Last Saturday I led my first ever workshop on self-publishing, at the Borderlines book festival in Carlisle. Considering I’ve been running workshops for twenty five years, and had been thinking about this one for weeks – I blogged about it at the end of July – I was surprisingly nervous. Could I cover in three hours the range of wants and needs that my participants might bring with them? Did I have enough experience? Would they want the technical guidance that is only really possible if you have a laptop and internet access available for each person, and did I have the skills for that anyway?

As I anticipated, each person in the group came with a unique set of prior experience, interests and questions, as was obvious as soon as they introduced themselves and began to talk about what they’d done so far. Predictably, one or two really needed the technical guidance through the maze of WordPress or Createspace or Lulu that we weren’t really geared up for, although there was another workshop the following day with that focus. Others came with a notion of how they wanted to proceed if they couldn’t find a ‘proper’ publisher. Some were optimistic about their chances of success, others less so, and each defined success differently, all as I anticipated. Some were quite reticent: why I wondered.

What was very striking was the number of people, and not the oldest, who were still coming to terms with the digital and online world. A few appeared to be very uncertain about how to use the internet as a resource to learn from, and were reliant on external guidance – from me in this case – about matters that they could have discovered for themselves with just a few clicks and a short tutorial on Youtube. Others had heard of Twitter or WordPress but the idea of an ‘author platform’ was new and nerve-wracking. I know it’s a truism that the under 30s are naturally more internet savvy than us oldies, but some of the over-30s seem to have forced themselves to catch up while others are still fearful, or dismissive, or both.

I’ve been wondering since then how I managed to learn some of this stuff myself over the past few years, despite my relatively extreme old age. I suppose it needs some spare cash to invest in ‘courses’ of various kinds, but it also needs a belief in eventual success, and a willingness to overcome the fear of failure. Faltering first steps don’t always feel good, but they are a pre-requisite if you want to learn anything.

Many years ago I was visiting a small primary school in Northland, New Zealand and noticed a poster on the staff room door, the inside of the door to be read by the staff not the outside to be read by the children. It said:

We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure.

It is a powerful obstacle to growth.

It assures the progressive narrowing of the

personality and prevents exploration and experimentation.

There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling.

If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on

risking failure – all your life.

It’s as simple as that.

I kept a copy and brought it home, and still have it twenty years later. Much of what we discussed and shared last weekend involved exactly this type of learning – full of ‘difficulty and fumbling’. Once that expectation was established, people were able to ask the ‘simple’ questions that had been confusing them and getting in the way. Different people had learned different things and were able to share them. No one had a monopoly of expertise, and three hours passed very quickly. Before we left I asked everyone to think about their next steps, write them down and then share them with one other person. I learned a long time ago that I feel more committed if I’ve spoken it, not just thought about or written it, so that’s what we did. The feedback was positive, but the real feedback if I could get it would be what each person managed to do later, on their own, with some of the difficulties eased a little as a result of our time together. ‘Fear of failure’ is a habit of mind that needs continual practice to be overcome. Practice may not make perfect, but It’s pretty important in self-publishing. The 4th self-publishing project I’m on now feels a lot less scary than the first one. Maybe it’s time to find the next challenge.