The Fear of Failing

No half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.
J.R.R. Tolkien

In the course of my taking questions for the birthday party here on The Penslayer, I was asked by the blogger of Fullness of Joy the rather enormous question of how I (or anyone, for that matter) go about presenting the Gospel in an historical fictional setting.  My answer is somewhat lengthy (it's a big question!) but hopefully worth the reading, so check it out here!

Emily sent in the following, poignant question.  Read it and think about it!  I have done my best to give an adequate answer to a difficult obstacle.
Often I get this fear that the words will not come out as well as I feel in my head and my heart. How do you recommend overcoming that fear?
I think many of us struggle with this emotion: the fear of failing. The idyllic but formless sense of a story which we get inside our heads is an ethereal thing, such stuff as dreams are made of, and dreams do not suffer to be caught in cold stone and dried ink. The stuff of dreams, and ink and stone, are separate mediums, completely different, and you cannot make a dream out of stone, nor ink out of a dream. Something will always be lost in translation. The dream in our head will never be the image on the page.

I don’t want to discredit this fear or, in a sense, displace it. It is a healthy fear in so far that it does not keep us from our work. The fear that you might not do your dream justice, that your characters will be flat and not full of dimension as they are in your head, the fear that you might let the readers down, lends a serious edge to our work and drives us to do better, to try harder. It inspires us to greatness for, looking on failure, we appreciate that we cannot let ourselves do badly. This fear has its place. This fear has its purpose. It is the sensible recognition that what we are doing is important and that we cannot afford to ruin it. All those who feel this fear, I commend you.

But how do you move on through the fear? How do you not let it cripple you? It is no great feat of magic: you simply push on. No one plays an instrument to match the music in the mind until many years of practice have been put in. The sorry scratchings and scribblings that you make at first do not prove that you are a bad writer, only that you are a young one. Persistence, diligence, and a teachable spirit will give you growing deftness with your craft. Keep the healthy fear—it makes you humble—and to it add an even greater measure of simple, quiet discipline: as times goes on and you grow more skilled with words, the translation from dream to word-picture will grow easier and clearer and you will begin to say more and more what you mean. And always remember: there is no praise for someone who felt fear and gave in to it, but great honour for the soul who, enduring great fear, went on in spite of it.

4 ripostes:

  1. Ah, what truth! Confidence is incredibly important as a dancer: zero confidence equals uninteresting. I think the same applies to us writers. But this confidence has to be carefully shepherded, lest it become that foul beast vanity!

    Basically, finding a balance is hard. Perks of living in a sinful world, eh?

  2. I agree that this fear is a healthy one as long as it doesn't prevent one from doing. For me, fear of doing a bad job with a painting or drawing causes me to concentrate on it harder and to put more effort into it. Something else important to remember is that you will only get better from trying. Making something bad just means you're one step closer to making something good, because practice is vital to becoming good at something. When people ask me how I became so good at painting, my first reaction is that I don't consider myself "so good" yet, but what I have achieved now is only the result of years upon years of practice. It's not some magical talent that I was born with. I do think I was born with an intense desire to make beautiful art because as long as I can remember, I've wanted to, and that desire caused me to put in the hours of practice that other people don't.

  3. I just wanted to say that I checked out your guest post on Fullness of Joy, and I really liked the answer you gave for the question. It was pretty long, but you gave a very complete answer which can really help anyone wondering how to make a good conversion scene in their book. I've been studying different worldviews lately, so I know a thing or two about that.:P But yeah, I just wanted to say I thought you did an awesome job in your guest post. :)

    God bless!!

  4. Langston Jenkins - Thanks! I knew it was long, which worried me because who wants to sit and read an enormous post about philosophy? But there was a lot to cover and I'm so glad it helped clarify some points concerning the delivery of the gospel. We strive for brevity, but brevity is often elusive...