The Will vs. The Fear

Behind all great comics, and probably all bad comics, is one or more persons who felt significant inspiration, and gathered The Will to produce said comics. They had an idea, and went through with developing it further, and eventually plotting and producing a script, finding an artistic collaborator, or sitting down at the drawing table themselves. It may not always happen in that order, but in order for those pages to end up in your comic shop, or even on your computer screen, someone had to sit and do it. Any time those works are completed, and passed on to the big, cold world, it is a remarkable thing.

That is because standing constantly in silent opposition to that inspiration is The Fear. I take it for granted that all creative persons know about The Fear. The Fear is the voice, that mysterious force in the background of all you do that stops you from doing something creative, and putting it out in the world. The Fear is the reason for every single excuse you, or I, or anyone has ever had for not just doing. The Fear is actually what’s behind laziness. If you weren’t afraid that you weren’t good enough, you’d just do the work, and make your voice heard.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Not everyone has a desire to tell stories, or play music, or perform standup. Those of us who do, very likely wish we were one of those other people, and we wouldn’t have to walk around with the specter of guilt sidling along behind us every time we wanted to fire up the XBox for a little while. But for those of you out there who know what I’m talking about, The Fear is very real, and very perceptive.

Why should I work on that script? I don’t have an artist for it. I can get to it later. It’s a bad economy, and no one will publish it. I’ll never make any money, and the chances of getting a career are almost nil. I’ll never do something as good as that other story I read. It took that guy a decade to break in. What if I don’t really have any talent?

The Fear has many tactics, and as it is an extension of you, The Fear knows you better than anyone, and the chinks in your armor are as clear as day. The Fear even helps you accept your failures, when you try, give up, and soothes you with the idea that you weren’t ever really going to do that well anyway. It’s almost a battle you can’t win. Except for the fact that people win it all the time. Granted, for them, your version of the Fear is their greatest ally, because it takes competition out of the race. I often wonder how many great novels, comics, movies, and songs were never written because the people who were walking around with them in their heads never got around to making them, for whatever reason.

Of course, as we’re all equipped with our own version of The Fear, we also all come standard with The Fear’s natural enemy, The Will. How successful a creative person will be almost entirely depends on their vital internal ratio of The Fear and The Will. Sure, talent has something to do with it, but not as much as you might think. Plenty of less than talented people find success and fulfillment doing creative work. A handful have a lot of talent, and we call those people geniuses. But since we can’t all be Alan Moore, it makes no sense to aspire to be a genius. It makes sense to do the best work you can, enjoy yourself while doing it, and give it a shot.

I’m musing on all this because I think about The Fear a lot. It comes and goes, and sometimes, particularly those times of stress and unsureness, The Fear is very strong. I “just don’t feel like” writing, or producing anything, and I make excuses like “I’ve done as much as I can do for now,” and other delay tactics, to avoid starting up the creative engine and actually making it do the work I know it’s capable of. I’ve decided to try to take part in the National Novel Writing Month, and said I would try it. On our other podcast, at, my co-host Kelly Stephenson clued me in to some Yoda wisdom, and said that by saying I was only going to try, I was missing the point. I had to decide to do it. She was right. At that point, it’s really up to me, and only me. I have to say, I’m going to do this, and then I’m left to have to do it. The trick is that no one can hold me accountable other than myself, and I’m pretty used to forgiving myself. The Will clearly has its work cut out for it.

Still, The Fear holds sway even now. I’m reading back over this, and thinking, “why in the hell would anyone want to read this?” and I’m not really sure. But The Will is telling me that, “hey, at least you’re trying,” and if it inspires only one person to get over The Fear, I’m doing OK.

There’s a reason Geoff Johns has aligned his Lantern spectrum around these two concepts. The Green Lanterns are the Will, and their opposite, the Sinestro Corps, the yellow light, are The Fear. I was most of the way through writing this before I realized this correlation, and it made me appreciate it all the more, even if it wasn’t intentional.

So basically, I’m saying, if you’ve been thinking about it, and letting Sinestro stop you from saving the galaxy and getting with Carol Ferris, knock it off, and go test some planes.


  1. Well said Josh. All creative types should read this.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, myself.  Well said.  And I listened to the Murmur podcast as well — Kelly’s motivational skills are very impressive.

