As we delve into the topic of writer’s block this week, I want to focus today on outcome anxiety. This is the state we often find ourselves in, so consumed with worry about the potential outcome of our actions that we sometimes fail to act at all.
There is nothing as toxic as the fear of failure. I recall countless times from my childhood when I would watch someone do something impressive and think to myself, “Man, I wish I could do that.”
I would often try, but my attempts never seemed to match those that I witnessed and inevitably, I would put down whatever I was trying – be it a pencil, a skateboard, or a guitar – and say, “Well, I can’t do that.”
Listening to this, I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. But isn’t it strange? Isn’t it peculiar that we expect ourselves to be proficient at something from the outset, and that we’re unwilling to try, unwilling to put in the effort to improve because we see that we’re not as good? We see that we don’t measure up?
As writers, this happens to us all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to write something, only to find myself unable to do so. Normally, I would attribute this to writer’s block and say, “Okay, well, I guess that’s it. Today just isn’t a good day for writing.”
But when we start to peel back the layers and examine our core principles, the principles that guide our actions, I often find that for me, fear of failure is a significant contributor to why I find writing so challenging. When I worry about the quality of my writing, it becomes exponentially harder for me to write. More importantly, it becomes exponentially harder for me to share my writing with others, which is a crucial step in improving.
Because I’m afraid that I won’t like what I’ve written, or that someone else won’t like it, I simply don’t take the first step. Worse still, this avoidance can become a habit, leading to long-term writer’s block. I’ve discussed this on the channel before, but it has led me to develop a principle that I try to apply consistently, though I do have to remind myself of it regularly. The principle is simple:
Make Bad Art.
As soon as we remove the need for perfection, the requirement that something must meet a specific standard, and give ourselves permission to create bad art, we free ourselves from the chains of worry. We liberate ourselves from the hesitation to create whatever it is we’re trying to create.
When I sit down to write a new story and think, “I’m going to incorporate a genre I’ve never tried before,” if I tell myself that I have to meet the standard of the best writers in that genre, I’ll never write. But if I say, “It’s okay if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, because this is just a trial,” then suddenly I’m free to write as I please. I’m free to test, explore, and experiment without the pressure of creating something good.
Now, this idea of “make bad art” only works if you’re also invested in the long game. And writing is a long game. We often see people who achieve overnight success and think, “Man, wouldn’t it be great to be in that position?” The reality is that it wouldn’t be great. If you talk to any of these people, they’ll tell you the same thing. Viral success is not all it’s cracked up to be.
For the vast majority of writers, writing is a process that takes us a long time. It takes years to become good at it, years to sell manuscripts, and years to build a reader base large enough to sustain your work. This element of time is crucial to being a writer. One of the best things it does for us is allow us to create bad art, to make mistakes, and to improve.
So the next time you’re struggling with writer’s block, the next time you’re sitting there unable to think of what to write, take a deep breath, look yourself in the eye, and say, “It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to exist.”
But I’m curious about how you handle your anxiety. Does writing make you anxious? If so, re how you deal with it. One of the best parts of being a writer is learning from others so I’d love to hear your tips and tricks.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/ov_4eapTFgo
Thanks for reading and watching.
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