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Enforcing failure to avoid self-rejection

The fear of tarnishing a legacy I haven't formed is my biggest obstacle as a writer

By S. A. CrawfordPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 3 min read
Top Story - March 2023

I have never considered myself to be a perfectionist; my motto, professionally, academically, and personally has always been that my best is good enough. If I fail at work, as a person, or in school (which in all honesty I rarely, if ever, did), I was good at forgiving myself and picking up the pieces.

It's a point of pride.

Despite all this, despite writing every day for over ten years now, I have yet to publish a single story under my own name in any capacity that is final. By that I mean in any place where I can't delete, recall, or otherwise sweep it under the rug. I have a million ideas that I start and abandon, some very good that I ignore in favour of ones that don't speak to me. Why?

It's a question others have asked me more often than I've asked myself, and my answer has always been that I've never written anything good enough. Finally, a close friend snapped; she told me that it simply wasn't true, and asked me to be honest with myself, if not her, and think about what scared me. I told her I would, but I was angry.

Not with her, not really, not even with myself. Just angry. I sat with the anger for months, picking at it like a raw wound, and stopped writing entirely. What was I afraid of?

“A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down."

- Edna St. Vincent Millay

There it is.

Am I afraid of being seen, really seen, in public with my creative pants down and being found wanting?

No, I'm afraid it's more selfish and narcissistic than that. It turns out, I am afraid of publishing something that other people like, really like, and that I hate. Afraid of looking at my written legacy and thinking I'm a hack, or shallow, or simply not interesting.

Naval-gazing and self-assessment are the vices of creatives, and the strengths. So why didn't I realize this sooner? The truth is, I did, I simply didn't think it was a problem. It was my one point of perfectionism... and it has held me back. Approaching 30, with the skills and ability to write a perfectly publishable book, I have been arrogant enough to think that I deserve to hold back until I can write a masterpiece as a debut novel.

How fucked up is that?

"Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land-"

- Margaret Atwood

There are lists of flops, written by genuinely talented, best-selling authors, books that sell millions despite popular scorn, and rooms full of groundbreaking works written by authors who never lifted their pen again, and of course slush piles full of works that will never see the light of day, written by authors who will never see their name on a published work.

The choice to publish traditionally, or to attempt to do so, feels like choosing to fall into one of these categories without knowing which you will land in. There is a real, paralyzing fear in my soul that I will be boxed into a genre, a habitat, and never be allowed to leave... which is arrogant in itself; assuming that anything I can produce simply will be picked up.

I've always been one of those people with just enough luck to get the things I really want, and I'm worried it has spoiled me. So I live in stasis, building a reputation in my head that I can't even think about trying to make a reality.

The funny thing is, there's no happy ending here; I still haven't decided what to do about this, or how to start undoing it. Because deep down, I'm still holding out for the perfect debut novel. I really believe that it will come along, even while I tell myself that a book of any kind will always be better than a blank page. That creating for the joy of it is better than the comfort of acclaim or self-satisfaction.

What would you do, if you were me? Is it better to make a small ripple than a mighty splash?

Can anyone really live up to their own demands before they actually try?


Since writing this, I have started to take steps to heal and move forward, writing a series called 'the Perfectionist Diaries' to record and explore the steps I am taking;

1) A new beginning

2) First steps forward


About the Creator

S. A. Crawford

Writer, reader, life-long student - being brave and finally taking the plunge by publishing some articles and fiction pieces.

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Comments (16)

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  • Elaine Sihera11 months ago

    Your interesting post shows how debilitating and limiting fear can be. Yet fear builds nothing. It simply destroys because it has no substance to use as a foundation. Sadly, we don't write masterpieces to order. What we creators do is to write from the heart, and it's actually the public who decides if it has touched them enough to make it shine. In answer to your question, the biggest oak tree begins with the smallest acorn. Don't even aim to make a ripple. Just write what comes naturally and leave the rest to the Universe because the more we try to control life, is the less we actually control it! Congrats on the top story. :)

  • Ginger Stuckeyabout a year ago

    It's like you took tge words scrambled in my head...and made sense of them!!!! LOVED IT...I'm not expecting anything but for u to know...SOME OF US ARE OVER 30 AND DITTO

  • Related to some parts of this❤️😉Congratulations on your Top Story✨🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

  • Muhammad Aliabout a year ago

    It's natural to want to produce something perfect, but the fear of not living up to one's own expectations can be paralyzing. Remember that creating for the joy of it is more important than seeking acclaim or self-satisfaction. Don't hold out for a perfect debut novel, just start writing and let the process guide you.

