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Fight the fear

balanceMost writers I know live in a semi-permanent, somewhat schizophrenic state, swinging between confidence and terror. You have to have confidence to write, and especially to show that writing to the world. But on the other hand there is always that insidious thought eating away at you that what you have written is meaningless tosh at the best and total rubbish at the worst.

For some, probably many, the fear is almost completely debilitating, it is often the cause of writers’ block, and certainly it is responsible for numerous unfinished stories festering in bottom drawers or on (more likely nowadays) hard drives around the world. At its most severe it can lead to depression and worse.

The actual writing is bad enough, but once the piece is finished and the editing process begins there are even more agonising decisions to make. What should be left in, what should be cut out, is there too much dialogue, or too little description? Does the plot work, do the characters come alive? Or is it basically just boring?

All this is quite enough to keep even a self confident writer awake at night. But then the moment comes when someone else has to read it. And the moment they say they love it, you start doubting their expertise. Or, if they are some poor hapless family member, you immediately assume that they just being kind.

And when you are over that hurdle and the novel is in the hands of a professional reader, agent or publisher, you suddenly have to endure weeks of waiting. It’s only 200,000 words you say to yourself, it doesn’t take that long to read. It must be so crashingly dull they can’t even struggle to the end.

And then finally it’s published and it’s in the hands of real readers. And now, even though it has happily jumped through all the hoops, you are convinced it will inadvertently fall into the wrong hands – horrid, random readers who only really like sci-fi or horror, and who will therefore give your insightful, literary novel the big thumbs down in a scathing, but widely publicised, review.

And even when the fan mail and royalties start to pour in, you still wake up in the middle of the night wishing you had taken out the unfortunate reference to Adolf Hitler, or toned down (or up) the sex a little bit.

So what can writers do to help themselves? The only advice I can give is to work at the craft of writing as much as possible, read and notice what works. And then, if you can, take your time. Don’t rush the process. Getting a book out there should not be the aim. Getting a good book out there is the key.

Because, if you manage that, then you are a real writer, and on top of all the other anxieties will be that nagging thought that before long you have got to go through it all again!

Helen Carey’s new novel, London Calling, will be published in 2015 – catch up on her

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14 thoughts on “Fight the fear

  1. June R Mordey on said:

    I am very late responding to your latest blog Fight the fear.
    Your openness and honesty at showing the vunerability of being a writer I fell sure will be of use to many,strangely I see it as being more than just for writers,it gives anyone who reads it an insight to how we can all feel whatever our role in life.
    Thank you Helen.

  2. Thanks for another entertaining post, HB. Happy New Year!

  3. Cathie on said:

    Hi Helen, I love this post as it’s encouraged me to know that I’m not the only one who feels the fear!! Not because I write books or stories but because I go through the same ‘wobbles’ when I write independent reports; the worst bit is waiting for feedback after I have written a report. For anybody who writes for a living, I think having the fear is important because somehow it adds to our authenticity however, the balance has to be maintained between fear and confidence otherwise the fear can stifle our creativity. I am looking forward to reading your new book. Cathie

  4. yvonne carter on said:

    I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your articles on your post and archives. They are so informative and give much food for thought. I am not a writer(unless you count a thesis for college!) but I have loved the Lavender Road books and look forward to the next one in the series. Keep on with the ‘posts’ won’t you? Yvonne

    • Thank you so much! I am so glad you have enjoyed the Lavender Road books. Yes, I will continue with my intermittent posts – hopefully soon I will be able to announce a launch date for the next book too!

  5. I think it helps to realise that (apart from a few with rhino hides) virtually every writer feels like this. Here’s Charlie Brooker on the subject – ‘I’ve been writing for a living for around 15 years now and whatever method I practise remains a mystery. It’s random. Some days I’ll rapidly thump out an article in a steady daze, scarcely aware of my own breath. Other times it’s like slowly dragging individual letters of the alphabet from a mire of cold glue. The difference, I think, is the degree of self-awareness. When you’re consciously trying to write, the words just don’t come out. Every sentence is a creaking struggle, and staring out the window with a vague sense of desperation rapidly becomes a coping strategy. To function efficiently as a writer, 95% of your brain has to teleport off into nowhere, taking its neuroses with it, leaving the confident, playful 5% alone to operate the controls. To put it another way: words are like cockroaches; only once the lights are off do they feel free to scuttle around on the kitchen floor.’ Totally agree that patience is required.. ballet dancers practice for years before they regale us with their Gisele or whatever, but somehow people expect to be able to start writing and be brilliant (or at least, reasonably good) from the get-go. And I include myself in that… I was hankering after publication from the moment I decided, on impulse, that ‘I’d like to write a book’ – and although my early efforts had promise, it took ages to polish my style and learn more about the techniques of writing. It’s important to be prepared to serve an apprenticeship

  6. Hello Helen. I have not been writing or blogging much lately for numerous reasons, but trying to get going again. Found your post very cheering. Best wishes with your new book.

  7. I always love and identify with your insightful commentary Helen. Always a pleasure to read. I agree with you here about the see-saw of confidence and self doubt. wx

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