Atychiphobia and writing

Atychiphobia (from the Greek phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear” and atyches meaning “unfortunate”) is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure.”

This is a blog on writing written for someone I’ve never met, specifically the 15-year old daughter of a charming lady I met at a dinner party – though it is equally a message to my 15-year old self.  The girl I heard about last night is, so I hear, enthusiastic about writing and developing a career that utilises those skills, particularly non-fiction, but is daunted by looking at the achievements of other people.

I was at 15 a prolific creative writer, one who continued to write in various small ways for very many years before realising that creativity was the one thing that, to me, made life worth living – and the craft to which I would devote my life.  Over time, I moved to fulfil this lofty ambition, towards which end I can now say with confidence that the three most important steps I ever took in life were these:

  • Learn to touch-type, since it enabled me to write more quickly and revisit my text, edit, manipulate, transform and supercharge it as the era of personal devices made all things possible.
  • Setting up my website, since that became my portfolio, my showcase, a window on the world I can use to show people what I’ve done, to the extent that I publish all my main scribbles.  Of course, keeping a notebook is just as effective…
  • Write my first novel, since that was the hurdle I needed to jump to make all other things possible, but even before that I wrote an MBA thesis, which volume still sits proudly on my shelves as a reminder.

But back to life at 15, filled with self-doubt, overcoming which makes all the difference.  What follows are a few ideas to help you along the way.

  1. Since nobody is born a Dickens or a Dostoyevsky, the first thing to realise is that writing is a craft that must be nurtured and honed.  Partly it’s about technique (this page will give you some hints, though it’s just as effective to re-read what you’ve written and ask yourself what sounds right and what must be redrafted), but ultimately the knack is to develop your own voice – even if nobody else sees your work.
  2. …However, I would suggest you keep to the advice of masters: take out cliches, reduce adjectives and adverbs!
  3. Practice practice practice – write for half an hour every day on any subject that takes your fancy.  You should be teeming with topics on which to write!  Typically I will write 1,500-2,000 words a day minimum, and the only thing that stops me is lack of time.
  4. Take a notebook with you to scribble down words wherever you happen to be, though I tend to use Evernote on my phone and iPad, since they sync back to my desktop computer.
  5. Read your work dispassionately and identify ways you can improve.  learn the craft and put it into practice as often as you can.  Involve a few people you trust, people who will give you an honest opinion.  Being showered with praise is as bad as those who would write you off without reason, so try to build a following of people who can give positive, constructive criticism to help you improve.
  6. Meanwhile, read the works of other authors in many genres.  Pick up tips along the way, and don’t be afraid to criticise other authors – particularly if you could improve on their words.  They are no better or worse than you, but they have had a lucky break or two along the way.
  7. Over time and as you become more confident, it matters less what people think – they can take you at your word and enjoy your work on its merits, though everyone loves to be loved and feted.  My advice is to write because YOU love it and not worry about anyone else.
  8. When you do feel more confident, don’t be afraid to get into print and build your portfolio.  Here are a few ways:
    1. Publish on Facebook or other social networking sites – great way to get positive feedback
    2. School and university newspapers and publications
    3. Online newspapers (e.g. The Daily Spectacle)
    4. Websites – blogging and writing sites work well, though you can become a guest author on my site too!
    5. Enter writing competitions
    6. Offer articles to national publications, and not just national newspapers or magazines.  You can get paid for submissions used, but see point 8 below.
  9. If you are writing for a publication, study their house style and use it rigorously – it’s good practice to follow.  This will give you a flavour of the sort of stylistic issues that make a difference between publication and being spiked!  Whoever you are writing for, ask them for a copy of their house style rules.
  10. If you identify a major writing project you’d like to develop, organise it like a professional.  Do your research, plan the structure, develop the characters (if fiction),
  11. But the best advice of all is to persevere and believe in yourself.  Don’t give up ever, whatever anyone says to you!!  If you continue writing there will be nuggets of gold.
  12. The secret of getting your work better known and into print is being in the right place at the right time, so network and cultivate people in a good position to help you.
  13. Apply your passion to your writing.  If your heart is in it, you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.
  14. And finally…. good luck!


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