Fear of Success for Writers – Signs of Self-Sabotage in the Writing Life

If you think fear of failure or rejection is the only thing holding you back from being a successful writer, think again! Fear of success can be just as paralyzing as fear of failure. Here’s a brief definition of “fear of success” as it relates to writing, plus a few signs of self-sabotage for writers…

Before the tips, a quip:

“The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.”  ~ American novelist William Styron.

Don’t just be aware of your flaws, weaknesses, fears, and neuroses – use them to become a better writer! Remember that everyone is abnormal in some way, and don’t let your quirks get the better of you. If you’re struggling to live up to your full potential, do something about it! Click Success Is Not an Accident: Change Your Choices; Change Your Life for help, and learn how fear of success works for writers…

What is Fear of Success for Writers?

Writers may fear success because they don’t know if they can live up to their achievements. They may feel they’re not good enough or smart enough to keep writing, keep getting published, and keep satisfying editors, publishers, agents, and readers. Writers may think they don’t have what it takes to rise to the challenge, and they don’t know if they can sustain their writing success.

Sometimes writers fear success because it tests their limits and makes them vulnerable to new situations. Even worse, success can expose weaknesses and force writers not just to face, but to deal with their flaws. Other writers don’t believe they have a writer’s personality.

Writing or publication is scary because it involves change. Success can be intimidating and hard to handle! And, with success comes more challenges and responsibilities – and that can be threatening.

Possible Signs of Fear of Writing Success

Procrastination. Putting projects, assignments, or duties off while you take care of non-essential fluff or “make-work” chores can be a sign of fear of success. If you putter around instead of taking care of business, you may be subconsciously sabotaging yourself. Instead of avoiding your dreams of being a published author, re-evaluate your writing goals.

Talking the talk…but not walking the walk. Sometimes writers look unmotivated, undisciplined, or downright lazy…but their behaviors may be a symptom of fear of success. For instance, some writers blog and talk about their writing dreams and goals constantly, but watch TV every night and surf the Internet for hours every day. They don’t take practical, specific steps to achieving their writing goals, and they don’t exert the self-discipline it takes to write and get published. This is a primo example of self-sabotage.

Negative, pessimistic thoughts and behaviors. Fear of success can involve an extremely negative perspective of the writing business. “What’s the point of pitching query letters to editors? There’s no money in freelancing these days.” Not trying to get published – and focusing on all the things that can go wrong – is self-sabotaging and defeatist. It doesn’t lead to writing success because thoughts become action!

“Partying” the night before the big presentation. This can be literal partying (drinking too much, experimenting with drugs, staying out until the wee hours) or metaphorical partying (cleaning the house until 3 a.m., drinking too much coffee or soda pop and making sleep impossible). It’s similar to procrastination, but a little more destructive. Writers may be flirting with self-sabotage if they somehow always ruin a good night’s rest before a big presentation, exam, or job interview.

The Benefits of Self-Sabotage for Writers

These self-sabotaging behaviors allow writers an escape hatch. That is, if there’s no point in querying magazine editors, then writers can shrug off their writing dreams performance. If the market is already glutted with suspense novels, then there’s no reason to query literary agents.

Writers who dabble in self-sabotage have a ready-made excuse for not succeeding – and it’s not their fault. Instead of facing the fear that they’re not good or smart enough, they chalk it up to uncontrollable, external forces (book publishers aren’t giving high enough advances these days, or editors aren’t hiring new freelancers anymore).

Self-sabotage and fear of becomes a habit that destroys creativity, self-confidence, and dreams. Don’t go there, fellow scribes. Instead, learn how to fail and bounce back as a writer!

What do you think – are you a writer who fears success? My next article will be about overcoming fear of success…so stay tuned!

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9 thoughts on “Fear of Success for Writers – Signs of Self-Sabotage in the Writing Life”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen


    Thanks for being here — and for taking the time to comment!

    Fear of success is a tough nut to crack. You’d think writers yearn for success, but it’s scary because it’s full of the unknown. Fear of failure is something we acknowledge and talk about openly, but fear of success is a bit more difficult to understand because it seems sorta silly or something.

    Anyway, I’m glad you found Quips and Tips, and I hope to see you around these parts again 🙂

    Tally ho,

  2. Hi Laurie,
    I just recently found your site and I truly enjoy your writings! I believe that people are much more afraid of success than they are failure – for many of the reason you stated such as failure being much more familar. Building success is often like trying to bust through a cocoon – it is a challenging struggle and takes a great deal of persistence and personal fortitude.
    I am very happy to have found your site and I plan to read many of your blog posts!
    Take care, Troyann

  3. Great post – Fear of success is such big obstacle – Not just for writers but for all entrepreneurs.
    .-= Sandy Naidu´s last blog post ..Summer Months =-.

  4. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    I think it’s especially easy for aspiring writers to dream of writing books and getting published, but never achieving their goals because of the fear of not being good enough (which is similar to fear of success….because if you do succeed in getting published, you open yourself up to possible criticism of your work!).

    Jenny – thanks for your book recommendation; I’ve checked it out, and will feature it in my next blog post!

    “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, fellow scribes. (Susan Jeffers)

    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..How to Make Conversation for Introverts – Tips for Small Talk =-.

  5. Charlotte Rains Dixon

    Great rundown on fear of success, thanks! I think all of us suffer from some of these at one time or another, the trick is to be able to recognize it and get ourselves back on track.

  6. This is such an important topic to cover – thanks for writing about it Laurie.

    I think for me, one of my success fears has to do with change – if I become a successful writer (by that my definition means having a series of books that are best sellers)my life will change. I like my cozy Island lifestyle where I can set my own casual schedule. What will happen when I have editor’s deadlines, book tours, book signings and so on. Can I handle all the attention and activity???

    I look forward to your tips on overcoming fear of success.

    .-= Gini Grey´s last blog post ..Intuition =-.

  7. Another great book on this topic is “The War of Art.” I absolutely love it and one of the takeaway points… “any writer knows, the hardest part of writing is sitting down to write.”

  8. Laurie,

    Outstanding. Any writers who are out there wondering why they are not moving forward would be wise to take a look at this list and come up with an honest evaluation.

    Recognizing the problem is the first step in conquering it.

    .-= George Angus´s last blog post ..Flash Fiction The Good Knight =-.

  9. I think many of us have fallen into the trap of talking ourselves out of success before, but one clear way to refocus is to (metaphorically at least) grab yourself by the ears and ask “do you *really* want this?”

    Answer honestly, because you’re only fooling yourself if you don’t. The fact is that many people have dreams of doing something but don’t want the effort that’s needed to get there. The only way to be a success is to work hard and keep working hard.

    So if you find yourself doing what Laurie has mentioned here, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities ’cause either you’re saying you don’t really want to be a writer, or you’re making a rod for your own back.
    .-= Zoë Robinson´s last blog post ..Technorati claim code =-.