Challenge,  On Writing

Edmund Gosse Explains Things So Well

From His Poem “Impression.”

“Too much afraid of faults to be…”

And that simple line from that incredible poem describes a great number of the writers I talk with every day. (You can read the entire poem here, published about writing in 1894. Worth the read. And if you could dare to write as ill as some whose voices haunt us still…)

But that simple saying of being afraid of faults to be describes why so many writers don’t finish stories.

And why so many don’t get their work out to readers or short fiction to editors.

That saying a long time ago stopped making sense to me as a writer or publisher or editor. I flat know I am going to have fun, make mistakes, and keep learning. Never afraid of making a mistake.

I’m not afraid of having fun. So many writers are.

I am not afraid of making mistakes and having others see them. Most writers I know are.

I am not afraid to make mistakes and keep learning. So many writers who sign up for workshops are afraid of sending me assignments for what I might say.

Or worse, they try to write something they think I want instead of writing what they want to write and learning from it.

Writers get to the middle of a book, stop, and worry about trying to figure out what is going to happen next instead of just writing the next sentence and finding out that way.

Being afraid of faults to be kills the fun of the moment, brings in critical voice, and makes fiction writing work instead of fun.

Being afraid of a future mistake comes out in sentences like “I am awful at covers, so I hire them done.” What the writer is saying simply is that I am afraid of making a mistake, having others see it, so I won’t even try to learn that.”

And that fear of future mistakes is like a nasty monster in so many writer’s work, stopping them, making them rewrite, making them go to book doctors, and so on and so on.

It is amazingly freeing to not care if you make a mistake when trying something new, writing a story, doing a publishing project, and just living.

Some of you might want to try it.

But how????

With fiction writing, that answer is simple:

Climb on Heinlein’s Rules and never get off and never do anything in writing or publishing that isn’t exciting or scary, and just plain fun.

But for most of you, the worry is about the mistake to come if you did even think of trying that. And that fear of the mistake to come, the fault to be, will stop you cold.

Read the poem.



  • Marsha

    The poem really says it all. I printed it out and posted it near my writing computer.

    You and I talked about this at the recent Romance workshop. My hourly writing pace has slowed recently and you helped me see that my critical voice was interfering with simply having fun. When my writing is fun the words flow. Simple.

    Dare to be bad. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Kenny

    My most heartbreaking part of the poem (which is printed out next to my storytelling computer) is this part:
    For, as this sweet life passes by,
    We blink and nod with critic eye;

  • Joe Cleary

    Thanks, Dean. I needed this today. My critical voice has been running my life of late, nevermind my writing.

    I’m committing to writing and publishing three new novels by the end of the year, starting October 1st, Critical voice be damned!

    Thanks for always shining a flashlight on the shadows when I most need it.

  • Mike

    Great post, Dean.

    Pairs well with the knowledge, that can be difficult to internalize … Nobody cares.

    (I’ve had that written on my word count spreadsheet since the beginning of the year so I see it every day)

    Everyone is too busy worrying about their own lives in the same way I am to really care that much.

    And anybody who does care that much (in a negative way, which is the way people are afraid of) is the kind of person you don’t want to be involved with.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Mike. It really is amazing when you deeply understand that nobody cares, thus you are truly free to do what you want when you want.

  • Phillip McCollum

    The timing on this one is eerie, Dean.

    Just yesterday, I was skimming your old posts where you mentioned Gosse’s poem in the comments.

    I’m pages away from the ending of the first novel that I will have ever *truly* finished and will be putting out there for others to read. I’ve been feeling major reticence throughout the process, but especially needed the encouragement from your blog this week. The usual culprits have been coming out:

    “This thing’s full of plot holes.”
    “The language is stilted.”
    “Too much passive voice.”
    …on and on…

    It’s amazing how all of the myths that I easily shoved aside when I started the project always came roaring back.

    Shit, I’m 82,000 words in. To stop now would be ridiculous!

    Time to be unafraid. I *love* this story. I’m going to put out there and hope someone else will love it too.

  • Philip

    100% accurate. It amazes me how scary writing is for me. That’s how deep the myths are and their author, the Critical Voice.

    Everywhere else in life I’m a risk taker, yet clam up at the keyboard, telling myself I’m not good enough.

    Thanks for the post, Dean.

  • Carolyn Ivy Stein

    Thank you so much for this. I have read it three times today trying to calm my critical voice which has been rampaging. This evening I actually engaged with the part you placed in bold “never do anything in writing or publishing that isn’t exciting or scary, and just plain fun” and realized that my fear is the best reason to push forward, not to stop. It is part of this thrill ride.

  • Martin

    Dean, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful poem with us. I must confess that I had not heard of Edmund Gosse before. He must have been a man who truly loved writing.

  • Kim Iverson

    What a timeless message. Thank you for sharing. I stopped being afraid long ago, and follow your methods now. Not as in, because of you, I just learned from you and your wife long ago – perfection and trying to attain it, will kill ya in many ways. I published a book 3 months ago. I just hit publish last night. I will be in another 3 months. Similar for my writing speed. Average is 3-4 months.

    And in that time I’ve noticed MANY people telling me how they only write when the mood strikes, or say they want to write, but have so many ideas, and insert excuse after excuse after excuse. So when they try it now I ask, how many have you finished in the past five years? They’ll hem and haw. Either you do it, or don’t. There’s no difference between a writer who writes and one who doesn’t except for we WRITE. We don’t have less struggles, less work, more time. We’re just not talking about writing, we’re doing it. Now I understand more why it bothers you because it has begun bothering me too so I don’t waste time on the “I want to BUT,” people and focus only on those who have the courage to DO.

    The magic is in the process, we have to be in the process to experience the magic and the passion. Not sitting around hoping for the best, giving excuses. Writers write. Period.