Let’s admit it: We’re all a little bit scared of the writing and publishing process. Especially if we’ve never done it before. We feel it as we stare at the blank page, or as we hit the send button on that first e-mail to an agent or publisher, or as we wait for the first review to pop up on Amazon.
It’s okay to admit that. Because we all feel it. And we’re not alone.
Two Kinds of Scared Writers
During my weekly writing group, I’ve been working on a screenplay that begins, oddly enough, with a weekly writing group. My main characters are a pair of best friends named Mindy and Lane, and what I’ve realized during the development of this story is that Mindy and Lane represent two particular kinds of scared writers. They’re the kinds we all see in our writing groups and workshops.
There’s a very good chance we’re one of them.
1) Mindy is the writer who doesn’t finish.
She has ideas, but she never really pursues them, because she sees every obstacle as a sign that she isn’t good enough. And if she did push on and did finish a draft of something, it would be bad, and then she’d know she could never be good enough. So she comes up with ideas, abandons them, and struggles with the next one.
2) Lane is the writer who doesn’t fight.
He has a finished manuscript, but he doesn’t want to do anything with it. It’s the creative accomplishment that matters. But really, he fears what comes next—agents and publishers and rejection. Or he fears the marketing battle any author, traditionally published or self-published, must face. Maybe, at heart, he too doesn’t think he’s good enough, so he hides behind the pretense of contentment and never works for his real dreams.
I was always a lot more Lane than Mindy. Even though I’d been a developmental editor at a publishing house for some years—in fact, in a lot of ways, because I’d been a developmental editor for years—I didn’t want to push ahead toward publication for my manuscript, The Listeners.
I didn’t want the marketing fight. I didn’t want the headache.
I’d written a book, and I liked it fine. That was enough, I insisted, and I put off publication for some time on that basis. I had novels to edit and screenplays and songs to write. I didn’t need The Listeners.
I called that rational, but…
There’s a difference between rational and rationalization.
The truth is that I was scared.
After so many years of working on behalf of the authors whose books I’d edited, fighting to get them the recognition they deserved, I was scared about working, and fighting, for myself. I knew that quality does not lead automatically to success. I knew there would be frustration ahead. And maybe a part of me wondered, too, if I really was good enough.
Either way, I balked.
In my screenplay, Lane is lucky, because he has a friend like Mindy to push him along. I was lucky too, because I had enough friends around to tell me I was being an idiot. I dove in, and The Listeners was published, and while no one would call it a raging commercial success, I am now an author without fear.
You know. Until the next one.
But the point is this:
Maybe you’re a Mindy, and maybe you’re a Lane. Maybe you’re a little of both. Either way, you can’t let fear of the next step define you. When you defy the fear, you end up with a published novel. When you give in, you end up only with regret.
So what do you do? You keep walking.
If your problem is that you never finish, then don’t stop working on that story. Carve out time every week, maybe even every day, and write it. Don’t pay attention to word count, and don’t count a day as a failure if you end up with no more writing than you had before—or even if you end up with less. Just work.
We all face the same obstacles, we are all in this together, and the only way forward, no matter how many new ideas seem attractive when the old ones become difficult, is to keep on walking.
If your problem is that you don’t fight, then trust the people around you—the friends who have been encouraging you the whole time.
No one starts a race with the intention of stopping halfway through. Fear will turn to disappointment if you let it, so you, too, need to keep on moving, whether it’s to an agent, a publisher, Amazon, or even (and ideally first) to an editor like me.
And here’s a secret:
Most of us who are actually in the industry have been where you are. We get it. It doesn’t mean you won’t face rejection from an agent or publisher, or extensive feedback from an editor, but we know where you’ve been, and we know what you’ve faced.
There’s no shame in fear or hesitation. The only cause for shame, in all of this, is if you let it stop you.
Which type of fear is trying to stop you?
Share your story with us in the comments.