3 Subtle Ways Fear Might Be Controlling Your Writing

December 23, 2019

Fear is beneficial for the warrior. When the earth was younger, fear motivated people to fight lions and giants to protect themselves or loved ones. Today’s writers are no longer battling beasts with spears but blank pages with pens. Like our brethren of old, fear can strengthen us, helping us to honestly evaluate our work and aim for excellence.


At least, that’s the healthy response to fear. But ever since Adam and Eve hid in the garden, humanity has failed to manage fear. As writers, fear can cause us to overcompensate, rush into the unknown with no preparation, or shy away from the truth. We need to learn how and where this emotion sneaks in so we can deal with it constructively.


1. You’re Fixated on One Skill

Every writer has a unique set of abilities. Some are better at subtlety, others tension, and yet others heart. Our talent shines through and garners the praise of family, friends, and readers. This is natural. But fear preys on encouragement.


Perhaps you love fashioning deep, philosophical themes. You’ve been applauded for your insight and ingenuity. But when the same positive feedback is repeated over and over again, the insidious shadow of fear whispers, “This is the sole reason readers enjoy your story. They’ll hate it if you try a different technique with the next one.”


Fear twists compliments and tells you that you can only excel at one aspect of writing. If you venture into new territory, your stories will deteriorate. So you start concentrating on one area while neglecting other vital elements of storytelling. This happens unconsciously but can visibly damage your writing over time as you become more and more imbalanced.


Remember that the purpose of writing isn’t to show off our greatest skills. It’s to glorify our Heavenly Father. To move a reader’s soul. To help us understand ourselves. To comfort and cajole. Embracing the purpose of storytelling is messy, and we’re as flawed as our characters. We must push fear aside and exercise all our writing muscles—not just the ones we like to flaunt. Stretching ourselves will leave us satisfied.


Pursuing skills we haven’t mastered is less gratifying, I’ll admit. It probably won’t result in a story everyone in our writing community raves about. But if we focus on growing so God can better use us, we’ll reach a day when we realize our effort was worthwhile.


2. You’re Reluctant to Share Your Work

Rejections are a common source of anxiety for writers. Sometimes we even avoid submitting to publications that may refuse our pieces. But our dread comes from more than a note that says, “Sorry, not interested.” Ultimately, we’re afraid of being judged.


During the quiet moments when we’re alone with our manuscripts, the opinions of others become louder. Perhaps our writer friends will roll their eyes at our latest piece. Perhaps our critique partners are too nice to warn us that our writing is horrible. Perhaps people will think we’re hypocritical for addressing an issue we aren’t perfect at handling. Perhaps we’ll misconstrue the facts, and someone will ruin our career by pointing out our mistakes. Paranoia takes many forms, but it always makes us shut our laptops without typing a word.


Instead of facing our fears, we run. If we doubt we can present the details accurately, we’re vague instead of giving vivid descriptions. If we’re concerned that a topic might hurt or offend someone, we steer clear of it. If we believe our writing is worse than everyone claims, we overedit. Our writing grows weak, and our spirits weary.


Writing has never been and never will be a safe endeavor, for humans are not known for their kindness. Becoming a writer involves risks. Every artist is scared to reveal a part of her soul and be vulnerable to criticism.


But you aren’t like every other artist, because you don’t struggle alone. If you have fears, the Bible urges you to cry out to God:


“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)


3. You’re Pretending to Be Someone Else

In the first section, I mentioned that fear can turn compliments into an excuse to stay inside your comfort zone. Unfortunately, the trends in our writing communities can trap us too. If everyone around us believes that characters must have dark backstories for a book to be meaningful, we may be tempted to forsake our fun-loving side to dive into depressing scenarios we aren’t inclined or equipped to portray.


Fear also manipulates our admiration for our favorite authors. Our tiny following on Instagram or sad click rates on our blogs may bring us to the conclusion that we must imitate famous people for our own marketing to be effective. While employing their strategies is fine, copying their persona is not.


How did they become successful? By following someone else’s lifestyle? Not a chance. They put their individuality on display through their platforms. If we were all meant to be clones of our favorite authors, God wouldn’t have designed each of us with special gifts, quirks, and desires.


Don’t Let Fear Win

Sometimes fear is wise. It can be a sign that we need to spend time discussing a particular plot problem with a mentor or searching Scripture for answers to our questions about morality. Words are powerful, and we must be careful with them. But we can’t allow anxiety to morph into avoidance or caution into compromise.


If fear is trying to gain control, combat it like a warrior. Locate the problem, bring it to God, and create a plan of attack. Fear won’t retreat on its own, but if you arm yourself with the right weapons, you can defeat it like the lions and giants of ancient times.


  1. Sageinthemeadow

    Were you writing this about me?? lol
    Thanks a lot for this post, it’s what I’ve needed to hear lately.

    • Gabrielle Pollack

      Thanks for reading, Sage! Have courage, fellow warrior. 🙂

  2. Grace

    Wow, this is what I needed to hear today. In particular, I think fear has kept me from submitting my pieces outside my comfort zone. Thanks for encouraging us!

    • Gabrielle Pollack

      I’m glad this hits home for you. It’s hard to overcome that fear, but it’s worth it in the end. You’ve got this!

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