Overcoming Fear of Completion

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It’s the first Wednesday of September and you know what that means! Another installment of Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group!

Co-hosts for September are Laura at My Baffling BrainMark KoopmansShah Wharton, and Sheena-Kay Graham. Please be sure to stop by their blogs and say hello! And happy anniversary IWSG! Today marks 3 years. Woo-hoo!


A few months ago, YA author Dawn Brazil wrote a blog post titled “Are you Sabotaging Yourself?” In the post, Dawn gives some tough love and cautions us against setting ourselves up for failure.

She ends the post with this: “Are YOU the real reason you haven’t reached all your goals? Stop making excuses and make opportunities.”

 *Goes in the corner. Hides. Writes letter that goes something like this: Dear Dawn, please stop spying on me.*

I am pretty much done with my current project (when I say “done” I mean that I’m at the point of having read it so many times that my eyes are bleeding so I’ve taken to reading it while standing on my head so that I can actually make sense of the words) but, as it always happens when I get to the tail end of a project, I find myself dragging my feet. When the mornings come, I have several excuses as to why I can’t do those last few edits:

1. I’m preggers, and who in their right mind sets a publication deadline for right before they’re scheduled to go into labor???
2. I need to be outside, making sure that the neighbor isn’t trying to steal our recycling bin again.
3. I don’t want to miss those Brazilian Butt Lift commercials because, dude, I like, really need that in my life.

There are other reasons I give myself, most of them weak, all of them B.S, and you want to know the fascinating part? This happens with EVERY project I work on. Every project? Yes. Once, someone (apparently a mind reading friend of mine), forwarded me an article on the fear of completion. I didn’t read the article, but I imagine that it defined F.O.C. somewhat like this:

Fear of Completion: That very wicked thing that happens to all writers right before they are done with a novel. Causes writers to avoid their novel at all costs. May cause writers to watch an excessive amount of television, take up gardening in the winter, or abandon said project all together and start a new novel from scratch.

Remedies: none.

I also imagine that there was a picture of yours truly right next to that definition. Confession time: my novel has been back from the proofreader since February. Yes, February. And no matter how much I’d like to blame not having it ready to send to the formatter on pregnancy brain, the truth is that I’m afraid that after I publish the book (gasp!) people won’t like it.

There. I said it. My fear of completion stems from the fact that I’m afraid of being laughed out of the city. I mean, just because I like my novel doesn’t mean others will. What if I’m like those delusional contestants on American Idol who think they’re going to win the competition even though when they sing they sound like a moose being thrown over a balcony? I worry about that. Oh my God; am I one of those people? I think I’m a good writer but what if I’m really delusional?

I tell myself that if I were then someone would have told me a long time ago, “Honey, maybe writing isn’t for you. How about fencing? Have you considered it?” (But then again, apparently no one has told those poor American Idol contestants that they can’t sing, so maybe, I tell myself, I should bury my project in the back yard and get out while the getting is good.)

I want to curl up on the sofa, pull the covers over my head, and never have to think about people reading my novel, hating it, and writing a horrid review.

But you can’t do that.  Why not? Because you’re a writer, ditzo. And if you don’t confront this fear you’re going to spend the rest of your life being one of those writers who is always talking about their writing career but never doing a darn thing about it. I could always take up fencing. Hush up and finish the darn thing, will you?

I think the only way to combat this fear is to:

1. Write and know that there is no such thing as perfection.

2. Expect that some people will like your novel, some people won’t.

3. Realize that despite your fears, you might actually be successful. 

4. Accept the fact that your writing career is your responsibility. Fear or not, you owe it to yourself to let your voice be heard.