  3. Okay, I admit I shouldn’t have fallen asleep reading Blackest Night #4, but I had my first Green Lantern dream last night.  I was reading/inside a comic book that was nothing but blobs of really bright colors.  No lines, no shading, no text, just blobs of bright colors.  I think it was supposed to be Blackest Night #8 in my dream.

  4. Wow, well done sir.  The Hope is all I can think of after reading this.  Thank you.

    And some remindful advice from Yoda doesn’t hurt either.  That little Muppet is wise beyond his years, all 900 of them.

  5. I run into the Fear quite often myself.  I don’t do a lot of creative writing, but the Fear is present in my research as well.  What if I missed some obvious assumption?  What if I have misinterpreted the data?  What if everyone finds out I don’t really know what I’m doing? 

    Luckily, Avarice often wins out and I push through the fear and earn my paycheck.  I then hug my Orange Lantern on the way to the bank.

    I’m off to test some planes. 

    P.S. Does this count toward your National Novel Writing Month total?

  6. I’ve heard something similar to The Will vs The Fear described to as Pull/Push

    IE: I have the Pull to start a podcast about digital comics, but not the push.  Some nebulous desire of "Oh that’d be nice/fun" but I don’t actually have the Will/Push to enact it. 

    I think framing the lack of sufficient Push as "The Fear" is more productive though, it gives you something to rally against to vanquish and get past as opposed to just "Oh, I just don’t want it enough, moving on"

    Great article. NaNoWriMo always gives a resurgence of "Just fucking do it already" which i I love to see (and rarely take my own advice about)

  7. I so needed to read this write now Josh, Thank you! I was just having a similar discussion last night. Well timed.

  8. Josh, this was a well written article and almost puts everything into perspective.  While your article focuses itself on the creative aspect of fear vs. will I find it like @stuclach mentioned in everyday life.  Most people’s fear runs their life, why do most of us go through the drivel of our boring everyday jobs.  Out of fear of losing it, maybe, but I think it has more to do with the idea that we fear the change that it would take to make it a better place whether it is writing that script as you put it or heading back to school to do something that you really have a passion for.  I am sure in this horrid economy there is even more fear of throwing it all to the wind and seeing where the chips lie, but in that you have to find the will to do it.  Outside of the workplace some find it in other situations, social situations with the opposite sex possibly.  As a geek all I know is that there is some part of us that fears letting that inner geek fly at times because it has been shot down so many times.  Not all of us can be @wonderali, and put it out there on why she likes geeks but we let that fear run the that side of our lives at times.  It takes the will to want to get over that fear that makes it worth getting over.  I will apologize now as I feel like I am rambling, but I and one more example from my own life where will and fear meet head to head almost daily.  I was a large person almost to the extreme of unhealthy.  I decided after enough self loathing that I would just stop doing it and will myself to do other things to help myself.  That inner battle was the hardest thing I have had to do in my entire life, but now because of that will or hope possibly I made it better I went from not being able to run a few miles at time to running an 8k at the end of this month.  So I guess all I am trying to say is that at least to me that is why Green Lantern is one of my favorite characters in comics.  It is a constant reminder that if you have the will that fear will always shrink away and fall. 

  9. @forestjwp – I actually love my job, but the fear aspect of research (and teaching, in some cases) can be astronomical.  You should have seen me the very first time I taught a class.  I thought I was going to pee my pants.  I underestimated myself.  I pushed through it and now consider myself a very good teacher.  On the research side, I felt completely inadequate while working on my dissertation.  I had no confidence in my knowledge.  Grad school can do that to you.  I was able to successfully complete and defend my dissertation and have gone on to publish multiple articles, but the fear will always be there.

  10. A few months ago I made a minicomic. I sell it on the internets for a couple bucks. I’m the middle of a second minicomic and beginning to plan out another creative endeavor. I haven’t sold a bajillion copies of the mini, but I’ve sold far more than I had anticipated I ever would. 

    Some of the people that have read it have said some incredibly nice things to me. Incredibly nice and flattering things about me and my comic. I am painfuly aware of the technical reasons I almost never showed anyone the first mini (Along with the psychological fears of inadequacy). The Fear was once a towering behemothwith a shadow I couldn’t even dream of escaping.

    Then some people saw what I had created and gave me their unsolicited response. The Fear grows weaker everyday. I can’t say I imagine a day where it won’t be there but it’s almost manageable sometimes now. That’s a start.

    Good article, Josh.

