If you’re not finishing your writing, it’s because of fear. Somewhere, on some level, there’s a fear of writing that’s holding you back. But did you know that fear setting will help you finish your book?

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Fear is far more influential than we like to think. We like to believe that we’re not succumbing to fears because we are good at goal-setting. We take action, or perhaps we stick to a writing schedule of some kind.

The truth? Fear is insidious. It is subtle. It speaks with voices you can’t hear, and unless you weed those voices from your psyche, they will forever impede your writing dreams.

Here’s how to use fear-setting to overcome your fears—and finally write with confidence!

The Power of “Fear-Setting”

Recently, the internet Rabbit Hole took me to a TED Talk by Tim Ferriss. Ferriss is perhaps most famous for the 4-hour workweek brand, and he is a thought leader when it comes to business development, productivity, and branding.

The title of his talk grabbed my attention right away: “Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals.”

This grabbed me for two reasons:

  1. I’ve done a lot of goal-setting, and I was curious about the benefits of fear-setting.
  2. Thanks to my counselor, I’m realizing that I have a TON of fears that are blocking me from my writing dreams.

Thirteen minutes later, I had taken out a pad of paper and started doing Ferriss’ exercise called “fear-setting.”

3 Truths About Fear Writers Need to Know

Before you hurry away and watch the video (don’t worry, I’ll embed it below!), I want you to make sure you fear-set with a couple of thoughts in mind—mainly having to do with your writing.

Once you’ve completed Tim’s activity, I want you to add to it in a way that could change your writing life in unbelievable and wonderful ways. I want you to overcome your biggest fears, and boost your decision-making so that you (finally) finish your manuscript.

Here are three truths about fear you must think about as you learn Tim Ferriss’s Fear-Setting method:

“Is this the condition that I feared?” – Seneca

1. Fear is born out of early trauma

When you sit down to identify your writing fears, one of them will be obvious: “No one will like, read, or buy my book.” For many early writers, this thought is status quo.

This is true of all writers, even hugely successful ones like J.K. Rowling. And yet, this is a relatively easy fear of writing to conquer.

Why? Because real writing fears—the ones that you need to identify and plan around—come from much earlier in your life.

At some point in your story, someone bullied you. Someone insulted you. Or someone made a passing remark that sounded negative, and for whatever reason you imprinted it on your soul and let it define you for decades.

Maybe it was a teacher, family member, or friend. Maybe it was seemingly harmless at the time and you’ve excused it away.

Are you thinking about a certain comment or memory right now? Was it one of the worst things that happened to you and hurt your confidence? Are you still holding onto it? Do you bring it into your writing each day?

Deep in your mind, there is probably a trauma related to your identity as a writer. You’ve believed it because it happened when you were too young to call bull on a hater. And now, as an adult (or young adult), you unconsciously believe it.

This trauma hurts your personal development.

It makes it hard for you to set goals and complete them. It can even make places of joy high-stress environments, and all of this is harmful for nurturing new skills or mindsets that will empower your writing life instead of crumple it.

Identifying your fears is the first step in overcoming them.

2. We defend our traumas

Not only do we let other people’s random or thoughtless actions define us: we defend them.

Perhaps because I’m deeply empathetic, I’m an expert at justifying other people’s actions.

For example, I had a “friend” in my life — we’ll call him Chris — who teased me relentlessly in middle school. At the time, I took it as casually ribbing. But in hindsight, Chris’ words left deep scars in who I was and who I am today.

And occasionally, Chris would tease me for writing stories.

He would call them “stupid” or say I was a “loser” when I talked about my hobby. So for several years during that time, I believed writing made me uncool.

Yet the way I remember it, Chris was having a tough time of his own. His parents had gotten divorced and his mom remarried really fast. His home life was chaotic. And at school, Chris was often teased by the coolest kids because he was short and had long, feminine hair.

See what I did there? I pivoted from rewriting my own trauma — and the fear of humiliation and shame it creates — to defending a childhood friend who had deeply hurt me for several years.

There’s nothing wrong with empathy. It has its time and place.

But when you name your fears and build a strategy to conquer them, there is no room for justification. If anyone has abused, bullied, or even slandered you about your creative spirit and love of storytelling, you need to call that trauma out.

You need to challenge why it’s made you afraid of writing, and rewrite your identity into something powerful and confident.

If you don’t, you might quit writing instead of move forward. And people can only benefit from your writing if you write it.

The cost of inaction is too high.

3. Only you can rewrite your story

When we discover that our stories are filled with old, deep trauma, we tend to feel overwhelmed. When the fear born of those traumas floods over us, we tend to cry out for a helper.

And while there is a huge role for religion and spirituality in recovery from trauma, ultimately the rewriting must occur with you. Only you can reframe your stories into victories, rather than defeats. Only you can decide to stop defending your tormentors and call out each fear by name, slaying it with the sword of confidence.

To do this, I recommend following Tim Ferriss’s three-page Fear-Setting exercise, but add a fourth page. On this page, spend time rewriting the fears as you wished they had occurred, where you speak truth and goodness into the darkness.

Here’s an example:

Back in the hell of middle school, I tell my friend Chris that I have written a story. “Would you read it?” I ask. Then I offer it to him, my hand shaking a little with nervousness.

Instead of taking it, Chris sneers. He spits back at me, “You write? That’s stupid. What are you, a loser?”

But instead of bowing my head in shame — instead of owning his immature, hateful insults — I take back my story and lift my chin high.

“You do not speak to me that way,” I say. “I’m a great writer and I’m only getting better. If you won’t read it, fine. I don’t need your approval to do what I love.”

Then I walk away and let him think about how far his rudeness will get him in the future.

Is this how it actually happened? No, of course not.

But now I’m telling the story. I’m in control of the moment, and by reliving the traumatic moment and reframing it with confidence and identity-affirming words, I no longer think back on that moment with shame, nor will the fear of writing created by that moment hold me back like before.

And above all, there’s so much more possibility for my writing if I believe and encourage it myself rather than listen to someone else who hopes to tear me down.

Even it I don’t do this perfectly each time. Even if sometimes I only have partial success, I have a chance of improving my writing, finishing my books, and touching a reader if I acknowledge and face my writing fears.

There’s so much more to gain from benefits of an attempt than giving up.

As writers, we must endure in spite of our fears. We must take our place among other stoic writers—ones who persist, and grow their skills because of it.

First, Set Your Fears. Then, Reframe Your Traumas.

Tim Ferriss’s “Fear-Setting” will open your eyes to just how many worries are holding you back.

But it will also instill you with confidence to make the hard choices anyone must make on the road to a successful career of writing and publishing.

In the TED Talk, you’ll hear Farriss mention stoicism, or “the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.”

When you understand and set your fears, you can overcome them. And by doing so, you can overcome your fear of writing—and whatever else is holding you back from finishing your book.

Take a few minutes to watch Ferriss’s TED Talk and give his three-page Fear Setting method a try. But then add a fourth page and spend some time reframing those traumas.

This is an essential step for the passionate artist who has been attacked and wounded over a lifetime of literary blood and sweat. You have to tell your story the way it was supposed to be. You have to love yourself and care for yourself enough to declare that the old is gone and the new has come.

You need to resurrect your past in order to march into the future.

What fears do you have about your writing? Let us know in the comments.


Today, let’s acknowledge and face your fears.

Take fifteen minutes to think about 2-3 fears holding you back from writing. Write them down. Then, think about some worst-case scenarios that will happen if you let that fear keep you from writing.

How do you feel about that?

Now, write down a reason you must write. What will happen if you don’t? Why should you keep going?

When you’re done, share your scene in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers. We can help one another overcome our fear of writing!

You deserve a great book. That's why David Safford writes adventure stories that you won't be able to put down. Read his latest story at his website. David is a Language Arts teacher, novelist, blogger, hiker, Legend of Zelda fanatic, puzzle-doer, husband, and father of two awesome children.

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