What’s Holding You Back?

Happy Halloween! Today’s guest post is from author Kelsey Browning with Romance University dot org, who writes about one of my favorite topics: the fear of failure AND the fear of success. Both of those can hold you back from achieving your dreams. Kelsey gives you sound advice on how to identify what’s holding you back, and tips on how to overcome it.

To add a little fun to today’s special post, leave a comment and include who your favorite Sexiest Bad Guy is…you’ll be entered into a contest to win a free kindle edition of a writing craft book!

Four Essential Questions to Banish the Writing Boogeyman

by Kelsey Browning

If you’ve read my Brain Candy blog, you know I’m afraid of clowns, mimes and china dolls. Those are personal phobias. But I’ve found when it comes to writing, we tend to be afraid of two things:




I can hear you scoffing out there (yes, even you folks in Australia) and mumbling things like: “Me, afraid of success? Kelsey, you obviously haven’t had your clear-the-cobwebs morning coffee yet. I’ve been working my little patootie off for the past (insert number here) years to become a published author. What do you mean I’m afraid of success?”

And, yes, I heard that shrill high note on the end of your question, too.

Maybe you’re placing in writing contests and your critique partners love your writing and that’s become your measure of success. Sometimes pre-published author status becomes a comfortable career stage, and we have a hard time moving beyond it. I know, because I’ve been there.

But by asking yourself a handful of pointed—and possibly painful—questions, you can get over the fear of success hump.

  1. What do I get to avoid by staying where I am?
  2. What guarantee am I looking for?
  3. What emotional payoff am I receiving?
  4. What am I afraid of losing if I succeed?

Take a minute to skim those questions again. And if you’re serious about moving forward in your writing career, take several minutes to scratch out answers to them.

Do your responses look anything like these?

What do I get to avoid by staying where I am?

  • Learning how to _______ (plot, develop characters, market my work).
  • Networking with editors and other authors.
  • Setting myself up for rejection.
  • Realizing my story idea isn’t (or is) good. (from Mary Jo Burke)
  • Discovering I really do suck as a writer :-) . (from Adrienne Giordano)

What guarantee am I looking for?

  • Time well spent. Am I spending a lot of time writing something no one may ever read? Am I spending my time on the right thing? (from Nancy Naigle) Fear that I’ll spend months writing and no one will buy it. (from Joan Leacott)
  • Career certainty/staying power. What if I make it only to find out writing isn’t my calling? What if I become a bestseller, but can’t handle the pressure? What if I get a book contract, but it’s not with the press I want? What if I can’t meet my deadlines? What if I hate my editor?

What emotional payoff am I receiving?

  • Sympathy. My critique group moans and groans with me each time I receive a rejection.
  • Self-pity. I allow myself to mope and eat a half-gallon of Rocky Road for a week after hearing “No, thanks.”
  • Anger. No one will give me a chance, dammit!

What am I afraid of losing if I succeed?

  • Reputation.  What if people find out I’m a fraud, that I really don’t know what the heck I’m doing? That I’m really not as good of a writer as I think? What if I get a bad review?
  • Relationships. What if my critique group is jealous? What if they resent my success? What if I don’t have as much time for my family and friends? What if I outgrow the people around me? What if they abandon me?
  • Comfort Zone. What would people—my editor, agent, readers—demand of me? What would I have to do differently?

Honestly answering these four questions can feel a bit like food poisoning—you know that crampy, sweaty, nauseous feeling I’m talking about. Breathe through it. Then revisit your answers, and I think you’ll find many of your concerns may begin with the words “What if…?” And what if almost always means you’re borrowing trouble, that you’re placing artificial barriers in your own way.

So there’s one more powerful question that can help you get beyond many of these unfounded fears:

What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?

Answer this for each one of your biggest, scariest what ifs. How likely is your worst case scenario? And what would you do if it actually happened? I bet you’ll find yourself laughing at some of the outlandish answers you come up with. And we all know laughter is a great way to banish any boogeyman.

Kelsey Browning writes sass kickin’ southern love stories. She’s also a co-founder of Romance University blog, one of Write to Done’s Top Ten Blogs for Writers. Originally from a Texas town smaller than the ones she writes about, Kelsey has also lived in the Middle East and Los Angeles, proving she’s either adventurous or downright nuts. These days, she hangs out in a hobbit house in northeast Georgia with her IT-savvy husband, baseball-obsessed son and seriously spoiled dog. She’s currently at work on the third book in her Shelbyville, Texas, series. For more about Kelsey, visit www.KelseyBrowning.com.

Who’s the Sexiest Bad Guy you can think of? Leave a comment below to be entered into the drawing to win a free kindle edition writing craft book!

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19 Responses to What’s Holding You Back?

