I’m afraid of bugs. Grasshoppers, specifically. And mice. Dead mice. The live ones are creepy, but the dead ones, I don’t want nothing to do with them. Critters in general, actually. Anything that’s not a cat or a dog weirds me out.

I’ve been in my house for 21 years and there have always been mice here. They come and go with the weather, it seems, but I always know at any given moment there’s a chance I’ll catch sight of a mouse out of the corner of my eye. I turned into the living room last week and saw one run from under my coffee table to under my couch. Creepy.

But I still go in the living room, I still sit on the couch, knowing full well there’s a chance a mouse is inside the thing right now, burrowing around, chewing through the insides and is going to pop up right over my shoulder any second now.

How can I still sit there with that image in my head?

Because I want to be a professional writer who makes his money telling stories.

Wait, what does THAT have to do with mice? Nothing. It’s about FEAR.

None of us know what’s coming next. But we press onward and upward, constantly striving. We’re all explorers. There’s no one path to greatness or to success. We’re all trailblazers. What I do might not work for you, and vice versa.

So how do we keep from letting that fear of the unknown hold us back?

Faith.

WHAT? you say! I didn’t come here to get preached to! Who’s preaching? I didn’t say it had to be faith in God. Have faith in yourself.

When I made my very first short story submission, I KNEW it was going to come back with an immediate YES, WE’D LOVE TO PUBLISH THIS, IT’S JUST WHAT WE’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR! YOUR GENIUS IS UNMATCHED.

Instead, I got a thanks but no thanks. And it was the first of MANY. But I kept submitting, because I had faith. Faith that if I wasn’t good enough yet, I would be soon if I just kept trying. Faith that this was path the Universe put me on, and faith there had to be a reason for that. Faith that one day that NO would be the YES I always dreamed of.

Now, it took a couple of years. I think I started writing in 1991, submitting in 1992, and I didn’t get my first acceptance until 1995? Lots of rejections before then, though. Lots of chances to try again. And isn’t that how we learn? By failing and trying again.

What do you learn if everything always goes your way the first time out of the gate?

Not a damn thing.

We’ve got this department at work that screws up FREQUENTLY. And at the end of the night, it’s the other departments that have to go in and clean up their mess. I disagree with this practice emphatically, and not just because it’s my department that so often has to clean up after them, but because if everything keeps going their way and they never have to correct their own mistakes, they’ll never learn to stop making them. I have three kids and when they were growing up, if Kid 1 broke something, I didn’t make Kids 2 and 3 fix it.

And as long as we keep fixing their mistakes, they’re going to keep making them.

Mistakes are made so we can learn and grow. So we take this knowledge, that mistakes aren’t always a bad thing, and we use it to empower us against the fear of the unknown.

What did the first explorers know when they set sail across the oceans? Not a damn thing. They THOUGHT they knew what they’d find, but until they found it, there were no assurances. But they did it anyway, because they had faith.

And that’s how we have to approach all of our endeavors. You might be afraid to start that novel, because what do you know about writing a novel? Hey, what did you know about mobility the first time you crawled? But you did it, and look where that got you.

You might be afraid to publish the novel you’ve written, because what if everyone laughs at it? Well, they might. They also might LOVE it. You’ll never know until you hit that PUBLISH button, will you?

I have a friend who spent too many years banging her head against the wall of rejection letters and then finally, one day, she stepped out in faith that her work was good enough, but she just couldn’t get past those gatekeepers, and she started self publishing. It’s currently not even the middle of the month yet and she’s already sold close to 150 PRINT copies. PRINT!?!?!?!?! No one sells 150 print copies of ANYTHING in 2 weeks. This is amazing and fantastic and I wish her all the good luck in the world, because she took that thing she was afraid of–Melinda was a staunch traditionalist when it came to publishing, insisting there had to be agents and editors and publishers involved for it to be right. And then I told her about self publishing and some of the success I’d had and she took that leap and now look at her. I couldn’t be happier for her. And prouder of her faith, in herself.

Take that step. Brave that darkness. Set your bare feet down on a floor you know there might be mice on, and do it because dammit no stupid rodent is going to stand in your way. Live in faith, not in fear.

I don’t think any creative person is immune to the fear of failure. Especially in public. It’s one thing to write a story that doesn’t turn out well, that’s jut for you and no one else ever has to see it. But to publish a story, or release a single, or make a movie and then to realize it’s a stinker … and the whole world knows it … that’s a hard pill to swallow.

But it happens to all of us at one point. At the very least, the act of releasing your art to the world leaves you open to that sort of scenario. But what’s the alternative? To write in secret and file them away, never to be read or enjoyed by anyone else?

That’s not why we do this. Sure, we SAY we’re writing to please ourselves, and that’s true to an extent. But secretly, we want nothing more than to be able to put everything we create out into the world and have it be loved and adored by everyone who comes across it.

So we release our work and, in doing so, open ourselves up to the possibility of failure, every single time.

Think about it, if you release 3 books a year and those 3 books are read by, let’s say 1000 people. That’s 3000 chances for you to fail, that’s 3000 chances for a bad review, 3000 chances for the entire world to see what a loser you are.

But we do it anyway. Why do we open ourselves up to that scrutiny? And how to we combat it?

First, we do it because, in our secret hearts, we all know we’re amazing creators. We know that this story, this is gonna be the one that touches people, the one they remember. This story is going to be studied in university level creative writing classes when I’m gone. They’ll explore the symbolism and subtext, they’ll talk about the themes and dissect the characters. How could I NOT write this one, it’s going to be important!

And then it isn’t, it’s just another story, just another novel, read by some, forgotten by half. And then that new idea comes and we know THIS one, yes, forget that last one, THIS is gonna be the one they talk about a hundred years from now, I owe it to the world to finish this one and put it out there for the world to enjoy.

So, yeah, we do it because we can’t NOT do it. The same thing that compels us to take the time out of our day with its work and family and friends and television and the carpet needs cleaned and the dog needs groomed and the laundry needs folding, that thing that makes us sit down and just TYPE??? It’s the same thing that drives us to put it out there into the world. Call it ego, call it confidence, it all amounts to the same thing.

The normies don’t get it, they wonder why, how, what are we doing with our friggin’ lives? But those of us on the inside … we know. And when we meet another artist, we never wonder WHY, HOW, WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH THEIR FRIGGIN’ LIVES? Because we know.

Now how do we combat that fear of failure?

CAN we combat it? Look, we’re gonna fail. It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to creative endeavors. Not everything you create is going to be perfect and amazing, some things are going to be less than others, some are going to stink.

But we pick ourselves up and move on to the next thing. The next painting, the next song, the next novel. We HAVE to. To let that fear paralyze us into non-action is the same as death for a creative person.

So we fight through the fear and do it again anyway. Sure, this next one might suck. It might be great. We’ll never know. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because good or bad, this is the thing that you have to get out of you and into the world. This is the thing you’re driven to work on, and it’s going to succeed or it’s going to fail, but either way you have to do it.

So put your head down and lean into it, and don’t think for a second about what comes after. Focus on NOW, focus on GETTING IT DONE. What’s the saying in boxing, it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up? The same principle applies here.

You are going to fail at least once. But you’ll dust yourself off, pop your knuckles, and say, “Okay, let’s try this again. Better this time.”

The REAL failure is in giving up.