by Patty Smith Hall
“So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Most writers I’ve met over my twenty-year writing journey have experienced fear about their work at some time or another.
Whether it’s the terror over receiving a rejection letter or the fear that their work will never be good enough, most of us write with a sense of doom lingering in the back of our minds. So how do we get past the paralyzing effects of fear and advance our writing career?
1) First, you’ve got to own it.
When I was in my first year of nursing school, I had a clinical instructor who scared the crap out of me. She almost seemed to take pleasure in making nursing students cry! The very first week of clinical, she flunked half of our group out of the program because they couldn’t make a hospital bed correctly.
I was terrified. Becoming a nurse was my dream. What if I flunked out over something as silly as a hospital bed corner? Then the day came that I had to draw up my first injection. I’d made up my mind that I wasn’t going to let the barracuda derail my nursing career. As she’s standing beside me, waiting for me to prepare the shot, I turned to her and faced my fear.
I told her she scared me to death. The most surprising thing happened. She smiled at me (which was unusual as she’d never smiled before!) From that moment on, she became my biggest cheerleader, even caring for my oldest daughter when she was born prematurely.
Own your fear or it will own you!
2) Act despite being afraid.
When I first started writing, I wrote short stories and devotionals, then tucked them away in a drawer where no one would ever see them. That’s okay for those who write simply for the joy of writing, but for those who know they’ve been called into a writing ministry, that’s outright disobedience!
This was brought home to me at my paternal grandfather’s funeral. For most of his 96 years, Granddaddy had evaded our questions about his salvation. All he would say is that we would learn the answer at his funeral. When that day came, not only did we learn that Granddaddy had accepted Christ as his Savior, he had a powerful testimony that he’d kept secret because he thought others would think him crazy!
Instead of being comforted, I was angry. How many people could he have reached if he’d not been afraid? In that moment, my mind flashed to all those devotionals and short stories I’d hid away. I was just as bad as he was, paralyzed by what other people might think. It wasn’t long after that I started submitting my work.
Be Bold—nothing ventured, nothing gained.
3) If your worst fears come true, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again!
Rejection is never fun. It leaves you bruised and battered, unsure of yourself and your abilities. Working writers deal with their fair share of rejection. It’s been said the paper used to write the horrible things could wallpaper all of New York City ten times over. It’s part and parcel for a writer.
Just remember—a rejection letter is also a badge of courage, a talisman that sets you apart from other writers. It shows you’re serious about your career, and trust me when I say this, agents and editors see it that way too. When that rejection letter comes, kick a few cabinets, shed some tears, maybe down a pint of chocolate ice cream. Then give yourself a pat on the back and move on!
Grow from a rejection letter—it will make you a stronger writer.