Don’t be afraid to fail

I’ve been procrastinating lately.

I need to start a big project and keep finding other things to do.

When I took the time to think about it, I realized that my problem is that I’m afraid of failing.

Will it fly?

Will people like it?

Will it be good enough?

Maybe you’ve had the same questions as you’ve started writing a new book.

Have a little faith

I went in search of a little inspiration to help me overcome my fear of failure and found this gem from Michael Jordan: “Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.

Don't be afraid to fail 2
It reminded me of my other fears, and they all start with “what if.”

What if I never tried?

What if I never gave my idea a chance?

What if I always regretted not trying?

The flip side of this is a nice collection of negative “what ifs” that include my favorite: What if it fails?

And just for the heck of it, let’s throw in: What if I’m not the right person for this?

Making sure you’re not afraid to fail

Years ago, I presented a keynote speech on finding the courage to change. There’s a lot of fear around change. I told the audience that one of the secrets to overcoming that is simple: Before taking the leap that represents change, make sure your bungee cord is attached.

That bungee cord, in whatever form it takes, will keep you from hitting the ground.

I had to think about what my bungee cord might be.

What’s my bungee cord?

The project I’ve been procrastinating around is a new training program for authors. It’s going to take a lot of time to create, and I want the time I invest in this to really pay off. I want this course to make a difference.

I think you can relate. You want your books to have an impact, too, right?

So … how can I be certain it won’t fail? What’s my bungee cord? 

It’s two things.

First, I can beta-test the course before releasing it. Honest, constructive feedback from the people I want to help can make a big difference.

Second, I can be flexible about the launch date. If feedback tells me I need to make a lot of changes, I want to have enough time to do that . . . and to do it well.

My bungee cord involves letting the process define the deadlines, rather than the other way around.

What’s your bungee cord?

Do you make sure your bungee cord is attached, too?

Author bungee cords can involve making sure people are interested in reading what you want to write, but they’re also often quality checks that can include:

  • Beta readers for fiction
  • Content reviewers for nonfiction
  • Checking references for specialists you’ll hire — cover designers, editors, and proofreaders
  • Professional development programs on how to write, publish, or market a book

I’m sure you can add to the list.

I think if we get outside input that helps us improve our work and take our time (rushing can be deadly!), we’ll be okay. Would you agree?

Bringing this back to the Jordan quote that inspired this post, what are you more afraid of — failing, or failing to try? Please tell us in a comment. 

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  1. And then, there’s always the other side of what if. “What if I succeed?” Writers are often (like me) cave dwellers. We love the creative process and may be uncomfortable with the results if they force us out of our caves.

  2. I’d have to echo Molli Nickell’s comment about fearing success. Typically, I’m more likely to fear a huge success – and all that goes with that – than failure. But I find as the need to produce (and boost my livelihood) grows, I’m leaning back toward a fear of failure. Thanks for this post, Sandra. It’s always good to know we’re not alone out here!

    1. This is interesting! It might also depend on how you define success, right?

      And yes, I think when you need to succeed so you earn the money to pay your bills, that fear of failure is REAL! It’s also a big motivator to do what it takes to get it right. ; – )


  3. Wow, this is timely for me. I made the decision this year to write a very personal story to me, something I generally don’t do—so many of my books have been editors’ ideas assigned to me. Since I decided to give it a go, I have managed to keep myself so busy with other projects that I can’t possibly start this one. “Failing to try” is exactly where I’m headed with this. Thanks for the wake-up call to make some time to start this scary new project.

    1. I totally get it, Randi. It’s hard to turn down or set aside paying assignments to make time for something more speculative. Is this an essay or a book?


  4. I like this—bungee cord, fear, hesitation. I think not rushing is key. It’s funny how creative obstacles are hurdled sometimes by a week or two away from the project. I’m huge on letting writing breathe.

    I’ll also share an insight I had just yesterday. I had to make a follow-up call to a Barnes & Noble store manager about a book-signing we’d talked about for this summer. And it’s so NORMAL to feel like a noodge (?) when you have to call anyone in order to keep something brewing. But I remembered recently reading somewhere that you ALWAYS have to keep pitching. FOREVER. It’s part of the deal. Also, as I picked up my phone, I thought, “Wait a minute, I’m exactly what they want. I don’t have to be uncomfortable about calling.” When I got the manager on the phone, I just said, “Hi, how are you?” And she said, “I’m fine, how are you?” And it went from there.

    It’s part of my JOB to reach out and to follow up. We can spend our lives feeling less than OR acknowledge how hard we’ve worked to get where we are and stop doubting ourselves and our work. Sandra, you have so much to give, so much heartfelt passion, so much experience with writing and writers. You can’t possibly fail. Double up on your bungee cords and go big!

    1. Wendy, I can’t like this comment enough, for so many reasons! (Where’s the “like” button for blog comments when you need it?)

      I love this aha: [“Wait a minute, I’m exactly what they want. I don’t have to be uncomfortable about calling.” ] You are 100% right, of course, and I wish more authors had this attitude. Working to get the word out about your book — the collective “your” — is a public service. Your book can’t help, enlighten, or entertain the people you wrote it for if they don’t know it exists. It’s up to the author to let them know. I hope your book signing is a huge success!

      And thank you SO MUCH for that encouragement. I stopped at BJ’s tonight after I walked at the mall for an hour (too cold and wet to walk outside!) and got a big pack of extra strong bungee cords in preparation for my next adventure! ; – )

      Your words mean a lot to me, and I soooo appreciate them. Thank you!


  5. I feel that the worst failure is failing to try because of the fear of failing without ever trying. I did write ‘Good Morning Sam’; the development of a close relationship with a mute swan named Sam. This was not a story about an injured swan that adapted to living with humans. It is the story of an injured mute swan living in his natural habitat that developed a close relationship with a husband and wife. It was a twenty-four year adventure that encouraged the husband-photographer to take photos of the developing relationship and the wife to write about the unique relationship between them and wild mute swans.

  6. Thanks for sharing that you still have fears even with such a successful career. In the past year I’ve overhauled my business to finally focus on writing. The same fears you listed are the background “music” I hear as I type. But I keep going. i haven’t been this excited in a while, and that’s helping me power through the doubts and fears. Glad to know I’m in such good company! And the bungee cord idea is fantastic.

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