Maybe I'm a little neurotic, but I find myself asking that question a lot. It's kind of my personal litmus test for the world: think about the most horrible, crazy, or frightening potential outcome of an action and (after determining it won't a) end with me going to jail, b) end with my home being devoured by flame, or c) drive me into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights to reconcile with what I've become) jump right in.
In reality it's just my excuse to attempt things that I probably have no business attempting. Personally that list would include plumbing, electrical work of any kind, animal husbandry, theological discussion, perfecting the running of a nation, perfecting the running of my own home, street dancing, dance fighting, being the next American Idol, AND writing creatively.
Now with most things, I'm able to quickly put the consequences of my actions into perspective. If there's a leak in the toilet I've tried to fix I'll just have to kill the water, clean up the mess, and try again. Worst case, I might have to call a plumber. If I set out to train to run a marathon and after weeks of trying find my knees really only like to run 3 miles, I'll recognize that I'm healthier for my efforts and that no one has died from my failure. Worst case, I'm forced to acknowledge my physical limitations and need surgery to fix the knee I've just finished off (hey, I didn't say it had to be pleasant!). In the end, I believe that we can set out to do almost anything and live with the outcome IF we enter into it with the correct frame of mind.
So why do I have such a hard time doing that with my writing?
My wife has observed that I seem to operate with total confidence in everything except my writing. She's wrong, but I'm not going to turn away flattery when it comes a ‘knocking. Confidence is when you think you'll be successful at what you do; I most certainly do not think I'll succeed in everything I do on a daily basis, at least not in the sense that others would recognize it as success. I've just usually thought about the consequences and have decided to endure the results of my words or actions long before they are said and/or done.
Writing is different. It's an expression of my soul, my thoughts--and now--my career ambitions. Over the last few years my hobby has turned into my most desired career goal: to be a published author. It has become a thing of life devotion, and it's scary as hell to even think about turning it loose for others to judge. Furthermore, I'm all too aware of the subjectivity monster that resides in all of us (you show me someone who's taken a breath, and I'll show you someone who's judged or made some kind of critical determination about that breath). What happens when my work finally gets a shot in front of the Idol judges and some smarmy British guy says, "Just not good enough"? No matter how much I may hate him, I'll recognize/respect that Smarmy Brit is a pro, and that his words carry a dream-crushing weight with them...
I write fiction mostly full-time (I tutor at a local middle school a few days a week), and have done so for a couple of years. I have no publication credits outside of academic and business settings (I've worked as a grant writer over the years), so declaring me a 'writer' seems to smack of hyperbole. Yet wear the badge of writer I do, no matter how timid or awkward a may be in wearing it. I've finished drafting a full-length middle grade fiction manuscript (editing=crazy pills), and am currently working on a second unrelated YA story that I hope to finish in the next couple of months. The plan: enter the summer conference season with some polished/finished work and spam every agent/editor I can find until one of them says yes or maybe (all you need is one--WARNING: if you say that to the tune of 'All You Need is Love' by the Beatles it'll be stuck in your head for days). What’s the worst that can happen? No one likes my stories and I keep writing, which doesn't seem that bad.