So I’m working on overcoming this fear, but it’s tough. What about others? How do you deal with fear of completion? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


56 thoughts on “Overcoming Fear of Completion

  1. Pretty much what you’ve said here is what I do. I scared all the time about “what if” when it comes to my writing, but I still do it. I delay things as well before I find the courage to make the next move. It’s a one day at a time journey for me and when I do make a move I reward myself. I make a big deal of it.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Toi Thomas recently posted..ToiBox Blog Weekly Recap: 09/06/14My Profile

  2. I have this same fear, too. I sometimes drag my feet around the project because I worry the story might not be as well-received. I know I like it, but what if I’m the only one who does, eh? (And we all know, there’s only one way to find out.) You have an excellent blogging voice that’s engaging, warm and funny, Quanie. So don’t worry about completing your projects. 🙂
    Claudine @ CarryUsOff Books recently posted..On Bookshops, Work-Space & Andy WarholMy Profile

    • I guess that worry really never goes away, huh? Sigh. It’s so tough putting yourself out there as an author because no matter how much you believe in a project, you just never know how it’s going to be received. I guess that’s why there’s a little something called “stepping out on faith”!
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  3. Quanie! I know I would be lecturing myself if I told you not to fear the outcome of your next book but this comes with the territory. We all fear the unknown. It’s inevitable. I think it’s the worse for authors because there is so much pressure on the finished project. Our books represent us in so many ways.
    But if we didn’t believe in ourselves and take chances, we would never publish those stories. Fear can stifle the stages we need the most to make us better authors and writers. We need those stages to better and perfect our craft. We have to take the good and the bad in order to be able to create something beautiful… our story.
    Your first book was such a gift to the world, Quanie. Don’t worry so much! Take care of yourself and the joy you have shortly approaching=)
    Gina Stoneheart recently posted..Hello September, Nice to See You AgainMy Profile

  4. Anyone that can write a simile that involves a moose being thrown over a balcony is an awesome writer! I just loved that and I loved this post. I feel like the poster child for fear of completion too.
    I combat it by setting myself impossible deadlines and then attempting to keep them. I get my family and friends in on it and they pester me about my writing. It helps. I still have to just stick my neck out there at the end, but it’s worth it.

    Your writing and your book is worth the risk. Take it! 🙂
    Tyrean recently posted..IWSG: Making up my MindMy Profile

    • Oooh, impossible deadlines? I do that, too! And then I get frustrated when I don’t meet them. It’s like I’m setting myself up for failure when I do that and that’s just crazy! And you’re right, you really do have to just stick your neck out there. It’s scary, but how will we know what’s going to happen if we don’t even try???
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  5. I love this post! I finished the second draft of my WIP months ago and need 5,000 more words to reach my word count goal. But, for some reason, I just…can’t…do…it. Glad to know I’m not the only one. I think now I know it’s probably the fear of moving to the querying stage that has me stuck. And you’re writing is awesome. Stick to it and leave the fencing dreams to others.

    • Thanks, Alessandra! And 5,000 more words? Piece of cake! I know, I know: easier said than done, but you’re almost there! And it’s normal to feel anxiety about querying (that’s a whole nother blog post), but you’ll be fine:) Keep me posted on your novel and querying efforts. Good luck!
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  6. First of all, you’re adorable!! I enjoyed your post. Fear is the absolute worst thing to conquer. It eats away at the back of our minds like a brain-sucking worm. It’s a true poison to writers. Overcoming it… well, if you figure out the secret, let me know! #38 on the IWSG list.

  7. Quanie, just by reading your post I can tell you have a gift of writing. And you are a writer. And like all writer’s there’s doubts, procrastination, worries about what people will say after they read our books, and on and on. I could edit for years…But You know what you need to do. You wrote it down, and sometimes writing it down is easier than actually doing it! Good Luck and move forward!

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever had fear of completion, but I do constantly suffer from fear of beginning. >_< On writing days (which is now every day, since I started a new book last night), I'll do all kinds of stalling until it's nearly too late to start writing before I have to go to bed. This is despite knowing that it'll be okay as soon as I start. Happens every time with every single book. Gah! Though it is good to know I'm not alone, even if others are like this from the other end of the process.
    Mason T. Matchak recently posted..IWSG: Someday, They’ll Love You.My Profile