  11. I came here to say the same thing @stuclach and @forestjwp said.  This fear/will concern isn’t limited to creative work.  It governs every day life.  Fear and worry go hand in hand. Anything you can attribute to worry, in my mind, can also be attributable to fear.  Why don’t I want to write my report? I worry that I don’t have the right information. I worry that I won’t be able to effectively describe the environment I’m working with or properly tell the customer how to accomplish their goals.  Why don’t I want to build that new toybox? I worry that my skills will let me down and I’ll make a crappy toybox.  Relationships… school work.. creative work.. dinner.. it’s all governed by fear or driven by will.  

    I think that the shared experience with will and fear is what makes GL so accessible. It’s what makes Blackest Night accessible regardless the segment of the DCU it’s working with. 

  12. While I tend to be on the side of those who believe that a little fear is healthy, what you’ve said here is very true, and probably the greatest battle in my own life.  We’ll see if I can change that.

  13. Dude, I hear that.

    I have a successful business blog and recently decided to keep working on that while starting a graphic novel review site for grown ups. And every time I start writing or look at the traffic stats and the fear starts to creep in.

    At the very least, it’s nice to hear from another creative person that you go through the same thing. 

  14. Josh,

    Excellent post! 

    There’s a fantastic book called "War of Art" by Steven Pressfield that is along the same lines as your article (I came to it via Jonathan Hickman’s excellent afterword in the Nightly News trade, a good inspiring read in itself). 

     It was a book that definitely changed my way of thinking and I implore anyone who has creative tendencies or aspirations to better themselves to pick it up.

    It needed more Hal Jordan though.

    I can’t help but think of that moment in Rebirth where Parallax is shouting at Hal

    "Give up damn you!"

     "I don’t know how."



  15. I want to print this article out and put it up somewhere so I can read it every day. Amazing job, Josh.

  16. Fear is a great way to stop crap from ever being created. There’s enough crap anyway. If every bad/mediocre creator conquered fear and produced more, what a horrible result that would be. So, listen to that little voice of self doubt! It’s most likely correct.

  17. The Fear controls a lot of my life, but I find a balance between fear/will is the healthiest for me.  With inner-city kids, a teacher is faced with plenty of adversity.  Kids talking through your lessons, selling drugs in the bathrooms, refusing to do work, cussing you out, low test scores(state and in class), kids that don’t bathe because they have no running water, little to no parent involvement, grumpy because they didn’t eat that morning, etc.  The fear will often dictate how much work I put into a lesson because I fear that I won’t get much in return.  The teachers sole desire is to instruct and have students absorb as much of the information as possible.  With my case, the numbers game is very low at best.  But I do reach a handful and the kids that really want to learn, usually go on to college.

    When put into a situation like this you have to either laugh or cry.  I choose to laugh.  I enjoy my life in general and love my occupation.  It just sucks that everyday I leave the building, I wonder what fucking good I did.  For the kids I teach, just me being there is enough for them.  Most have serious abandonment issues because the only person they can depend on is their mother.  So when I see so many students coming in to say ‘good morning’, or ‘hey Mr. O’, I realize that none of it is ever personal.  They just haven’t learn how to learn.  So although the fear often grips me, I still do my best to perservere and realize one thing. ‘Who the hell else is going to teach these kids?’ 

    I admire your introspection Josh and encourage you to continue writing.  I think you have a knack for expressive writing and you would do well to listen to those that support you.  The only reason I’m teaching right now, is due to inspiration from loved ones.  I look forward to reading your work:)

  18. I can relate with everything written here, and it’s comforting to know it’s not just me that has these crippling thoughts. Which, I guess is one of the ways in which the fear exacerbates any self-doubt when approaching something so creative and importantly, so competitive.

    Not only is this one of the most direct and to-the-point articles on iFanboy, but it’s also a spot-on report regarding a small sliver of the human condition. 

    Time to pull my finger out. Stop putting off my magnus opus and finish a few more issues.

    Thanks Josh. 

  19. Now I really want to fly a plane.  But I’ll settle for practicing the guitar tonight.

    Thanks for the swift kick in the ass, Josh!

  20. Even as I type this comment up, I have the Fear. No matter how well a paper is received at school, I’m always scared shitless that I did a poor job.

    One of your best articles good sir. Bully to you.

  21. This was great, and maybe the kick in the poants I needed to get started on some of my own projects. I might even sign up for that nationla novel writng month thing, it seems cool.

