Written by A Guest Author December 7th, 2023

Scary Things for Writers to Do to Challenge Themselves

By Ratika Deshpande

In my psychology classes in school, I learned that you overcome your fears not by avoiding them but by facing them. So, as a young, ambitious writer, I started doing the things I was afraid of doing, such as submitting my work to a magazine I really admired.

I don’t know if it was luck, skill, or the goodness of people, but doing scary things didn’t turn out to be as dreadful as I’d expected. In fact, it led to some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve enjoyed as a writer. And so I believe more of us should try scary things to challenge ourselves. Here are some ideas:

Announce your writing project on social media

Starting with something small is a great way of getting used to doing scary things. Set your goals for the year/month, then share them online. Announce what you’re working on. Share daily progress (word count, number of pages, etc.) Write about what went well and what didn’t. Keep a writing log, but in public.

Let someone whose opinion you deeply value read your writing

This does not include people who’ll always say good things about your work just to encourage you. To truly challenge yourself, ask for feedback from someone who understands what good writing looks like and would give you honest feedback. This could be a colleague, a fellow writer, or someone you respect. It’ll make you work harder on your prose, polish it, and make it presentable–so even if they end up not reading it because they’re busy, at least you’ll have an edited piece which you can then:

Submit to a literary magazine

One of the things I’ve learned is that we writers are very bad at judging the quality of our own work. I’ve heard from several writers and bloggers who expected a piece of writing to do well only for it to hear crickets, while what they thought was an ordinary post took off and was widely loved. I have experienced this myself.

So if you have a piece you can send to a particular literary magazine that you read regularly and understand well, submit it to them instead of spending forever trying to perfect it. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no and you don’t get to add the publication to your CV. But that’s how your CV is right now already, so why not give it a go? What if they say yes?

Share an excerpt of some of your worst writing

Not every day is a good writing day. Sometimes, it’s confusing writing, at other times, it’s hilariously poor work. Back when I had a years-long daily writing streak, this happened quite often—I was young and just learning, after all.

At one point, tinkering with a terrible first draft, I wondered just how bad famous writers’ first drafts were. Since we never get to see that, I thought, why not publish my own bad writing? Perhaps another writer might appreciate knowing that we all can mess up words and it’s okay if that happens.

I don’t remember how many people saw my blog post. But that’s not as important as the fact that I learned to laugh at myself; my drafts were bad and nonsensical and overly dramatic and that was fine.

Contact an author you love

Every time I read a short story online that I really love and/or wish I’d written, I find the author’s email or website and send them a thank you note–both for the time I spent enjoying their story and for the inspiration they gave me to work on my own.

How is this scary? When you love someone’s work, it can often be daunting to contact them–what would they think of you and your writing? What if it makes you feel like you’ll never be as good as them?

But contacting authors has led to only good things. Many times, I’ve received replies— including two from one of my most favorite authors, Marie Brennan. I’ve also been on the receiving end of such emails a few times—once from this very magazine.  (Thanks, Dorothy!)

Emails like these are reminders that words matter, no matter who writes them and where they are published. And this is true regardless of whether you’re the one sending or receiving them. They’re also reminders that other writers aren’t my competition. I don’t have to be jealous, I don’t have to consider myself a failure, or find that my ambitions aren’t enough–thoughts that are often difficult to confront.

Do a 30-day public writing challenge

Posting your work online for anyone to read is scary but don’t we all want people to read and love our work? Writing online is one way to do that—and I suggest doing it not once, but every day for 30 days. After that, you can stop posting and reflect on what you learned about publishing on a regular schedule. Or you can continue posting and build a community of readers.

However, be careful in choosing which stories/poems you share online. Magazines consider online publication, even on a super obscure public blog with zero views, as a previous publication, and will not accept your piece on these grounds alone, regardless of its quality.

But if your goal is to become more comfortable with sharing your work, be open to criticism (and appreciation) or establish a regular online writing practice, then I’d highly suggest posting your work online. Who knows what love and opportunities you might find as a result?

At the very least, doing scary things like this will help you understand one thing: nothing in the world is as terrifying as our own ideas of how bad things could get. The reality, surprisingly, is much kinder than we believe.

Bio: Ratika Deshpande is the editor of The Metronome, a bi-monthly magazine for people who want to study psychology and make a career in the field.


We Send You Publishers Seeking Submissions.

Sign up for our free e-magazine and we will send you reviews of publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books.

Subscribe now and we'll send you a free copy of our book Submit, Publish, Repeat