Monday, April 6, 2009

Common Fears of Beginning Writers

Maybe Monday isn't the best day to discuss fears, but I'm going to shrug it off and do it anyway. One reality of life is that when people have to deal with a difficult situation, they often feel as if no one on the planet has ever dealt with that situation before. The pain can feel isolating, and the correct course of action seems hazy because, of course, it's the first time EVER in the universe that particular problem has occurred.


I'm sure your snickering a little. Me too. We can be self-delusional at times, and it can be painful to realize other people have indeed been through what we're going through. You mean I'm not the first person on earth to ruin a friendship, get a divorce, forget a major appointment-- you fill in the blank. When we realize that we have plenty of company in our particular failure, there may be, for a brief moment, a sensation of let-down. After all, it can be a teeny bit romantic being such a spectacular failure--and the first one at that!

Later, though, comes an inevitable feeling of relief. If someone else has been in the same situation and lived to tell about it, well there really is hope. And that feels good!

With that in mind, I'm sharing with you a few common fears of beginning writers. Maybe you've been through these already, or maybe you've been spared these feelings? I know I've felt them at one time or another, and I still wrestle them down on occasion.

Inflated Belief #1: My writing is awesome! So clever, so original--it's going to knock the world's socks off!

Corresponding Fear #1: No one has actually read my work or commented on it. What if it not only doesn't knock the world's socks off, but it becomes a dart board of laughter at some editor's desk?

Hey, some writers do impress editors with their debut (and never-been-seen-by-anyone-other-than-dear-old-Aunt Betty) manuscripts. The majority, however, do not impress on the first go round. Guess what? That's okay. If you're reading this and haven't submitted a manuscript to an editor yet, I'm going to give you a great piece of advice that's been given to many, many writers. Have another writer critique it.
Find someone you trust, who you know will give you an honest, but kind, evaluation, or do the exact opposite and give it to a complete stranger. Whatever works for you. ACFW and RWA both have writing chapters where you can meet other writers or find an online critique group.

Another great option? Enter your manuscript in a few contests that offer feedback. It's not easy hearing our work isn't perfect, but it helps us grow as writers. And, hey, maybe you'll get lucky and it really is the greatest book by a debut author! You'll feel even more confident sending it to an editor.

Feedback will help you find a middle ground in your confidence level. You won't feel like a hopeless shmuck, nor will you have unfounded delusions of grandeur. You'll simply see areas where you can improve, and you'll see areas that you truly excel at. Then you can think how awesome you are--and mean it!

Inflated belief #2: A few people read my book and told me they loved it. It must be good.

Corresponding fear #2: They're just being nice. They hate it and are laughing behind my back at my ridiculous attempts to write a book. Why don't I just join the Witness Relocation Program and disappear?

The flip side of over-confidence in your writing is under-confidence. And yes, the two do appear simultaneously on occasion. Here's the reality of writing. Some people will read your work and they won't like it, but they'll do anything to avoid hurting your feelings. Other people, especially other writers who genuinely want to help you, will give you spot-on feedback. You have to honestly ask yourself which category the reader falls into. If you still lack confidence in your book, get a few more opinions. And always, always, trust your instincts. Don't take advice you don't agree with.

These are just a few of the big fears many writers who are preparing to submit to editors face. My hope is that all writers understand they aren't alone in their fears, their hopes, their confidence or lack of. The more writers I talk to, the more I hear, "been there, done that."

Doesn't that make you feel good?

Join me on Wednesday when we'll look at other fears writers face.


Get Motivated! It's Monday!


  1. Great stuff here, Jill. I remember feeling those thoughts when I was just beginning. And sometimes, I still feel them. :-)

  2. Ahem. It should have been "thinking those thoughts" not "feeling" them. Ha!

  3. Melissa,

    I "feel" those thoughts too! Ha! Ha! Thank you for sharing with us and for stopping by.

  4. Hi Jill,
    I think I waver between both of those fears. Sometimes I wonder if judges, agents, etc. will read my writing and pat me on the back! And other times I just know they'll find everything wrong!

    I think I'm at that point where I'm waiting to hear back from everyone: contests and agents and critique service and critique partner. What will they all say?

    I keep thinking of your experience from last spring/summer when you heard back from everyone all at once (or nearly so). If that happens to me, I'll be jumping over here and crying on your virtual shoulder! :)

  5. Jody, I'll have a virtual shoulder, a virtual pitcher of iced tea, and an entire virtual buffet of desserts!

    I don't think you have to worry about it though. You're at a point where the confidence you feel in your writing is real. And I know your feedback will be, "can I read more?" from all sources!

    It was difficult for me last year because we'd moved cross country only a few months previous, and I had never shown my novels to anyone before. Thank goodness I heard a lot of nice things with the cringe-worthy stuff.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Thanks Jill! You're so encouraging! I appreciate it!

  7. Oooo...definitely number 2 for me. People say they like what they read, but I don't believe them! I am too new to be any good. I think I have a good story, but just can't quite get it down on paper well. Newbies shouldn't be able to be good from the very beginning, right? Gotta pay your dues. Anyway...

    Nice post, I will be looking forward to Wednesday.

  8. hi...just wandered over into your blog from another...we have a few mutual blogger friends! nice post...i liked the last one, too...about inflicting pain on your characters. that's where therapy comes in for my heroine! :) anyway...look forward to reading more.

  9. Sherrinda,

    That's silly that newbies can't be any good! Who says?

    Now, I can honestly say that my first few books--okay, four books--had many, many errors typical for beginners.

    Humbling? Yes. But necessary. When my errors were pointed out to me, I wanted, needed, HAD TO write better! And I'm constantly striving.

    But I would not say that for everyone. I've read pieces by never-been-published authors that have blown me away.

    Just goes to show: Some people are born with it--the rest of us learn it. Either way, we're all writers.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Hi Jeannie,

    Therapy for characters? I like it! Let's make it chocolate therapy and I'll LOVE it!

    Thanks for checking out my blog!


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