    • Yes, you are definitely sabotaging yourself! I do that some mornings. I’ll wait until about 6:30 am before I “get into a writing groove,” and by that time, it’s time to get ready for work! And then I’ll say, “Well, if only I had more time!” (never mind the fact that I did have more time…). So, yes, I completely understand! And you started a new novel last night? You are always working on something. Good for you!
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  9. I read this and laughed out loud. Had a few things I wanted to say, but of course, they’re gone now. I think we’re related! I have had this fear for many many years. I think it really hit me when my first book came out and there was nothing I could do to take it back. Quanie, you aren’t alone. So many of us feel this way. You’ll treating the fear a lot better than most. Happy IWSG.
    joylene recently posted..IWSG: Sept 2014 – Ask PZMMy Profile

    • Hi Jolene, I think this is so common among writers! Many of us are definitely sharing the same brain today. I’ve said this before and I will say it again: that’s why it’s so important for us to have the support of other writers cause Lord know if we left it to some of our family members, we’d be in the backyard with our heads in the dirt, afraid to let anyone (let alone the dog!) read what we’ve written, lol.
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

    • OMG, yes! Fear of being judged. I mean, if we finished our novels and could just let them sit without judgement then we’d all be great, right? But then, we wouldn’t have the joy of connecting with readers and hearing them tell us when we’ve actually done our jobs well. Sigh. The problems we have!
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  10. I so needed to read this today! I’m pretty sure it’s MY picture next to fear of completion. My excuses are as lame as yours. For some reason I feel this overwhelming urge to watch Private Practice on Netflix. Every. Single. Night. I know I should be finishing my personal edits of my last few chapters so I can send it to the editor, but I’m having a hard time letting go! It’s crazy…This is just confirmation that I need to move on. Ain’t nothing to it but to do it. I’m declaring that I WILL finish my edits and I WILL send it to the editor by this Sunday. No more sabotaging myself! Thanks Quanie. And I’m sure that your novel is great! Just think, the sooner you let that one go, the sooner you can become super possessive of your next project.
    Faith Simone recently posted..Confessions of Faith: Letting GoMy Profile

    • Private Practice? For me it’s True Blood On Demand (and as soon as my pregnancy is over, I’m going to take a shot every time someone drawls out “Sookie”). I think we’re all pretty much on the same wave length today, which is why it’s so important to have a support group of writers: to know we are not alone. My fingers are crossed for you finishing up your novel (because truthfully, I can’t WAIT to read it), but you’re right: the sooner we let go, the sooner we can start obsessing over the next project. It never stops!
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

      • I know I’m super late on Private Practice. It went off the air almost a decade ago, but I’m obsessed with Shonda Rhimes and I’ve already watched every episode of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. Private Practice is the only way to get my Shonda fix until the end of this month! I’ve only watched a few episodes of True Blood, but I may have to check it out. And you’re right, support groups are sooooo important, which is why I had to come back to this post and comment as soon as I finished my personal edits on my novel. It’s all ready to send to my professional editor as soon as she finishes drawing up the contract. Thanks for being a great motivator! Now I’m off to watch Private Practice guilt free while I decide which of the various novels in my head will be the one I work on next.

        P.S. I can’t wait to read the “New Mrs. Collins” too!

  11. This post is perfect and timely. Of course, you read my post about the same fear. I wish I could have the insight you have at the end of your post. At the end of mine, I was going to say how I want to hide from Amazon and Goodreads until after the New Year so I don’t have to worry about ranking, rating and reviews. See? Now my blood pressure is spiking. Those three words can just do it. lol

    Oh, and I love your sense of humor. Your posts, no matter what you’re writing about, are always entertaining. 🙂
    Chrys Fey recently posted..Release Insecurity / 100 Happy Days Part 4My Profile

    • Chrys, you just made me laugh out loud. I’m going to steal this: “I was going to say how I want to hide from Amazon and Goodreads until after the New Year so I don’t have to worry about ranking, rating and reviews. See? Now my blood pressure is spiking.” Bwa! Do you know that I got to the point (with my last novel) where I stopped promoting and trying to get reviews because I was SO DARN AFRAID of getting reviews? And during my blog tour I hid out all day, afraid to check the posts because I was sure that I was being torn a new one all across the blogosphere. Now ain’t that crazy? Then again, we’re writers so, yeah. We probably are a bit crazy, lol.
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

