Friday, November 18, 2011
Fear of Success by Patricia Ann Jones, former book critic for Tulsa World and Camden Times
This lady has been in several of my online writing groups, and I never knew her background was so extensive. This article explains to us all why we get "writer's block" and (like me) take two years off from the creative process. Patricia is now retired from her professional writing jobs.
Patti, I appreciate posting this.
Fear of Success
By Patricia Ann Jones
When friends ask me why I have not completed the last rewrite of my novel, I'm quick to reply that the lack of time and circumstance are to blame. Is that true? Until recently I thought, it was. Now, I'm not so sure. Could it be more a lack of ambition? Perhaps, it is. More than likely, however, it is the fear of failure that prevents my progress. All writers fear failure. Rejection assaults the dignity of our work, causes doubt as to our talent, our ability to achieve life's goals.
Further reflection brings another possibility. Rather than the fear of failure, is my problem the fear of success? How could anyone fear success? So many questions, so few answers. Honesty compels me to arrive at the unbelievable conclusion, I fear success.
Over the past eleven years, I've had some sixty articles published regionally and nationally. I have had more than 328 book reviews published in a large metropolitan newspaper. I have two writing columns on the internet as well as a book review column. To be blunt about it, everything I've submitted has been published in one media or another. So, how can I be afraid of publishing a novel?
Becoming a successful novelist brings more limelight to a writer, than being a book critic or a journalist. It pushes one onto the world's stage. Lives change, forever. The spotlight blinds some to values once held. More money brings a power that has the ability to alter a cherished status quo. Privacy is lost. Once you've shown a successful face to the world, the world, expects more and more.
The chances of this happening are small, I know that. The fear, does not know. The fear eats at a fragile ego, warns that it could happen and that is all it takes to stop this writer dead in the creative waters.
What if I became one of those so called "over night successes?" What would happen to me should I find myself a Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain) who won the National Book Award with his first novel, a Harper Lee with her "To Kill a Mocking Bird," or even a Robert Waller (Bridges of Madison County)? Something deep inside rises up and rebels at the very thought of such a thing. That something is none other than The Fear of Success. Am I ready to pay that price? Harper Lee wasn't. She never wrote another novel. Waller wrote again, but never attained the success, at least not to date, that he garnered with his first novel. Charles Frazier has yet to prove himself with a second novel. Even Margaret Mitchell quit after her success with "Gone With the Wind." She quit because she became disillusioned with the pain and problems success brought into her life.
Feeling as I do, what are my alternatives? I could quit now, put away my manuscript, destroy it. Surely that isn't the answer. Destroying a lifelong dream, stifling one's god-given talent is surely a crime against the soul. How then do I overcome this agonizing fear?
The only solution that makes any rational sense to me is to involve myself in a creative project until I can grow strong enough to face the demon within. After all, I am in the mother of all battles, the fight against self. Something daring, something I've never tried before must be found.
From the beginning of this article to the following paragraphs, much time has passed. Several years ago, I initiated an online writing group, The Daytime Writing Group. A program that helps others find their way through the bewildering maze of becoming successful writers. This program allows for the exchange of insights and ideas between professionals and beginners alike. It also shows writers like myself that we have a rich resource in sharing our experiences.
While helping others, I've helped myself, and in doing so, rekindled the consuming ambition that wrote the 500 pages of a story I once thought important enough to risk self-exposure. My other personal victory is that I am learning each and every day to overcome my fear of success and to believe in my work enough that I can trust myself to handle whatever happens.
As I write these words, my manuscript lays open on my desk, the rewriting, the retyping, has begun in earnest. I'm on my way and I'm not alone. That is the best part. I'm not alone anymore.
(Jones is a book critic for The Tulsa World, Tulsa, OK, and The Camden Times, Camden, New York.)
Copyright Patricia Ann Jones, January 23, 2002