What would you do if you weren't afraid?

The other day I saw one of those inspirational quotes that often appear on sign boards outside shops. This one read:

Five frogs were sitting on a log.

Four decided to jump off.

How many frogs were left on the log?


That's the difference between deciding and acting.

That reminded me of how I decided to get into e-publishing and the inspirational quote that helped me act to do it.

I was reading One Red Paperclip by Kyle MacDonald, which is a fascinating account of how Kyle traded a paperclip for a fish pen, a fish pen for a doorknob and kept on trading up until he got a house!

Aside from being a cool story in itself, the book contained two expressions that caught my eye:

"funtential" - as in, a project that has potential and is also going to be fun; and

"what would you do if you weren't afraid?" - as a way of getting into what people really would like to do if they could choose anything.1

At that time, I'd been writing for a while and occasionally showed people my work, but never had the courage to attempt to get it published. Partly because of a fear that people would tell me my writing was bad, but also probably a little because of a fear of what would I do if they liked it?

What if someone published it? Then millions of people would be able to read it and say it's bad! Or say it's good and want more!2

After reading that quote, I started thinking about how serious I was about becoming an author and issued a unilateral declaration of "stuff it, I'm going to do it!".

Yes! I'd not only write something, I'd put it out there and see what others thought. Maybe they'd love it, maybe they'd hate it … but at least more than just me and some friends would have read it.

That insight led me to the original idea for Project-52 as a web serial, so I began planning and writing.

As I noted in What's Changed Since Dickens?, reading other writers' websites led me to a dialog by Barry Eisler and J.A. Konrath about e-publishing, which led me to shift the delivery mechanism into the e-book space, but the existence of Project-52 began with a single line in a book about a guy who leveraged a paperclip into a house.

Looking back later, I realize there I could have got the same idea by listening to Yoda: "Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try."

And Richard Branson: "Screw it, let's do it."

The entire Reese/Connor clan: "No fate but what we make."

And even Dr Frank N Furter expressed the same concept: "Don't dream it. Be it!"

So, in the spirit of paying it forward, how about you think about what would you do if you weren't afraid? Well, then just go out and do that!

  • 1. I thought this quote originated in the paperclip book, as something Kyle's father or grandfather used to ask him, but when writing this blog I discovered it's also linked to Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese? and Diane Conway's What Would You Do If You Had No Fear? and now even has its own website by some Facebook designers. I'm not sure who came up with the slogan originally, but I heard if from the paperclip guy first so I'll give him the credit for inspiring me.
  • 2. Yup, the mind of a writer is just a little stranger and more paranoid than everyone else's!