Updated: Sep 26, 2020
This is one of the topics I’m often asked to write on: How do I overcome the fear of sharing my writing, of putting it out there in public?
I’ve touched on this topic slightly in some of my other posts (especially this one) but today I’m going to tackle this head-on and possibly with less metaphors than usual.
So, how do you overcome the fear of others reading your work?
The simplest answer to this is actually the most difficult to execute: you just do it. That’s the tried-and-true method, right? If you have a fear of heights, you go sky-diving. Problem solved.
Except, maybe not.
What if your fear of heights is so intense that sky-diving is an impossibility? What if you pass out when you look out over the edge, and they have to call off the whole thing and land so that you can get medical attention? Now you’re embarrassed and possibly even more afraid than you were before, because you now have legitimate, tangible reasons for your fear. What good did the just do it approach do you then?
This is the exact scenario many writers face with putting their writing out there for the first (or first few) time(s). Do they physically pass out before pressing the “Publish” button? Not usually. But they might freeze up completely at even trying to write the thing, because they know it will be read by others eventually. And for many writers, that’s akin to having to turn around and land the plane. Mission aborted.
But fear of others reading your work is still fear. And there has been a lot of research done on how to overcome fear. With writers, the reactions tend to be all mental rather than physical. Yes, your heart may race before writing or pressing “publish,” but primarily the problems are going to be things like writer’s block and procrastination — the push-back your brain gives you when you know you’re trying to do something creatively that you’ve deemed as scary.
A 2014 article in Entrepreneur India covered the topic of fear, suggesting 3 ways of overcoming fear immediately:
Rewire your brain
Have a well-thought-out plan
Do one thing every day that scares you
Interestingly enough, this is pretty much my approach to writing and the key to my success as an extreme introvert who chooses to put herself out there publicly on a regular basis. Displaying my inner thoughts does not come naturally to me, but I have learned to find joy in it for many reasons. However, when I first began doing it, it was terrifying.
Initially, public display of my writing occurred in a classroom setting, because I was studying creative writing in college. The fact that I had to do it to pass the class definitely helped make the choice for me, but it didn’t remove the terror. So… I began to rewire my brain, with the help of some advice and instruction from my professors.
Statements like Write for yourself and First drafts can be messy began to remove the pressure for my writing to be perfect, and allowed me to give myself grace that made it far less scary to show my work to others. So what if they didn’t like it? I had written it because it meant something to me. And so what if it wasn’t perfect? It could be revised and made better. Changing my expectations of my own writing was key to overcoming that fear.
Now that I’m more used to writing and sharing it publicly, I do still experience occasional fear or anxiety over putting my work out there. But this is where #2 above comes in. I use outlines to plan out my stories ahead of time, taking care to work and re-work the outline until the story flows well and touches all the right emotions. Then, when I begin to write and hit the fear of This isn’t good enough; people are going to criticize this part; I’ll be so embarrassed for anyone to read this, etc., I just stick to the plan. I trust in my own planning and hold the course. And I get it done.
The third, doing one thing every day that scares you, comes in for me in the next step. I share my writing often. Not literally every day, but weekly at least. In this way, I am doing a more gradual form of the just do it example I started with. And because it’s done in small increments over time, it doesn’t overwhelm and shut down. Instead, it creates a series of experiences that gradually increase my courage. When I post one article and nothing bad happens — or even better, I receive some positive feedback — then it is easier to post the next and the next. And if something bad does happen, no big deal, because it wasn’t my one-and-only chance. I know I’ll be writing a new one next week, so I’ll take the negative feedback and use it to make the next one better.
Overcoming your fear of others reading your writing can take time, but as I’ve mentioned before, the benefits are numerous. There is such potential for growth — both as a writer and as a person — when you are able to receive feedback and interact with readers.
If you want some more suggestions from a writer who has overcome fear, here’s another article I came across that included some good suggestions.
What specific questions do you have about overcoming fear as a writer? Do you have any tips to share?
I’d love to hear from you!