Guest Post: Nicky Stephens – #10kWritathon and the IF Syndrome

#10kWritathon and the IF Syndrome: Nicky Stephens talks the power of positive reinforcement and what it can do for writers.When I was 13, I cut the long side off the lid of a cardboard box, put it over the keyboard and spent a month teaching myself to touch type.

At 27, I now average 52 words a minute with a 96% accuracy. I know. I was tested by the recruitment agents.

What does any of this have to do with the 10k Writathon? Absolutely nothing. Except, maybe it does.

I realised earlier this year, quite by chance, that in order for me to finish anything, especially anything writing-related, I needed praise and positive reinforcement. I don’t really function very well with the idea of being punished for not doing something. In fact, my stubborn streak kicks in, I dig in my heels and I refuse point blank to do it. Whether I wanted to in the first place or not.

Fourteen years ago, I was encouraged and praised by my mom for teaching myself how to touch type because I wanted to write my stories faster on the computer. When I struggled, she made me take a break to calm down, told me I would get the hang of it, and then sat me down and left me alone to get on with it. Every sentence I typed, painstakingly feeling out the keys, forcing myself not to peek, was met with vast amounts of praise and enthusiasm. My self-perceived failures were ignored as though they never happened.

I know you’re reading this and probably wondering what, if anything, it has to do with the 10k Writathon? Keep reading, I promise I’ll get to the point. Eventually.

Society as a whole, and individuals in general, have a tendency to believe that if someone fails, or isn’t perfect the first time, they’re not very good at whatever it is they’re attempting to do. Writers, in particular, suffer from what I like to call “IF Syndrome.” IF stands for I’m a Failure, and the syndrome affects 99 out of a 100 writers. Basic IF Syndrome looks something like this:

“I want to be a writer. But I suck at writing. I just can’t get the words to flow right, and it’s just not working.”

“I really want to write. But I never have any time. And it’s terrible anyway. No one is ever going to read it.”

“I’m going to spend the rest of my life being a failure because I want to write, but I don’t think I’m good enough, even though I really enjoy it.”


“I have an awesome idea for a story! I’m so excited!”

“Oh, but look, someone else has written something vaguely similar that also has werewolves in it and theirs is BETTER!”

“I can still write it. I’ll just add vampires, and some science-fictiony stuffs and then…”

“Oh. It’s already been done. I’m such a failure. I can’t even come up with a unique idea.”


“Oh my god. I can’t believe I wrote this! It totally rocks!”

“But my ONE friend out of TEN didn’t like it. She just thought it was okay.”

“Maybe if I change this part, and this, and that one…”

“It’s nothing like the original story anymore and she still doesn’t like it.”

“I’m such a failure. Why do I even bother?”

“I’m never going to write again!”

By this stage, IF Syndrome is so fully ingrained in your psyche, that you struggle to find anything positive to say about yourself or your writing, everyone’s words of praise seem to have a double meaning or a “but” at the end of them, and you’re shoulder deep in abject misery.

In comparing yourself to others, relying on the praise and recognition of people who have their own unique likes and dislikes, and setting yourself unreal expectations; you’ve classed yourself a failure.

There’s a famous quote (don’t ask me to remember who said it), that says that the only way you can fail is if you don’t try. Variations of this have been doing the rounds for years, and although everyone seems to resonate with them, no one ever actually does anything about it.

Why? Because failing is a comfort zone. If you’re a failure, you already know that no one, least of all yourself, can expect greatness from you or your writing. And if it’s not great, not perfect, you can always say you never expected it to be. If it turns out that it is great and you become a famous author whose books are published in fifty languages and hit the best-sellers list every time, you can smile humbly and say, “I never expected this.”

Which brings me full circle to needing praise and recognition in order to accomplish anything. We already punish ourselves enough. We’re constant failures in our own minds, where nothing we do is ever good enough, reinforced by the lack of adequate praise and recognition from others who are so busy beating themselves up about their own perceived failures, they can’t see that you need a pick-me-up.

Sure, you may keep trying, inspired by quotes and others who have done the same. And if you keep trying, you’re probably likely to succeed, because perseverance does pay off in the end.

The problem is, you’re not at the end yet. You’re barely past the beginning. If you’re relying on others to praise your efforts at the end, you’re not likely to get there.

That’s why I created the 10K Writathon. Because even though you’re aiming for a lofty 10,000 words in a day; you still have to get there one word at a time. The only way you’re going to do that is if you allow yourself to acknowledge that the 10,000 words isn’t the end goal. The end goal is to allow yourself to enjoy writing. It’s to allow yourself to play games and have fun, inspire and motivate yourself and others, and for just a day, forget about failing or succeeding.

Your end goal is to write, and if you make 10 words, or 100, or 10,000, isn’t important. It’s the spirit in which you wrote them that matters. If you write 100 words while laughing and encouraging others, being motivated by their own 100 words, then the 10K Writathon will have succeeded in its purpose.

14 years ago, my mother taught me that the failures don’t matter. They don’t stick around once you’ve achieved your goal. They only haunt you if you allow them to. So stop allowing them to hold you back. You are the greatest writer you choose to be, whether you publish or not, whether others enjoy your stories or not. At the end of the day, if you enjoy your writing and your stories, then you have succeeded in becoming your own best-selling author.

If others happen to enjoy your stories, then that’s just icing on the cake.


Nicky Stephens


Nicolette Stephens was born in South Africa where she still lives with her large collection of pets. She finds time to write in between studying for her BCompt in Management Accounting, working full time and chasing butterflies. She’s learning to focus on one dream at a time; which for now is finishing her YA Fantasy novel.

She can be found on Twitter @Rhapsody2312 or on her blog


5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Nicky Stephens – #10kWritathon and the IF Syndrome

  1. “At the end of the day, if you enjoy your writing and your stories, then you have succeeded in becoming your own best-selling author.”

    I love that line! So much value is placed on being published and having others rave about the story, and while I’d love for that to happen, it’s not my goal when writing. I write because I love to write, simple as that. If it turns out other people like my writing too, then, as you said, that’s the icing on the cake.

    Thanks so much for writing such an inspiring post, Nicky!

    • It was so much fun writing a post for the Sprint Shack! Thanks so much for allowing me the honour. I think in general people are too hard on themselves, especially when it comes to creating something that they hope to share with others. We’re our own worst critics, and by doing that, we lose touch of why we wanted to create something in the first place.

      We stop enjoying things we did purely for the fun of it. It’s important to remind ourselves of our real reasons for writing, which is generally just because we love to tell stories.

  2. Pingback: Can you use positive reinforcement on yourself? | Write on the World

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