    • Hi Jacqui, have you given them to beta readers? They might be able to give you some perspective. It also might be a good idea to let them sit for a while, write something new, and then go back to each with fresh eyes. Whatever you decide, good luck!
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  12. Great post, as always. 🙂

    I think a certain amount of hesitation and caution is good; you just to find a balance. I’ve said many times, ‘Once it’s out there, you can’t get it back,” and that’s true. It’s probably what makes many writers procrastinate. That said, once your story is in the final stages of being pub-ready (or query-ready), then make a plan and stick to it. Turn off the Butt Lift commercials and edit! LOL

    IWSG #179 until Alex culls the list again.
    Melissa Maygrove recently posted..IWSG September & Follow Fest UpdateMy Profile

    • “Turn off the Butt Lift commercials and edit.” Ha! But I totally agree: once it’s out there you can’t get it back, and that’s definitely part of the fear. And I also agree that once we make a plan, we should stick to it. Deadlines are SO great for accountability.
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  13. Oh man, I always end up laughing by the end of your post. Listen, there is NO WAY your novel is going to suck. It’s not possible; you write too well, too eloquently and thoughtfully, with such an engaging voice, for it to suck. Is it possible that it’s not The Next Great American Novel? Sure. But that doesn’t mean no one will like it. I’m pretty positive the opposite will be true.

    I get to say this, you know, because I also suffer from Fear of Completion. I have a feeling a LOT of writers do. So I think we have to give each other the advice and reminders that we can’t give ourselves!!! For me, what gets me through that fear is need. The need to SHOW people what I wrote, to not let it languish in a drawer for all time. That need and that fear battle each other all the time, but the need wins, because I make it win.

    One more thing: “3. Realize that despite your fears, you might actually be successful. ” – Yes, and realize that you definitely WON’T be successful if you don’t get your book out there, because unfortunately it’s not possible to have a novel become a smash hit while keeping it locked in drawer. Which is really too bad, cuz that would be a lot easier… 😉
    Liz Blocker (@lizblocker) recently posted..Commenters, UniteMy Profile

    • Hey! What do you mean it might not be The Next American Novel? LOL! But you’re right, Liz. I think we put all of these unrealistic expectations on ourselves when it comes to our writing. Like, it’s okay to let our journey be our own journey and just let it take its course. Truly! I love how you say that your need to show people what you write battles the fear. Perfect! I think that if we want it bad enough, the need will always win. So many of us are going through this right now and we really do have to lift each other up.
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

  14. You’ve shared a lot of good points. I agree with you that as writers it is our responsibility to let our voices be heard through our works. Great post!

    New follower here. Liked your page on facebook.

  15. Here from Alex’s blog. I must be a few months ahead of you. I completed my novel in March and went through the same insecurities. Based on how you ended the post, it looks like you’ve got a good handle on them.

    FWIW, don’t rush into sending out your MS. I thought mine was ready. A couple of months later, I took a look at it again and saw places where the piece could be improved. Word to the wise, set your work aside for a couple of months, enjoy your new baby, then return to the draft with a fresh set of eyes. It really does make a world of difference. Best of luck with your new family member as well as your journey to publication.

  16. Oh wow! I never thought of it quite like that, but yeah. The fear of completion, the constant edits, the procrastinating–it’s all self-sabotage. I edit so many times, I can’t stand my book any longer. Rather than face another edit, I tell myself, “One more game of spider solitaire.”

    My fear of bad reviews keeps me from promoting once the book is complete. I’ll gather a list of reviewers, but instead of contacting them, I tell myself, “They won’t like my book anyway.”

    Thanks for this post. It’s so true and now that I know I’m self-sabotaging, maybe I’ll know what to watch out for.

    • Hi Tricia, isn’t that the truth? I swear, whenever it’s time for me to get to work I find a million excuses why I can’t. And PLEASE don’t let your fear of bad reviews keep you from promoting your novel! Get your novel out there and the people who will enjoy it will and the people who won’t just won’t.
      Quanie recently posted..Overcoming Fear of CompletionMy Profile

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