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How Can I Silence My Fear of Failure When Starting to Write?

In T’s advice column Culture Therapist, either Ligaya Mishan or Megan O’Grady solves your problems using art. Have a question? Need some comfort? Email us at advice@nytimes.com.

Q: How do you silence your fear of failure when you start writing something you love very much? — Name Withheld

A: I think the first question is, for you, what is failure? Is it measured by the projected response of a future audience — puzzlement, recoil, sheer indifference — or by the distance between what you envision and what ends up on the page? You are likely your own cruelest reader. (I know I am.) And certainly there are times in the writing process when a cool gimlet eye is required to save us from our worst instincts, but not before you’ve had a chance to start.

This wasn’t an Eden: The head of the “occupation” was a born-again ex-con whom many in the city believed was still running a violent gang. Terraces lacked railings and occasionally children fell to their death. But the squatters found ways to make a home out of the uninhabitable, pooling meager funds to appoint guards at entrances and carrying buckets of water up 28 flights of unlit stairs. Mini bodegas sprang up, along with a beauty salon, an ad hoc video-game arcade and an unlicensed dentist’s office. Then, in 2014, the residents were evicted by the government; the tower stands empty once more. You can see something of the lives once led there in the 2012 book “Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities” and an accompanying 2013 documentary film by the architects Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, of the Caracas-based Urban-Think Tank, and the photographer Iwan Baan.

Now, on some level, all of this is distraction from the task at hand. There’s no getting around it: Writing is a white-knuckle business. In the 2009 novel “The Anthologist,” Nicholson Baker describes how the clearing of space around a poem exacts a promise of a high-wire act, and I sometimes think of it when staring down an empty page, because the (intentional) portentousness makes me laugh and take myself ever so slightly less seriously:

Rumble, rumble, stand back now, this is going to be good. Here the magician will do his thing. Here’s the guy who’s going to eat razor blades. Or pour gasoline in his mouth and spout it out. Or lie on a bed of broken glass. … This is the blank white playing field of Eton.


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