Two Books to Help You Deal with Fear as an Author

by Sue Campbell

Last week I got a text from a client who was about to launch a campaign to start growing his email list:

What if no one signs up or everyone hates my book and then I have to crawl into a hole?

Whether we’re trying to get our writing done or trying to get our (finally done!) writing into the world, fear is the writer’s biggest obstacle.

But fear doesn’t have to be a creativity killer. With some self-awareness and courage, we can push through and do our work in the face of fear.

Steven Pressfield has an excellent little book on this subject called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s life changing. He labels fear as part of a force called Resistance and details all the ways Resistance will mess with your head and what you can do to combat it.

In the same category, with a bit more of a feminine touch, is the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Notice how she says “beyond” fear, not “without” fear. You see, fear is a bit like a hulking bouncer, blocking the door to your creativity and demanding that you prove you’re worthy to get inside.

Both Pressfield and Gilbert emphasize that you never really get rid of fear, but you can learn to shoulder it out of the way so you can get on with your work.

Gilbert puts her fear in the proverbial back seat — it can come along for the ride, but it is not allowed to drive.

Even better, we can use fear as a guiding light. Pressfield says, “Fear is good…Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Back to my fearful client who thought everyone would hate his book and he’d have to crawl in a hole. I texted back:

You’ll be alive. In a hole.

That may seem like tough love, but we have to be real. I can’t promise my clients a career free of fear — or even that anyone will love their book. (Though I happen to love this author’s book.) But I can promise that putting yourself and your work out there won’t kill you.

However, keeping your work to yourself for the rest of your life will kill your creativity. Creativity, like democracy, dies in the dark.

You must do the work, and you must get it out into the world.

My client managed to push Resistance aside and launched his campaign in spite of his fears. Later, I asked him why he went ahead and did it. He answered:

I quit my job to write books. I was the only thing standing in my way. It was time. 

Ultimately, we must decide that fulfilling our identity as a creative people is more important than avoiding fear. It takes guts. But it’s worth it.

Sue Campbell