• Joel Ryan

Dear Writer, It's Time To Get Off the Bench and Into the Game

I’ve always been a unique Californian in the sense that I grew up playing a traditionally non-Californian sport:


Almost as soon as I took my first steps, I was on the ice. And by the time I joined my first hockey team, the Lakewood Blackhawks (don’t worry. The Mighty Ducks came a few years later), I was already a solid skater. I had, however, a big problem.

I was terrified of actually playing hockey. There were a couple reasons of this:

  • I was afraid I might get hurt.

  • I was afraid I’d make a mistake and disappoint my coaches.

  • I was afraid I’d miss a big shot and disappoint my teammates.

  • I was afraid I’d embarrass myself in front of my parents and those watching in the stands.

Needless to say, I didn’t perform that well under pressure. In fact, I didn’t perform at all.

Even though I was one of the best skaters on the team, I begged my coach to keep me on the bench, where I got really good at watching, fully geared up, but never actually playing in the game. This went on for the first half of my first season.

Why do I bring this story up?

I share it because FEAR and DOUBT are two one of the most powerful obstacles we must learn to overcome in our goals, particularly for writers and creatives.

Fear can cripple or paralyze promising writers, preventing them from ever truly getting in the game or realizing their full potential. It's tragic and happens to a lot of people in many areas of life.

But while fear and doubt can wear many faces; the root causes are often the same.

We don’t believe in ourselves, we don’t believe in our writing, or we don’t believe that we are actually called to write.

We may fear rejection, so we don’t promote our work, enter writing contests, or query agents when we know we should.

We may fear writing or saying something unpopular, not being taken seriously, or getting made fun of, so we censor ourselves, hold back, and don’t write what we care about or share what we truly believe in.

Maybe we’ve been working on the same novel or screenplay for years and fear we’ll never finish, so we keep putting it off.

We fear that our work isn’t good enough, so much so that we rewrite the same five pages.

We fear that we’ll spend months or years writing something that will never sell; and start to think we’re wasting our time. Maybe this “hobby” is just a delusion that will ultimately hurt us and those closest to us.

I will confess that I’ve had to battle every one of these fears at some point in my life.

No writer, no matter how successful they are, is immune from fear and self-doubt. And as much as we try and rationalize and categorize fear, even an irrational fear can be very real and very powerful to the one who holds it.

A lot of fears when it comes to writing, however, can and should be dispelled.

I was afraid of getting hurt playing hockey. But how much risk was I really in with pads covering every inch of my body? And how hard can a four-year-old really shoot a rubber ball anyway?

I was afraid of disappointing my coach. But who put that pressure on me? I'll give you a hint. It wasn't my coach, who had nothing but patience and encouragement for a timid benchwarmer.

I was afraid of disappointing my teammates. But I’m pretty sure all they were thinking about was the nachos and Kool Aid after the game.

And as for embarrassing myself. I doubt most people in the stands were actually watching. Even if they did, who goes to a kids’ hockey game to scrutinize or root against the kids on the ice? I had a lot more fans and supporters than I realized, and that wasn't going to change just because I had a bad game.

So in the end, most of the fears that kept me on the bench were of my own making. I was a victim of my own perceptions, not the monsters on the other team.

In the end, sitting on the bench to study the game may you a better student of the game; but the only way to actually become a better player is to get off the bench and start playing.

Being a student of the game is fine. I have an entire blog devoted to studying the work of those I admire. I am also a man of faith, which means I spend good amounts of time reading the Word of God. However, the apostle James had something to say about being more than just a “hearer” of the Word. We must also become “doers”, putting into practice what we’ve read and heard.

The purpose of study, analysis, and critique is to develop the tools and skills to be able to do it for ourselves.

However, there’s no substitute for game time and experience. A hockey player who doesn’t want to play because he or she is afraid of getting hit (or losing an occasional tooth), probably needs to wear thicker pads or find a different sport. The same goes for all of us in whatever area of life we are in.

I wasn’t a hockey player by sitting on the bench. I was a fan. There’s a place for these people in the world, but when it comes to your craft and calling, which one do you really want to be?

Be a fan, but you can't call yourself a writer for the things you hope to write or the books you like to read.

As the saying goes, “you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky.

And If I’ve learned anything from both writing and my early days in hockey, it’s that

regret is much harder to overcome than fear.

You may be afraid of rejection or failure, but don’t let that fear prevent you from trying and even succeeding.

Goals aren’t scored from the bench!

So whatever it is in life you are called to do, strap on your pads, get in the game, and take your shots, because guess what: this game does have a time clock and it’s ticking for you.


Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read this post. As always, if you enjoyed or were motivated by these words, hit the heart icon below, leave a comment below, share this post with someone you know c, or subscribe for news, updates, and more.

Thanks again. I’ll see you on the ice!