‘Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.’
This from John Cleese is another quote stuck above my desk, and it’s been there so long it’s starting to look a little faded. It sums up perfectly something I struggle with occasionally and this week has been one of those times. I’m in the process of choosing my next project and I can feel the fear stirring.
When I started out writing, I didn’t worry too much about choosing the ‘right’ project. I had a think about stories, picked the one I liked the sound of and set off into the unknown, happy with it being just me and my laptop. With time and experience has come the knowledge that what I choose to write is important. I’m planning to commit months of my writing time to it and this thought alone has made me limit my ideas, as if ruling them out now will save me the future pain of having them turned down once I’ve spent my blood, sweat and tears on it.
So how do you overcome that fear of making a mistake, or the fear of failure? For me it’s several things:
- Noticing that this is what’s happening. It’s not writer’s block for me. It’s dithering. So many different ideas, so many routes I could take – how can I possibly know which is the correct one to choose? The first thing to do is recognise that this worry of getting it wrong is what’s driving your thoughts.
- What exactly are you afraid of? Is it fear of what others will think? That you should have achieved more by this point? That others will hate or ridicule what you do? That you will have your work rejected or ignored? What’s the worst case scenario? And is that so bad? No writing is ever wasted. With every story you write, you will progress regardless of whether it gets you anywhere or not. And fortunately, writing isn’t something you need to get right first time. There is no time limit. You don’t get just one shot. There is always next time, and the time after and the time after.
- Mistakes, wrong paths, rejection – every journey to success is littered with these. Sports people, politicians, business people – if you are going to succeed in any of these areas, you will have numerous set-backs and writing is no different. Not giving up is the answer. Accept set-backs as inevitable and keep your focus forward.
- For me, I imagine it’s just me and my laptop again. No expectations, no limitations, no pressure. What would I write if I could write anything I wanted? Yes, you have to have an eye on the market, but if you aren’t loving what you’re writing, you won’t make it through the first draft. So any project I choose has to be for me first and everyone else second. By trying to please everyone, you will please no one. And you’ll be left writing a story you don’t feel passion for.
So this week, I will be looking my fear in the eye, then asking myself: what do I like to read, what do I enjoy writing, which characters would I like to meet and take it from there. Wish me luck – I’m off into unchartered territory again.