It snowed last night. That’s right. On October 28th. And I don’t live up north, either. I live in the Midwest, where this isn’t really supposed to happen before November. Granted it didn’t stick to the ground, it was still undeniably white and fluffy.
It’s supposed to snow on Halloween, too. Gah!
Speak of the devil, we’re two days away, and this is my last post of Spooktober (or Blogtober, as I should’ve called it, because that would’ve made more sense… but I digress). I’ve had a lot of spooky fun this season, though very little of it has involved leaving the house. Well, as the saying goes, “There’s no place like living room couch.”
Friday is the start of NaNoWriMo, and you best believe I’m participating this year. School had prevented me from really committing to it in the past, but now that I am free from those academic bonds, I plan to shackle myself to my computer instead! Mwahaha!
But more on that come Friday. Today, I’m wrapping up Spooktober with a list of my top 5 biggest writing fears… that I know I’m not alone in having. So I’ll be thinking about ways to conquer said fears, too. Let’s slay these monsters together!
5. what if i never get published?
Well, this is only natural for an aspiring author, don’t you think? It’s such a big dream, after all. Have you ever gone to the library or book store, looked around at everything, and thought, “There’s so many books out there. How can mine possibly stand out?” Then, you hear about the slush pile and the thousands upon thousands of people just like you, and it gets even more daunting. Well, that’s one way to look at it. Or you can take the glass-half-full approach. As my mom once told me, “Look at it this way: all these people were able to get published, and half of these aren’t even good. So why not you?”
Totally no mom bias there, right? She thinks my writing is awesome. But sometimes you need a little mom bias to encourage you. Or dad bias. Or best friend bias. Or cat bias.
Here’s the thing about publishing (especially traditional publishing): if you’re writing just to get published, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Of course you want your writing to get out there and for people to read it, but if that’s all you’re in it for, then just go self-publish. I’m serious. I have nothing against people who self-publish, but I know the temptation of doing it just to have a book in your hand. Published books go through an intense vetting process so that the final product is the best it can be. And yes, you can do this with self or indie publishing–and if you go that route, then you’d better. No matter what, though, the focus should always be on honing your craft and producing the best possible writing you can.
Once you’ve done that, and if you go traditional, then it’s all about being relentless and never giving up, no matter how many rejection letters you get. If you’re constantly thinking about how nebulous, overwhelming, and highly subjective the publishing process is, you’re never going to take the first step. Fear causes inaction. Believing is action. Writing who get published are writers who kept sending their work out there, over and over again. Yes, yes, there are a few fairytales mixed in, but I don’t think that’s the norm. Remember: J.K. Rowling got rejected from like a dozen publishing houses before Harry Potter got published. I bet they’re still kicking themselves today.
4. what if my characters aren’t realistic?
I worry about this one sometimes because think about it: you’re working with made-up people. I know we trick ourselves into thinking they’re autonomous so we can entertain the illusion of realism, but suffer me to lift the veil. Our precious OCs aren’t real, and we dictate every aspect of their personalities. Not even God Himself does that! Meaning, it’s hard. And synthetic. But also extremely fun and rewarding when your characters do start to take on a life of their own.
Again, this is mostly an illusion, but think about it: we’ve spent our whole lives observing and interacting with other people, real and fake. Your brain is wired to recognize human faces, after all. So when it comes to creating characters, when you rely on what you’ve observed, it’s really not that hard to come up with someone just realistic enough for the reader to believe. I think that more than anything, it’s a skill that has to be developed. I’m no actor, but sometimes I think that you have the think like one when you’re writing. You can’t think, “What do I want this character to do?” You have to think, “What would this character do?”
So are your characters realistic? Not 100%. They can never be fully realistic because they’re not real. But they can be very, very believable when you design them after real people and think of them in terms of how real people would think and behave. This is a tough one, guys, and I can’t say I’ve mastered it. But I’m just spitballing things I’ve learned. If you’ve got some good character-writing advice, I’d love to hear it!
