Ted Winsley

Paralyzed by Fear

If you’re a sports fan, you may recognize the name Ted Winsley. He’s best known as the chaplain for the Philadelphia Eagles. His Super Bowl ring testifies to his great success at motivating players. Pastor Ted also leads The Family Church in Voorhees, New Jersey.

While interviewing him for his new book, View From the End Zone, Pastor Ted admitted that he had suffered from a slight fear of heights. It wasn’t debilitating. Just a nagging awareness that in certain situations fear nipped at his heels. Following the advice he gave others, he decided to face his fear—and conquer it.

The first step was making the decision to confront it. How? By parachuting out of an airplane.

The second step was to go public. Seven other people, including his son, decided to make the leap. This gave Pastor Ted the accountability he needed to prevent him from backing out of his decision.

While there had been a low level of apprehension about making the decision, there had also been a sense of adventure. However, on the day of the jump, his apprehension grew. As the men arrived at the airport and received their instruction, it blossomed. Climbing aboard the airplane rocketed it to a whole new level. Each breath became tighter and shorter than the last.

Standing at the door, watching the earth from a far distance, that nagging fear became unmasked—and a monster revealed. Stepping to the edge of the airplane’s open door, he closed his eyes and chose faith over his fear.

Pastor Ted felt himself whipped by violent winds during his freefall through space. Then as the parachute deployed, a sudden sense of serenity overcame him. He felt as though he was floating in the arms of God. By the time he felt the earth under his feet, his fear of heights was a thing of the past.

Many writers are paralyzed by fear.

For instance, one of my writing students moved to another state where she hasn’t found a writing community or a support group. The last time we talked, she’d had a breakthrough. She realized that she’d been sabotaging herself as a writer.

Eureka! I knew she’d been doing this all along, but until she got that revelation, nothing would change. She’s a gifted writer, and there’s no legitimate reason for her not to be published. Except—a gigantic fear of failure.

It’s more common than you think. Many writers who might have enjoyed successful careers have gone to their graves unpublished. Why?

They were paralyzed by fear.

Fear that they weren’t good enough.

Fear of failure.

Feelings of unworthiness.

The fear of rejection.

Some people have a fear of success. After all, how could they live up to that?

Like many people I’ve known, my writing student wrote. What she wrote was good, but she seldom finished what she started.

The first question she asked me was how to make yourself finish a project. As I told her, at some point you must turn off your internal editor. More important, you must stop your internal critic. In her case, she was judging her work as not good enough. First, she was too close to it to know. Second, she wasn’t qualified to make that call.

I had trouble with this myself when I wrote A Healing Touch: The Power of Prayer. The first chapter of that book sang. It should have. In my spare time, I spent two years polishing it. Then I calculated that if I spent two years on the next 18 chapters, it would take me 36 years to finish the book!

That’s when I made myself turn off my internal editor and critic. I made myself just write. Then I got help editing it.

In most instances, I believe that not finishing a project is due to the fear of rejection. Let’s face it, if it’s not finished, you can’t be expected to submit it, can you?

The truth is that not deciding to do something is making a decision. Not finishing a project is deciding to sabotage yourself. When you don’t submit your work to editors or agents, you’ve decided to choose fear over faith.

“Until you’re submitting on a regular basis,” I told my young friend, “you’re not in the game. You might go to writer’s conferences, critique groups or intensives, but it’s all just an expensive hobby. You’ll never pay for a meal or make a mortgage payment.”

There will be rejection. Count on it. But you can lessen it by doing a good job of studying the markets. For instance, I was in New York City at the Guideposts offices when the editor-in-chief waved at a huge stack of manuscripts.

“That’s the slush pile,” he said. “Look through them.”

I sat down and started reading through the manuscripts. Horrified, I looked up. “Have any of these people ever read Guideposts?”

“Obviously not,” he replied.

Guideposts tells true stories in a short story format of 1600 words. They have one protagonist, one turnaround and one spiritual takeaway message. In this stack of manuscripts there were essays, teaching articles, sermons—even pornography.

The best way to fail at getting published is to write something and scattershot it to editors in the hopes that someone will buy it. That never works. If you do that, you will fail. It’s that simple.

Think about what you’d like to write. Then do an online search to see who publishes that material. For instance, perhaps you’re interested in ghost towns. There are multiple magazines about ghost towns. Read through issues from the past six months. Make a list of things that they’ve covered. They won’t repeat those topics unless they offer a recurring column. If so, note that because recurring columns are an ongoing need they must fill. It’s also a great way to break into a market.

Find each publication’s writer’s guidelines. See how they want their articles written. Are they in first person or third? Present tense or past? Do they use sidebars? Pull quotes? Do they often quote experts in the field?

“Yes,” you might say, “but I don’t want to write nonfiction. I want to write novels.”

That’s great, but if you want to make a living at writing, don’t be a one pony show. My friend Rene Gutteridge’s dream was to be a fulltime screenwriter. As the head screenwriter for The Skit Guys, she’s living that dream. However, in addition to screenplays, she’s written 24 novels and multiple novelizations. She has ghostwritten a nonfiction book. She has written nonfiction books and articles on writing, including a book on how to write novelizations.

Think of your writing as an investment. As you would with any investment, take sound advice. Diversify. Create multiple streams of income from your writing projects.

If you want to succeed, figure out what editors in your field of interest need and give it to them. Always. On time, or early. Present well-written pieces without errors.

Set goals. How many submissions will you make this year? Make your decision public. Be accountable.

And then, face your fears. Conquer them. Submit.

Yes, it’s scary. You might feel whipped by violent winds. But soon, you’ll start making sales. A parachute created from your efforts will deploy. Like Pastor Ted, you’ll find both the joy of success and a life free from fear.

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  1. Thank you for your words of wisdom. It’s what I needed to hear to get me back on task with my writing. Merry Christmas.