The Fear of Wasting Your Time Writing

It’s easy to commit to being a writer.  It’s a simple thing to make any commitment, for that matter.  People make commitments every day, but they rarely honor them.  Think of the countless commitments made on New Year’s Eve each year.  I’ll go to the gym five times each week.  I’ll eat nothing but healthy food.  I’ll ride my bike to and from work every day.  I’ll save ten percent of my salary every year.  You know all about the hollow commitments that are made but never met.  You’ve made a few yourself.  So have I.

Is your commitment to writing a hollow one, too?   You’ve announced your intent.  You may have acquired a blog.  Maybe you’re just writing in a notebook.  It doesn’t really matter, actually, as long as you’re doing the work.  In fact, the time-tested, most important thing for you to do is that you write consistently.  Every day.  Or at the very least, you write most days. Once a week is not enough to claim the title “writer” with any seriousness. You have to show up to do the work consistently.  Even if you do that, however, honoring your commitment is not guaranteed.

Staring at the blank page is daunting.  It’s difficult to come up with an idea, flesh it out, draft it, edit it, and then push the button to send it off for the world to judge, day after day.  Those of us who are sincerely trying to make the move into the ranks of the professionals know this struggle well.  Just when you get used to facing the daily work, however, is when the commitment to write can get especially difficult.

The largest obstacle to overcome, at least in my experience, is the fear that you are wasting your time writing.  To be clear, I’m not addressing the possible time wasted working on a particular article or an idea you’re trying to clarify, or whether a particular day’s work is especially taxing. I’m talking about the big picture.  Think six months down the road.   Better yet, think five years down the road.  Will I be where I want to be with my writing?  Will I have a large audience?  Will I have any audience at all?  It’s essentially the fear that I am not cut out to be a successful writer and that no one will want to read my work.  It’s the fear that no matter how hard I work at getting better at the craft, no matter what marketing strategies I follow, no matter which agent I get, or which subjects I cover, that I will put in all that time and still fail.  That’s what weighs on my mind and makes me doubt my commitment.  It’s on my mind today, so much so that it supplanted another idea I had for an article so I could write this one.

The person without true commitment will give up.  That’s a fact.  It happens all the time.  Truth be told, it’s probably happened to you already.  I’ve quit more times than I care to remember.  It’s too hard to soldier forward without absolute confidence in your success.  It’s far easier, and frankly, might be more intelligent, to avoid all the stress, to save the hours and apply them to other, more fruitful, projects.  In other words, avoid the possibility of loss and you’ll be happier.  Unfortunately, that carries with it the additional loss of not achieving your goal to write – to die with your words still inside you.  So what’s the plan to overcome this fear?

The trite answer is to say “believe in yourself” or “have some confidence!” Unfortunately, self-confidence does not guarantee success, in writing or anything else.  There are millions of aspiring creatives whose names you’ll never know – actors, writers, painters, dancers – all who are full to the brim with self-confidence.  To make this commitment stick I need something more tangible than “believe in yourself.”

Unfortunately, logic is the only thing that I’ve come up with to address this problem.  I know there are almost seven billion people on this planet.  Of them, at least five hundred million speak and read English and have access to the internet.  To “be successful” some number of them need to appreciate and consume my work.  I’m never sure how many I want to read my work to qualify myself as a successful writer, but it’s definitely more than one hundred.  Well, it’s more than one thousand.  Ok, it’s honestly more like one hundred thousand.  I want to be really successful, though.  I want one million people to read my work, be inspired, change their lives, and reward me for it!  That amounts to 1/500th of the English-speaking, internet-accessing world public, as I have defined it.  Said another way, that’s 0.2% of the whole.  That, to me, is a doable target.  Of all the people who can read my work, I only have to reach a very small number of the total. Sounds easy that way, right?  I must admit, it sounds better in theory than in practice.

The bottom line is that we each need to do two things to be a successful, professional writer.  First, and most important, is to write every day (or, as mentioned above, almost every day).  This can not be skipped.  If you do not create, you can not publish.  If you have nothing to publish, no one will be able to read your work!  So create!

Second, publish.  Whether you publish on a free WordPress or Blogger site, your own domain’s site, in a well-known magazine, or your own book, you have to put your work out there.  If it sits on your hard drive or locked away in your desk drawer, safe from the world’s eyes no one will read it.  You have to risk the critique to get an audience.

Do nothing and you’ll be nothing.  Do the work and you may still be nothing.  At least you’ve done the work.  That’s more than most people can say.

I’m sure this is not the cool pick-me-up you expected when you started this article, but it’s what I’ve got to offer today.  It’s what I tell myself.  Do the work and send it out to the world.  Maybe someone will read it.  Or don’t. You have the choice every day.

Leave a Reply