THE FOUR LETTER WORD FOR FAILURE
When perusing an old Reader’s Digest anthology, Getting The Most Out of Life, I noted the frequency with which one four-letter word was negatively tagged: “the number one killer of confidence”... “the factor most detrimental to success” ... “the major reason for failure.” Three chapters addressed it exclusively.
In myriad books on all subjects, we find references to its debilitating power over our lives. Quotes about it are countless. Hundreds of articles on the subject appear in magazines every year. One dictionary used over 200 words to describe it. Everywhere, we find advice on how to face it, down it, overcome it ....
What is this griping malaise that blocks progress like no other, inhibits talent, prevents fulfillment, kills dreams-- most notably, dreams of a writing career?
Fear of criticism, fear of ridicule, fear of rejection…Constantly fighting this saboteur, aspiring authors cry out for help to squelch it. Enticed by titles like “”Do The Thing You Fear,” How I found Freedom From Fear,” “The Conquest of Fear,” they run down every suggested remedy-- firmly convinced that the professionals have conquered it-- that, whatever their early symptoms, surely they no longer suffer.
Not true . Although recognized accomplishment (appearing in print) is the best medicine for the malady, most eminent writers maintain that they were never cured.
In Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russell confirmed that “no amount of recognition entirely eliminates the ailment.” Plenty of money doesn’t cure it either. In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill asks, “How many of the six ghosts of fear are standing in your way?” And FDR’s famous after Pearl Harbor quote, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” revealed a president’s concern that the wide spread contagion could cripple a nation’s ability to protect itself.
At that time, everybody could especially relate to fear, so the statement was often repeated. And the American president was credited with astute advice. But the thought was not original. His speech writers had simply paraphrased two well-known authors:
“The thing of which I have most fear is fear" -- Montaigne
“Nothing is so much to be feared as fear,” -- Thoreau
Throughout history, fear has inhibited literary creativity. No writer ever escaped insecurity, worry, and doubt. Even Shakespeare said, “Our traitor doubts make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
And beginning writers-- facing the critical editor, the unknown pitfalls of publishing, and what they don’t know about selling-- are especially vulnerable.
However (think about it) what is the worst that could happen? Most mistakes we make will be correctable; certainly, they won’t be fatal. On the other hand, lack of faith in our ability not only causes inaction; but deters development of our talent. The worst that could happen is never daring.
Consider the case of this former student of mine. Ever dreaming instead of doing, periodically taking another writing course, another, and another (not quite ready to play the game) she vegetated her "writing life" away. Now, after twenty years of inaction, a basket-case of literary anxieties, unfulfilled and unhappy, she no longer even dreams....
After a reasonable stretch of study and practice, it’s time to trust your inner knowing, and forge ahead. So you strike out a time or two; it’s better than stagnating. And down the line you’ll discover that many mistakes can not only be corrected, but built on. Recognized blunders are great eye-openers. Every novice fighting butterflies needs to know that even those who made it to the pinnacle didn’t necessarily triumph over fear; they simply refused to let fear win.
In his last interview the late Robert Davies, called “Canada’s most lauded man of letters,” let his admirers, and the world, in on his secret struggle. He said that he had always been foolishly afraid of criticism, that his self-confidence had often been shattered by fear. But finally, he learned to tune his fears out-- and let his dreams balloon above them.
Fear in one form or another is always lurking around writers. So whether you're standing on the edge of the writing world, or on the edge of success, make up your mind to ignore the whole regiment: fear of the blank page, the computer, the editor, the critic-- fear that they'll tell you the truth, fear that they won't... Inundated with these thoughts, anticipating rejection and embarrassment rather than praise, like the "downer" drug routine, becomes an iron clad habit.
Wondering if we are unknowing, if we don't understand procedures, if our ideas won't work-- or we won't have any more... Every accomplished author, whose success the beginner envies, originally fought these fear ogres before they learned to ignore them.
“Live and learn,” is the true st of truisms. Life is a learning laboratory-- and failure our best teacher. Former Writer's Digest columnist Art SPikel, once said, “There’s no way of calculating how many terrific writers sat back and allowed inactivity (out of fear) to make them anonymous.”
If you don’t want to be anonymous, remember the power of that four-letter word-- the widely recognized "greatest killer of confidence." And while you're still procrastinating, going over and over every piece, checking and re-checking, you may discover you're better than you think. Certainly, faint heart is not a winner. So after you do your best, dare to take the chance. Welcome the education of trial and error.
And release your talent from the restriction of fear.
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Delma Luben, author of THE WRITING WORLD, Living The Literary Life, contributing editor WRITERS WORLD MAGAZINE, producer/host of "The Writing World" TV show, and "Poetry for the Public" on radio, is internationally published in both prose and poetry.