Fear of Failure and Revisions

I have a problem with a fear of failure. I guess most people do a little, but I feel like mine affects everything I do. I mean, I'm even afraid to talk on the phone or exercise because I might do something stupid.

It affects writing and drawing too, of course. I stare at the blank page until I convince myself to sketch something fast and light, reminding myself it doesn't have to perfect. Once I have something sketched, I'm afraid to darken or ink it because it already looks good -- what if I make a mistake? And once I ink it, too, I'm afraid to color it.

It's stupid, I know. My wife called me on it the other day. "At least you can always erase and redo a drawing. It's not like you only get one shot."

I know she's right, so why am I so afraid then to put my pencil (or ASCII characters) to the page?

In performance, like dancing or singing, you don't get to revise. Once the moves or notes are out there, they're permanent. But for some reason I'm not as afraid of performance. When I am afraid, I practice -- that, after all, is how you get your body to do the right thing when performance time comes. And I don't mind screwing up in practice because, hey, it's just practice.

So why the heck can't I do that with drafting and sketching? The delete key's only like two inches from my pinky!

Not sure I have a conclusion to this one, so I'll throw it out to you. How do you struggle with fear of failure? How do you overcome it?


lotusgirl said...

I think we all struggle with that fear of failure. First drafts are like practice though. So...

vic caswell said...

ohman! i hear you! i feel the exact same way- and i get all paralyzed and can't get anywhere!

i keep telling myself, it doesn't have to perfect or great, just do the best i can...

but then i'm like, what if my best is rubbish, and then i get paralyzed again... funny because drawing and writing used to just be fun, and it still is fun, but the feeling of inferiority as compared to all the talent out there is overwhelming!

Matthew MacNish said...

Fear is a tool. You have to use it to hone your craft, but you also have to push through it to succeed. Don't ever let your fear run you.

I love how you discussed performance. If you practice, you know you'll do your best, so you just go with it. Try to treat your writing and drawing like that (not to say that I'm all that great at any of this, it's easier to say than do).

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

You and Nathan are on the same wavelength today!

I like Matt's idea of using fear as a tool to hone your craft. A little fear is good - it keeps you from doing stupid things. My greatest fear is failure as well, and I've had lots of opportunities for it - in front of lots of people on issues they were really concerned about. Performance you can prepare for as much as you like, but in the end, you have one shot. But that one shot is also ephemeral, lasting usually as long as the agony or joy of the performance itself, or possibly as long as the next news cycle.

But writing is different. In many ways, it is the most enduring thing you will do. And trust me, once it leaves your hands, it is immutable - an unchanging record of your writing at that time.

This is what strikes terror in my heart. But it's also the reason why I write. :)

jjdebenedictis said...

You could remind yourself that a thing left undone (or unfinished) is itself a kind of failure.

Given a choice between (a) failing, and (b) failing with something to show for it, why not choose to have something to show for it?

Adam Heine said...

You guys are awesome! What I'm coming away with so far:

1. Fear is a tool. It can motivate you to get better.
2. I'm not crazy. Performance is a one shot, but most screw-ups are quickly forgotten (unless you're recording a live CD, I guess).
3. Failing to do ANYTHING is worse than failing at doing something (and one more way fear can be a tool).

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Fear is a weapon. It can be used for you or against you. Wow. I kind of feel like Yoda.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Very true, Adam. It was a breakthrough for me when I realized all the good revising could do. As an unpublished writer (without a *real* deadline), I have all the time I want to make my ms as perfect as it can be. Rewrites, here I come!

Still, it's taken me years to get to this point. And now I'm afraid I'll never get around to querying this particular project because something will always be wrong with it. *sigh* Which I guess isn't a stare-at-a-blank-page fear of failure, but still a fear of failure.

So, with all that said, I have not answered your question.


Adam Heine said...

That's cool, Samantha. I ALWAYS listen to Yoda.

True, Amy, it's really hard to know when to send it out. I always send things out too early hoping my betas will fix things for me.

Emmet said...

Failure? What is this word that you speak of? Is it anything like a falconer, because that would be cool.

Asea said...

When I was an art student, it helped me a lot to use a sketchbook. Something about being able to close the book and "hide" my mistakes made it a lot easier to make them. I find that the same thing is true with writing: I am much more gracious with myself when I write pen-in-notebook than when I use loose leaf paper or type (typing makes Editor Brain sit up and shout for some reason, which is why I like to type up my handwritten drafts when I'm in stage 1 of editing).

I'm afraid of failure a lot. On the other hand, I took a huge risk a couple of years ago and it worked out really ok, and I'm much better about not being afraid of meta things anymore (like being able to find a job or get around a strange city). I'm still worried a lot about what other people (especially people I care about) think of me, though. :-/

Adam Heine said...

Thanks for sharing, Asea. That's a good point about the notebook (sketchbook doesn't work as well for me cuz I scan them and put them here all the time :-).