Monday, February 08, 2010

Fear of failure in writing

I'm reading Kim Addonizio's new book on craft and the writing life, Ordinary Genius. In it, she makes a statement that really caught me. To paraphrase her, most writers allow fear of failure to block their creativity and keep them from finishing a poem, a book, or persevering in the writing life. I know I have abandoned promising drafts because I became stuck on the tide-lashed rock of that fear, the feeling that I'll never be a good enough writer to pull off a poem like this, so why keep trying? I have abandoned (at least for awhile) ideas for books because I have in the past failed to publish prose books (novels, a memoir) and the idea of trying again seems hopeless.

Somehow, the idea of jousting with those lances of self-negation occurred to me recently, and it was even before I started reading Kim's book. I went back to the novel and have dedicated late nights to working on it (who needs to sleep that much?). I am learning that my "mulch pile" of abandoned poems has potential lurking within it, the way heat steams inside a mulch pile.

Fear is a ridiculous force, it never created anything, while I have created lots of things. I'm thinking about ways to abandon it, rather than the in-process products of my imagination.


  1. Hi Rachel~

    I know what you mean when you talk about your "mulch pile" of abandoned poems. I think if I'm away from something for a while and come back to it it can really help. That said, I think we (or at least I) unknowingly set myself up for failure by not going back to old stuff on a more regular basis. But then it seems to me that we are probably more subconsciously doing things that undermine our success the the overt things.

    Good post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for this great post. I think that fear (or doubt) is such a big, unnecessary hurdle for so many people. It is like the self-help gurus ask, what would you do and who would you be if you knew you couldn't fail?

    Beyond that, you post has made me think that I really need to read this book by Kim Addonizio. It has been coming up everywhere! It has been dropped in recent conversations, in things I have been reading and even in my own blog (by way of another poet). It is like the universe is screaming at me through your post to get my hands on this book.

    Thanks again for the insight!


  3. Julie, I recommend this book highly. It's straightforward, pulls no punches, and is funny in places. Plus it has some great exercises.

    Michael, glad to know you have a mulch pile you neglect too! It's that subconscious avoidance thing that can creep up and paralyze (if I'm not mixing too many metaphors).

  4. I really liked Kim Addonizio's first book on writing poetry she wrote with Dorianne Laux "The Poet's Companion. Sounds like I'd like this one too. I'm working on abandoning fear too. Good luck to us both...we'll get there.