3. what if people hate my book?
Tough shit. Ha, that’s another thing my mom would say. But seriously, this is a big one for me because I’ve always struggled with worrying about what people think of me. I still struggle with it, but I have at least gotten a little bit wiser. And thus I present the old adage, “If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one.”
We all have to face the facts: some people will hate your book. They’ll hate your writing. Actually, hate is a strong word. Very few will hate it, but there’s a good chance a solid percentage won’t love it. They’ll just think it’s okay. It was fine. It was a solid B-. It had some flaws. I didn’t like so-and-so’s personality. I was offended by such-and-such scene.
Not everyone is going to like your writing. Accept it. Learn from it. Take constructive criticism–but don’t let every critique get you down, especially the nit-picky stuff. Think about your favorite book. Surely, you could nit-pick something, right?
2. what if my book is full of cliches and tropes?
It probably is. Well, I mean, if it’s just one giant cliche, you may want to think about reworking it, but everything is going to refer back to something else. I really want to get all nerdy and theoretical with it and start quoting Derrida, but I’ll reel it in. Because honestly, it can all be summed up with this biblical quote from Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
There is nothing new under the sun.
Every piece of writing that is has been cobbled together from pieces of other things. Even Shakespeare, who everyone seems to think is the original source. Nope, I guarantee you, he “sampled” too. And at one point in time, the star-crossed lovers trope wasn’t a trope at all–it was an old story reworked into a new context. And once it was successful, people repeated it over and over again until it became worn out and overplayed. Thus, anytime we see star-crossed lovers, we think, “Oh, no, it’s just Romeo and Juliet all over again…”
The thing is, you can have a pair of star-crossed lovers in your story. The trick is to bring a new spin on it, to make it unique to you. West Side Story is a pretty good example, though it’s a pretty direct one. You see it a lot with fairytales, too. It’s fun to see authors put a new spin on an old classic. Ever read Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George? Aw man, it’s a gorgeous retelling of The 12 Dancing Princesses. There’s tons of good examples. Why don’t they feel worn out? Because they pay homage to the source material while bringing something new to the table.
1. what if i’m not as good a writer as i think i am?
Yep, this is definitely my #1 fear. And as I shared in my not-so-scary horror story, I’m as susceptible to donning those rose-colored glasses as any other writer. At the same time, we’re also our own worst critics. Every word we write has the potential to suck. Or maybe one day, you’re flying high, feeling like the next Mary Shelley… and then the next day, you reread it and feel like the next Michael Scott. (Not the best example, actually, because I think Threat Level Midnight might actually be a work of genius…)
So, I think this is a totally natural and normal fear. And I think that the #1 way to combat it is with feedback and constructive criticism. Writers tend to stay inside their own heads–we like it there, it’s comfortable. Even when our inner critics are at their most vocal, at least it’s low-stakes. But hand your writing over to someone else? There’s a vulnerability there. You can’t control what they think about it. And if they don’t like something, even if it lines up with your inner critic, well… now you’ve heard it from someone other than yourself. But it’s actually one of the best things you can do for your writing.
You’re not going to know if your writing’s good–not really–until you let someone else read it. And you’re not going to be able to improve unless you get outside your own head and give it to a new set of eyes. Of course, you don’t just give it to anyone. As I’ve learned, as lovely and flattering as it is to hear your mom or best friend praise your literary genius, you know in your heart that it’s just not true. You need some grit. You need to know where to improve. So, of course, you give it to fellow writers and readers you trust. People who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth, but who won’t tear you a new one. People who want you to improve as much as you do.
If you’re a great admirer of your own writing (I’ll admit it: I am), then this is ten times more helpful. You/I need to get honest with your/myself. You may think it’s great–and it may be–but you may be overlooking things because of bias. It’s really hard not to take things personally, but if you/I can master this skill, we’ve mastered the art of taking criticism, and by extension, rejection. Which is, really, one of the most essential skills a writer must learn.
What are your biggest writing fears? How do you combat them?