At the book launch for my first novel, someone asked me if I had experienced writer’s block.
“I guess I’d been experiencing it for the 30 years before I actually started writing the book,” I admitted. “I knew that I wanted to write a book ever since I was a kid, but I was too afraid to try.”
It’s true. My fears—of failure, of not being good enough, of what people would think, of not getting published—had held me back from starting at all. So I made a lot of excuses and told myself a narrative of “shoulds.”
I should work toward a more stable career.
I should accept that it’s too hard to “make it” as a writer.
I should appreciate my life as it is.
I should be more realistic.
Even though I knew in my heart that I wanted to write, I invested time and energy into everything but writing. In fact, it took some personal and professional heartbreak before I finally found the courage to pursue my dream. These experiences of disappointment and loss pushed me to re-evaluate how I was living my life and reconsider the path I was on.
So in the midst of sadness, anger, and frustration, I asked myself: What do I really want to do?
I already knew. So I started writing.
The process was terrifying and painful at times, and I was constantly filled with self-doubt. What if I fail? What if I can’t finish the book? What if it doesn’t get published? What if I can’t actually do this thing that I always wanted to do?
Somehow, I persisted in spite of these fears. The fear never went away. It was always there, and still is. But I learned to manage it and write through it. I went on walks and taught fitness classes at the gym to give myself a break from writing. I met up with friends on a regular basis who supported me and motivated me to keep going. I wandered into book shops to gain inspiration that other humans actually did the thing I wanted to do.
She said, “One of the scariest things in our lives is actually doing what we know we want to do.”
This was so true for me. It was scary to do what I always wanted to do, and these fears held me back from trying for many years. But through the process of writing, I realized that doing what I wanted to do wasn’t as scary as I imagined it to be. What is scarier for me now are the consequences of not pursuing my dreams because I felt afraid.
I am hoping that this experience will help me find greater courage in pursuing other dreams I have in the future. It is only by accepting my fear and “doing it anyway” that my dreams have the chance of coming true.
The process of pursuing my dream of writing a book taught me several important life lessons:
1. Success is something we define for ourselves.
In the end, I did finish writing the book. Through the process of writing, I began to see my fears of not getting published, of receiving negative reviews, and of not being “good enough” for what they actually were—just fears. These fears were not my markers of success; I could decide what success meant for me.
While there was moderate interest from agents and publishers, my book pitches and queries were rejected over, and over, and over. Instead of being heartbroken, I self-published it. Some people love it and some people don’t, but the amazing part is that people have read something I wrote! Surprisingly, I don’t attach my worth or ability as a writer based on what other people think. I set the intention to write a book—and I did. That in itself makes it a success.
2. It won’t happen if you don’t do it.
I spent many years dreaming of writing a book without picking up a pen or opening a document on my computer. It wasn’t until I actually sat down to write that I gave myself the opportunity to realize my dream. Only by investing time and energy into achieving my dream, did I give myself a chance at success.
Michael Jordan famously stated, “You miss a 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” This was true for me. I realized that my fears of failing were holding me back from actually succeeding. Dreams won’t magically fall into our laps. They take time, energy, sweat, and tears. The book won’t be written “one day.” The next article won’t be written “one day.” The dream won’t happen “one day.” But it doesn’t have to happen all at once either. It will happen bit by bit, with commitment, patience, and effort.
3. It’s not selfish to pursue our dreams.
It took me a long time to give myself permission to write. In addition to my fears, another reason I held myself back from writing is that I felt guilty for how it took time away from the various responsibilities in my life. It felt selfish to do something for myself that wasn’t necessarily going to “go anywhere.”
I work as a teacher during the week, a job that I do love, but one that places endless demands on my time. Lessons can always be better. Marking piles up. Students constantly ask for extra help and supervision or coaching for extra-curricular programs. So in order to meet professional standards, as well as my own standards for myself (which are arguably too high sometimes), I needed to spend time in the evening and weekends to get marking done and prepare my lessons.
I also value my health—working out, eating properly, and getting a good sleep. With all of these various responsibilities and values, it felt selfish to invest time into chasing a dream. I already had a great and fulfilling life, so I felt guilty for wanting to do something else for myself.
Once I started writing, I realized that it is not selfish to do something that makes me happy. In fact, I found the opposite. By investing time into writing, something that brings joy and meaning to my life, I became a better teacher, friend, and family member since I felt happier knowing I was taking steps toward something that made me happy. I learned the importance of setting boundaries on all of the things that compete for my time to make space for what I value the most, and it’s okay if that includes something for myself. I’m the only person who can make me happy.
4. The process is enough to justify doing it.
Much of what held me back from pursuing my dream of writing a book was attached to the outcome. Finishing the book, getting it published, and receiving good reviews.
However, through the process of writing, I discovered that the act of writing, the actual work involved in crafting a story, developing characters, and doing research brought me great joy. I realized that it didn’t matter if I ever finished the book, if it was published, or what people thought. The process of writing made me happy and that was reason enough to do it.
Author: Shannon Mullen
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron