Getting Over the Fear of Publishing

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There are two types of writers in this world: those who can’t wait to get their words in front of readers, and those who are absolutely ridden with anxiety by the thought of publishing their work.

I fall squarely into the latter camp. I still remember how nervous I was when I submitted my first op-ed to a local paper. It was the first piece of my writing that I ever hoped would reach a wide audience. I was equal parts worried over whether it would be published and, if it was, whether it would be well-received.

The op-ed did get published, and I got good feedback, but publication-anxiety has stuck with me over the years. I felt it again when I first self-published online, and again when I first came to Medium.

Through these experiences though, I’ve discovered a few ways to get through the nervousness. I still get anxious about posting my writing from time to time, but I always manage to push through it, and it’s always been worth it in the end.

If you’ve been too nervous to publish your writing, I hope these tips might help. (By the way, I’m using the word “publishing” loosely here, to include traditional submissions, self-publishing, blog posts, etc.)

Use a Pen Name

The single biggest help for me getting through publication-anxiety is to use a pen name.

Part of the attraction of a pen name is anonymity. It allows me to write things that I wouldn’t necessarily want friends reading, or to have connected to my professional career.

My writing on Medium is a perfect example. I write a lot about my sobriety here. I’m open about my sobriety in real life as well, but I still wouldn’t want it to be the first thing that pops up if someone searches me in the context of my professional work. Using a different last name on Medium allows me to keep that from happening.

The other benefit of a pen name is that it makes the stakes of publication feel lower. If I want to experiment with a new writing style, I can try a new pen name. I tend to do this with fiction — a genre that I am still very uncomfortable with. If the writing totally bombs, it’s no big deal, because I can just drop the pen name and forget about it.

Start Short

Another thing that helped me get used to publishing my writing was to start with really short pieces. Just like with pen names, this helped to “lower the stakes.”

When I write articles or essays that go on for ten pages in more, I become extremely invested in how they are received. It’s hard not to when I’ve poured days of work into it.

In contrast, I can often write a post that’s just 1,000 words or so in a single day. With less time spent working on a piece, I have less emotional attachment, and that makes it much easier for me to publish without worrying.

Self-Publish

For me, self-publishing is less anxiety-inducing than submitting my work. As I mentioned before, I get anxious about both how a piece is received, and whether it will get published in the first place. When I self-publish, I eliminate one of these factors entirely.

Self-publishing isn’t always possible. A local op-ed, for example, probably won’t find any readership if it’s just posted online. But, whenever I write something that I could publish myself, I do.

Publish Frequently

Finally, I try to write and publish a lot (again, using “publish” to include self-publishing and blogging). It’s easier to stop worrying about any individual piece when you know that you’ll be posting/publishing something else later that week.

If one thing I write fails to get readers or gets some negative responses, I know that I’ll have another chance soon. It goes back again to the idea of “lowering the stakes.”

Publishing your writing can be scary, but it’s worth it. Putting your words in front of an audience is a rewarding feeling, and will help you grow as a writer.

If you’ve been anxious about posting your writing, try making the leap with something small, even just a couple hundred words. Getting through that first attempt is the hardest, and it will (slowly) get easier from there.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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