How Fear of Failure Keeps Writers From Producing Their Best Work

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Someone, somewhere, will fail today.

That person might be you.

In fact, it’s pretty likely that something will go wrong for you today — no day is ever absolutely perfect. Maybe your favorite client doesn’t like the work you delivered. Maybe you said the wrong thing and it cost you a gig. Maybe your latest blog post got negative feedback.

It happens to the best of us. You completely miss the mark. You fall flat on your face. You get bad results and generally make a mess of things, despite your best intentions.

You’ve failed. Now what?

Most freelancers get hung up on what went wrong. They focus on the slip-up, analyze the situation, and dissect every angle, feeling upset and discouraged. They often head over to their favorite freelancer hangout, where like-minded freelancers living pretty much the same sort of life jointly lament about the situation and hash over what went wrong.

That’s what most freelancers do — and it means they’re lying to themselves. Worse, they’re holding their businesses back.

The 3 lies that kill your freelance writer success

Whether you’re just starting out in your career or have already become a wild success, you will fail. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll screw up and you’ll suffer setbacks. This isn’t discouragement; it’s just the way life works.

What you tell yourself about these failures determines how you move on, and whether you move forward. You can be honest, truthful and proactive, or you can lie to yourself about what it all means.

What are these lies that freelance writers tell themselves?

1. It’s personal. This screw-up? It’s all about you — all your fault. You didn’t do the “right” thing. You’re not good enough. The client doesn’t like you.

2. It’s permanent. You worked hard, tried your best, and blew it. That project? A total failure. It’s done. Over. It’s the end of the line.

3. It’s pervasive. You never do anything right. You’re always screwing up. You think like Charlie Brown: “Everything I touch gets ruined!” Why even bother trying? It’s just going to be more of the same.

Sound exaggerated? Not at all. I see freelance writers telling themselves these lies all the time. Worse, they believe them to be true. The more they think these lies and come to believe them, the more these freelance writers slowly, surely, and definitely destroy any possibility of ever reaching success. You’ll find them five years later, with the same sort of clients, the same sort of work and complaining about the same sort of things.

It’s self-sabotage at its very best. But it doesn’t have to happen to you.

How to choose your own story

Think of life this way: it’s a story, and you’re the author. You’re writing your story every single moment of every single day, and the choices you make determine what happens next.

If you face failure and then spend the rest of the workday running through all the reasons you weren’t good enough, or how this always happens to you, you’ve written a story full of drama. You become a victim of circumstances, wallowing in self-pity.

That won’t get you anywhere — not in life, and certainly not in business. You don’t have to write that story. You can make different choices, ones that completely change what happens next. Imagine you faced the same failure, and instead of wailing “why me?” you ask yourself this instead:

“Why not me?”

Just imagine how your story would change then.

You see, failure isn’t personal, or permanent, or pervasive — unless you choose to make it so. Failure is only ever temporary, and an isolated result brought about by the choices you made within the given circumstances.

It doesn’t signify the sum total of your freelancing career existence, even if you’ve failed repeatedly for the past six months.

It does signal that next time, you should try something different. You’ll inevitably get different results.

Even better, you can choose to view failure as feedback, like clear GPS evidence that shows you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere and need to get on a different path. It gives you an opportunity to learn something about the path you were on and the behaviors you chose, and it allows you a chance to course correct and get back on track.

Think about Michael Jordan, a six-time NBA Champion and five-time Most Valuable Player in the world of basketball. He’s incredibly successful, and no one who thinks of failure thinks of him.

Yet he says: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Wayne Gretzky’s take on failure? “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Replace failure with failing forward

Most people see failure as a negative event versus a positive learning experience, but failure makes us better at what we do. Successful people risk failure every day, and their risks often involve very high stakes.

But successful people risk failure because failure helps them succeed more. They’re failing just like you might be… only they’re failing forward, taking negative results and turning them into positive learning experiences.

If you’ve been thinking of yourself as a failure for some time, or even just feeling downtrodden about failures you’ve experienced, it’s time for a change in mindset. And since you’ve likely been operating with a failure mindset for some time, adopting a new outlook will likely take some practice.

Start here:

1. Ask your brain better questions

The human mind is built to answer any questions that pop into it. The answers it gives back to you depend on the quality of the questions you ask in the first place.

Questions like “Why does this always happen to me?” or “How could I be so stupid?” send your mind racing to find reasons that explain why you’re not good enough.

“What can I learn from this experience?” is a much better question. It sends your mind chasing after answers that become learning lessons.