  22. Nice piece, Josh. Mirrors what I — and probably all other NaNovelists are thinking these days.

    I’ve always thought of The Will as being made up of The Desire and The Confidence. Obviously, you have to have the desire to create your art. But any artistic endeavor will meet that Fear you mentioned, and it takes a certain amount of confidence to beat that back. You must think to yourself: "What I’m writing is worth reading." There’s a freedom that comes with that belief.

    My one caveat — and this is the tough part for some — you need to have the confidence, but it can’t become blind arrogance. You’ve also got to keep your mind open. You need to be able to take constructive criticism. Keep the confidence, but now filter the criticism through that confidence, and look to see if there are elements there that you can use to strengthen your art. That’s a tricky deal. You have to make sure you study your craft and are open to understanding that other people may know more about this than you — but you can’t let the Fear paralyze.

  23. You know Josh this page has inspired me, and I thank you.

    I recently posted part of my own superhero story on a website and was dissapointed that I only got one piece of good feedback but now that I think about it, that means at least one person likes it.

    And now I realised I can’t let the fear get to me and I’m gonna’ script my comic that I’ve had in the back of my mind and always just thought, I’m 16 my idea’s just stupid.

    Thank you Josh, you have inspired me!

  24. I don’t have the fear.  I’m a multiple award winning musician.  It defeats the fear at this point.

  25. Holy crap Josh it’s like you cracked open my skull and exposed all the ugly bits. This is one of the best pieces you’ve done yet. I have no more excuses…

  26. @vadamowens – Hang in there.  We need as many caring teachers as we can get.  Keep in mind that even if they don’t absorb everything you show them some of it will get through and might make a difference later in life at a key moment. 

  27. @stuclach: I was just continuing on the point that it doesn’t really revolve around just the creative world.  It is pretty obvious that you have a passion for what you do as does @vadamowens.  People like the two of you is the reason I made the decision to head into the education field after I found my job unrewarding.  That you know that even in the smallest instance you are making a difference in a student’s life you are making the communities you serve better, which an envious postion to be in for the office drone that I am.   

  28. Outstanding article my good man.  Right now i’m going to write… something… anything would be better then nothing.  when are we going to see some of your writing josh?


  29. Nice article.  A good person to read on this subject is Joan Acocella, the New Yorker critic.  Her basic theory is that hard work is the essential component to artistic success.  Lots of people have good ideas; not everyone’s putting them down, getting them out, getting rejected, and putting them out again.

  30. I just wanted to throw in more support for vandamowens.  Just being there and teaching means the world to some of these kids, whether they can articulate it or not.  Keep working, keep caring, it makes more of a difference than I think we ever know.

    Go teachers!

  31. @stulach – As a biologist with an M.S. I can completely relate to The Fear about research, except that I’ve completely abandoned the idea of going into academia/teaching and am settled into the consulting world now. In one sense, The Fear has won in my career path since I’m not doing research for a career, but there’s also some satisfaction in environmental consulting and it allows me to pursue my non-work interests with more abandon. Kudos to you for maintaining a career in research teaching, and for having multiple publications (I only have one, based on my Master’s thesis). BTW, what field are you in and where do you teach?

  32. @forestjwp – Good luck in your pursuit of your new career.  Just a heads up: Georgia pays its teachers better than most states: Hint: Sort by salary comfort index (that seems to essentially take cost of living into consideration).  You should always know what you are worth and what kind of offer to expect (that goes for everyone, not just teachers).  Don’t go into an interview without those two very important pieces of information.

  33. I was reading this to kill time at work. Now I’m gonna get up and do something. awesome, Josh.  

  34. @stuclach — oh, you’re just trying to get people to come to Georgia again. How many times do we have to tell you that you can’t make friends by bribing them with a salary comfort index?

  35. @daccampo – It is 74 degrees outside.  The salary comfort index (while enticing) is simply icing on the cake.

  36. @stuclach @daccampo – 74 sounds much better then the 39 degrees it is outside here in Illinois, the salary index is indeed the icing on the cake

  37.   "Still, The Fear holds sway even now. I’m reading back over this, and thinking, “why in the hell would anyone want to read this?” and I’m not really sure. But The Will is telling me that, “hey, at least you’re trying,” and if it inspires only one person to get over The Fear, I’m doing OK."

     I would possibly need a super computer, or at the very least a high end Texas Instruments Calculator to even begin to quantify the number of pages of stories or scripts I’ve destroyed upon completion because I looked back on it and thought the very same thing. “Who’s going to want to read, let alone publish, this dreck?  There is no way this is as good or anywhere near as good, as anything Bendis or Rucka or Mazzucchelli or Vonnegut or Morrison or Aaron or…” (I usually at this point go to my mental longbox or book shelf, rifle through it and chastise myself by pointing out all the authors who would laugh at my attempt at fiction.  A very unhealthy exercise I’m sure).  For the past month or so I haven’t even done the almost obligatory jotting-down-of-ideas-in-a-small-notebook-I-keep-in-my-pocket.


    I’ve recently grown tired of all this emotional self-flagellation and have decided I either have to just do it and get over it or and write, or give up all together. 


    Seeing your thoughts were the same as mine and seeing that a writer whose work I admire and enjoy has the same problems a fledgling like me bolstered my confidence to no end.


    I’m going to start carrying my little notebook around again.


    Thank you, Josh, for this thoroughly inspiring article. 

    You certainly did do "OK".

  38. @stuclach – yeah, except you forgot that it’s GEORGIA.

  39. (it’s mid-80’s here, by the way. And I’m totally kidding about Georgia. Mostly. Somewhat.)

  40. @stuc I would’ve moved to Georgia when I first got into teaching, if it hadn’t been for my lady love.  Due to family, we’re both gonna be landlocked until we’re forced out by this horrendous Ohio economy. 

  41. I know it sounds like a self-help term but I use "baby steps" to help me overcome the Fear.Even if I only spend 5 minutes every few days trying (in my case drawing) I know I’ve done something and I often keep going.It doesn’t matter if I don’t.I have also thrown out all expectations for what I do….it doesn’t have to be perfect or finished,its just nice to do something.

    I also set small easily completed projects like taking a photo of some scenery that I can work from as reference material.Creativity is a job in itself, those of us whose creative passion isn’t the job we spend significant hours at to pay the rent shouldn’t beat ourselves up over not having achieved our dreams already.

  42. @daccampo – Georgia certainly has its share of negatives, though Atlanta is doing very well for itself.

    @vadamowens – I had offers in DC, Baltimore, Texas, and Georgia.  My wife picked Georgia.  It has worked out pretty well.

    To tie this back to the post: I strongly second Josh’s point that you should strive to push through the fear, but would add that you should make sure you are aware of the value of your creation once you finish it.  Don’t undervalue (or overvalue) yourself or your work. 

  43. Bravo Good Sir!

  44. I read this just as I got back from not fnishing up yet another painting with the excuse that there was nothing more I could do right now and I should take a break and come back to it later.  Which always eats at me, but just don’t have the Will to push through I guess.  Thats been bothering me for while and this article comes at just the right time, sir.  I might just have to print this out.  Or reread some Green Lantern trades.  You know, for inspiration.

  45. Isn’t fear of fucking up what drives some people though?

  46. Writers write.  Go get ’em, Josh.

  47. I find fear can be a great motivation in some cases. The fear of working a 9-5 can at times out way my fear of trying creatively and failing. 

  48. Awesome article Josh. Thanks for the inspiration! Enough trolling around the net for tonight, I’m off to write a couple hours worth of story from my Nanowrimo novel.

    Thanks again! 

  49. Josh, great article.  I am empathetic because I’m in the same boat.  I’ve been writing and drawing and at first, yeah, the fear was VERY real.  Something along the lines of, "Why should I do this?"  "No one is going to pay attention to someone like me.", ect.

    I overcame all that with the simple notion that I love what I do very very much, and if I only get one shot to make something, then I have the satisfaction of being woven into the fabric of the history of that medium.

    Which, when I think about it, is pretty cool. 

    Thanks for kind of reinspiring this old creator!

  50. Great article, Josh. I know what you are talking about. I have had Sinestro on one shoulder and Guy Gardner (Fuck Hal Jordan!) on the other for a long time, and Sinestro usually wins out. But I’m gonna listen to Guy for a while. Even though I found out about it late and didn’t start until the 4th, I’m doing the NaNoWriMo thing, too. And I’m going to finish, even with the 3 day loss of time. Good luck to you on the journey to 50,000 words.

  51. Great article. It really gets me to think a lot about what I do.

  52. Will needs a Spark.

    Find it wherever you can and fan it until it becomes a flame.

    I try to remember that whenever I sing.


  53. Great article – I forwarded this to a non-comics-fan-friend and apparently he’s printed it off and copied it for several of his friends.  Can’t think of higher praise than that!