowing this happens to published writers as well helps me not panicking about it, recognise it, like you say. So thanks a million for this post Gareth and very well done for overcoming your own version of THE FEAR with every new book. No small accomplishment!
    Hey Ronald, interesting you mentioned Fight Club, one of my all time favourite novels. Good luck with your project!

  3. I’ve had THE FEAR for over a year now. I’ve stopped writing altogether. I’m just re-submitting stories that’ve been rejected. I have no idea what to do.

  4. Dale – Write something! Write anything. Don’t write for publication; take the pressure off yourself and write for fun instead. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter if it’s any good; just scribble something down. You can always go back and edit it later, but for now, just write whatever comes into your head. Learn to enjoy it again. And if you’re still stuck, try my 7 point plan for dealing with writer’s block:

  5. Gareth – Thanks for the encouragement. I’m back at work and will be submitting a new story within the next few days. After that, I have several more stories in various stages of completion that I can finish and submit. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, and it’s focus on practice as a path to success has been helpful. I’m sure it’s an over-simplification, but it helped dispel my FEAR.

  6. Hi Gareth
    I met you in Bristol on Sunday and read this post. it sums up my situation beautifully, thanks, somehow knowing you’re not alone makes all the difference

  7. As ever, you made me laugh while absorbing helpful information. Your last sentence really hit home. I’m in the middle of rewriting an old novel from scratch and hounded by THE FEAR. Going to keep my eye on the prize and keep buggering on until I get there! Thanks, Gareth.

    Take care,

  8. Heather,Hello! We currently have clssaes going on in Fall Session II which runs October 22nd through December 23rd. As long as there’s availability in a class, you can still get enrolled and we can prorate the cost. For the 2 year old class at Powell you can to see the current schedule. The Winter Session III will run January 7th-March 17th (10wks). The schedule for that session will be posted on Monday, November 19th. That schedule will be very similar to the current schedule. If you have any other questions, please let us know at ! Thanks so much!Tracy KelleyPowell Director

  9. It doesn’t help that THE FEAR is kick-ass confident, whereas my confidence is a little, blue doggie with a permanent tremor, that lurks in the back of my brain, trying to keep out of the way.

  10. The fear generally doesn’t hit me until I’m finished with the first draft. “Don’t bother revising. Nothing’s gonna save this pile of words.”

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