Other questions you could ask yourself include, “What can I change about my approach for next time?”, or “How can I use this situation to my best benefit?”

I guarantee you’ll gain positive results from smart questions like these.

2. Stop listening to people who aren’t doing any better than you

It’s normal to share what went wrong with friends, family and people we trust. And very often, these people give us advice about what they think went wrong, and what we should do about it.

Be careful about whose advice you take. If these people aren’t currently doing better than you and enjoying more success than you are, it’s likely their advice won’t do you much good.

Seek out advice from people living the type of success you’d love to have — who have the sort of clients you’d like, the sort of income you want, the sort of lifestyle you dream of. They’ve been where you are — and gone far beyond it, which means their advice will likely help you move forward more than anyone else’s.

Avoid people who continually complain or talk about what’s not going well. Instead, hang around with positive-minded people who fire you up, who motivate you. They look forward to the future, and they’ll inspire you to dream big while helping you achieve your goals.

3. Seek to serve

Feelings of failure often creep in when focusing on your own problems and concerns. But mentally rehashing what’s not going well often just reinforces the feelings of failure and how hard it is to succeed.

That type of thinking keeps you firmly where you are — which is definitely not where you want to be.

Pull your eyes away from the mirror. Look instead to the needs of others and practice finding ways to lend a hand, while encouraging those around you. Become someone people want to be around, and help them move past their own struggles.

You’ll deepen your relationships, increase your confidence, and get your mind away from focusing on failure. You’ll also find yourself becoming more of a problem-solver, a person who can see the positive side, take action and help out. With that mindset firmly in place, you’ll soon find ways to help yourself.

Everyone fails. It’s how you deal with it that counts.

You might not be succeeding right now. You might not have all the clients you want, or the type of work you want to do every day, or the sort of income you’d like to be earning.

That’s okay. You can get to that point — if you’re ready to accept that all failures are actually learning experiences.

Be willing to look on the bright site, learn from what went wrong and use that as feedback to change your behaviors and make better choices moving forward.

Just imagine: you’ll have your failures to thank for your success!

What have you learned from your failures?

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James Chartrand is the owner of Men with Pens, a world-recognized business and major blog with more than 50,000 readers, and Damn Fine Words, where she (yes, she) teaches content-creation techniques to wri... .

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James Chartrand
James Chartrand

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James Chartrand’s course teaches entrepreneurs and freelancers how to create the quality content their business demands.

Comments

  1. Wow! Inspiring post, James! I love what you said about serving others. Helping others encourages me to keep moving forward. The biggest things I learned from failure are:

    1. If you don’t continue tying you can’t succeed
    2. Not everyone is going to like what you write
    3. Focus on the people who do like your writing and not those who don’t

    • I like that list, Elke – what we learn from failures (or as I prefer to call them, missed attempts or practice shots) is incredibly valuable, and I’m glad to see you chiming in!

  2. I have been fighting this demon all of my life, but haven’t we all? Printing this out and putting it on the to-do today clipboard so I can reframe my mindset.

    We all are the authors of our own story. Potentially the hero.

    Wait, absolutely the hero! ;p

    Thank you for this!

    • Always the hero, Lee, because the best heroes know which demons to fight… and fear is one of those demons that doesn’t even deserve the respect of a fight, n’est pas? Walk away from it, and battle better demons, I say! :)

  3. FANTASTIC post, James. We’ll always have setbacks, but I think if we learn from them and grow, then it’s not a failure. ESPECIALLY, if we’re seeking to serve. The biggest reminder I needed is who’s advice to heed — sometimes it’s not even advice. Sadly, sometimes there are people in our inner circle who don’t understand us as writers, and always say negative things. We need to grow tone deaf to them. Thanks.

    • I think the best advice to heed is the one that comes from your good ol’ gut instinct – it rarely leads you astray. And even if it holds you back from taking action on something, it usually has its reasons!

  4. Thanks for the post.
    It inspire me to write an awesome story of my life for today, right now!

  5. James Chartrand, this is an excellent post, and I like the way you focus on what is termed often “failure,” and how to use that failure to bring about your own desired results. Well done, and thank you. ds

Trackbacks

  1. […] How Fear of Failure Hurts Writers: THE WRITE LIFE: “It happens to the best of us. You completely miss the mark. You fall flat on your face. You get bad results and generally make a mess of things, despite your best intentions. You’ve failed. Now what?” […]

  2. […] James Chartrand discusses how fear of failure keeps writers from producing their best work. […]

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