  1. Hi Kelsey, thanks for being here today! This is a great post. You had me at the gallon of Rocky Road ice cream! :)

    My Sexiest Bad Guy is Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise. :)

    Happy Halloween!

    • Kelly -

      Thanks so much for having me today.

      This topic is near and dear to my heart because fear of both criticism and success paralyzed me for a while. Several negative writing and life events hit at once, and I convinced myself it meant I wasn’t improving in my writing. What I began to see, though, is that I was scared of what might happen if I actually succeeded. Did I have the talent and wherewithal to follow through?

      As my mom used to say: “You have to pee or get off the pot.” LOL I decided to pee :-)

      And oh, my bad guy is probably the vampire Lestat from Anne Rice’s books. Lestat from the books, NOT Tom Cruise from the movie!


  2. I would like to say I’m not afraid of success, but I always slow down and start procrastinating as I near the end of a project. Right now hanging around online is so much more appealing than editing the last three chapters.

    I am not a big movie fan, so I’m going to have to go with a TV bad guy. The Mad Hatter on Once Upon A Time.

    • Janel –

      I’m with you. My CPs would tell you I always slog through revisions/edits. I think that’s when I begin to worry about my work not being good enough. Or God forbid, what if someone loves it? Will I be able to live up to their expectations?

      One recommendation I have to fight back the online monster is to set a timer – say 15 or 20 minutes. When that timer goes off, you go back to your WIP. Or look at it another way, set the timer for 20 minutes and that’s all the time you have to spend on your WIP right now. Do that several times a day, and you may be surprised at what you can accomplish. I can convince myself to do anything for 20 minutes!

      Oh, the bad guys on Once Upon a Time are fun. Probably more fun that Price Charming, truth be told! ;-)

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Kelsey, I really like the 20 minutes timer idea. I’ll try it the next time I get stuck. For now, I just completed my latest rewrite on my WIP. :)

        • Janel –

          Congrats! My son home schools and he’s using the 20 minute tip to keep him on track with certain activities or to keep from getting sucked into internet research. It works for all kinds of things.

          Wishing you luck with your latest WIP!

      • Kelly says:

        Kelsey, the timer trick is one of my favs. I will also sometimes attach a word count to it….250 words in 15 mins, for instance.

        Great discussion.

        • Kelly -

          I used to do word count only. Now, I find I tend to get better word count if I know I don’t have to sit there forever. :-) That being said I’m a very dirty first-draft writer!


  3. Good morning, Kelsey!

    In my experience, the road to publishing will always give us writers a fresh batch of fear. I don’t think the self-doubt goes away, but I think I’ve learned to manage it and funnel it into something usable. I’ve come to believe fear is part of the process and I can either use it to push me forward or I can let it derail me. I guess, for me, getting published was too hard of a journey to let a little fear derail me.:)

    There are times though that I have to remind myself to embrace the fear. LOL.

    • Adrienne –

      I don’t know if it will make pre-published writers feel better or worse to know published writers still feel plenty of fear – LOL. Seriously, I do think it’s helpful to know even the best, most prolific writers suffer from self-doubt and worry about whether they can write better and better books.

      Do you have any special mental tricks you use to channel the fear?


  4. Nancy Naigle says:

    No secret to anyone who knows me — my sexiest bad boy is Bret Michaels. Picturing him on that motorcycle of his with that perfect Harley straddle — oh lordy goodness…yeah.

    Those others listed above are no slouchers though. Gosh– I do love a bad boy!!

  5. Nicole Knatcal says:

    I think fear of finding out I’m not good is definitely one of my fears. I haven’t gotten myself out there yet where I’ve really been subjected to reviews or critiques. But something that has occurred to me is what if I do get published but I still get a hailstorm of bad reviews? Kinda like the author of the Twilight books. Of course, with all the money she’s made, maybe that helps soften the blow, lol!

    My favorite sexist bad guy is Tom Hanniger from My Bloody Valentine 3D. Of course, that may have more to do with the actor than anything (I’m a big fan). I’d have to agree that Jefferson from Once Upon a Time would be a great runner up–hard to really think of him as “bad” though.

    • Thanks for stopping by, NIcole! Hmm…was Tom Hanniger in something else recently? I didn’t see My Bloody Valentine, but he sure looks familiar (and yummy!).

      As for the bad reviews, I’m sure money can soften the blow. However, the thing I think you have to keep telling yourself in order to put yourself out there is that you cannot make everyone happy. You will not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s okay because you don’t like every piece of written work out there, right? Doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer; it means you’re not that reader’s kind of writer!

      I really encourage you to find a couple of critique partners. Mine are live-savers!

      Best of luck,

  6. Kelly –

    I’ll check back before I go to bed this evening, but I just wanted to say thanks so much for having me today!

    Here’s to all the sexy bad guys we love so much!