  • Rosy Geeabout a year ago

    My opinion is that it’s better to publish something than nothing. Publishing builds your writing muscle and the more you write the stronger your writing becomes and the easier it gets. It’s never ‘easy’ but you get into a flow state which can be most enjoyable and very rewarding. In other words build up to the ‘big one.’ Good luck!

  • R. J. Raniabout a year ago

    I feel you've touched on a nerve that a lot of writers and creatives share in this wonderful reflection, S. A. Crawford. I certainly relate. I'm not sure if this would help you, but lately, my strategy has been to dip my toes in the water. Not for the sake of a ripple or a splash, but to feel whether I like the water in the first place. Whether I can call it my water, or whether I'd rather find a different water. If that makes sense? No matter what you decide though, know that you have a whole community cheering for you 🤗

  • Virtual writerabout a year ago

    Loved the piecework you shared and the way you're battling with yourself.

  • Victoria R Rise.about a year ago

    Well done 👍

  • Kendall Defoe about a year ago

    "When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in my mouth." - Kurt Vonnegut Believe me, I know how you feel. I used to fill up an endless number of notebooks with an endless number of stories and ideas that never got finished (Stephen King even called notebooks "idea killers"). It was forcing myself to read in public, finding other like minded people, and publishing online that got me going. Keep going. You are in the Top Story group and some of us want to hear more! 👂🏾

  • Mudassar Fiazabout a year ago

    how do i get views on my article?

  • Susanna Kiernanabout a year ago

    For me, I feel like my anxiety comes from being so passionately in love with my WIP that I almost don't want it to be my debut because I want to be established enough that people will see it and read it and consider it my great work. But then I also feel it should be my debut because if I am to be known for one thing and one story alone, I want it to be this.

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a year ago

    Well done, I agree ☝️ with your philosophy on writing. Congratulations on top story !

  • Writing about not being able to write. I just love a good paradox. It's a good way to get the creative juices. Your talent as a writer is beyond question. Your language is clear & precise, your narrative engaging & easy to follow, your connection with others in your very real human angst is palpable. So let me ask, now that you've cleared this task from your to-do list & gotten the pump primed, what do you want to write? If it's important to you, it's probably important to someone else. In an age where everyone is a writer & there is so much excellent content out there (not to mention the ubiquitous mounds of banality), it somehow seems unlikely that anyone will be able to write "the great American novel" or anything else of the sort again. It doesn't mean we shouldn't write. Eh, I know that you know all of this already, & far better than I do. I'm not even sure whether I'm saying this for your & my sake. That having been said, I'm glad you wrote this. I identified with virtually all of it. (I'm not sure with what I didn't identify, but there has to be something, lol!) Congrats on top story. It was definitely worth the read. Just one small editorial note: In the paragraph beginning, "There are lists of flops...," I believe you meant "see" rather than "saw" on that last line. (Sorry to poke that sleeping bear of perfectionism in you.)

  • Stephen A. Roddewigabout a year ago

    A few thoughts after being “in the trenches” for almost a decade: 1) No one will be as critical of your work as you will, because they won’t care the same way. Your editor may be the only exception. 2) You can’t control how people will react to your writing (if they read it at all, which is the first struggle), so why try? As long as you follow established standards for grammar and other objective rules, trust that what is “good” is so subjective that there is no point trying to reach perfection. Because what even is perfection? 3) This is such a saturated and competitive market in the age of the internet, Amazon direct publishing, and sites like Vocal and Medoum that it will take a long time to establish a reputation anyway, because you need to first stand out from the pack. So you might as well start working at it now.

  • Donna Reneeabout a year ago

    There are so many kinds of fears related to putting your self out there. I definitely can commiserate with some of this! I say, go for a ripple and see what happens🤷🏼‍♀️

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