Do you feel insecure, anxious and doubtful about your writing?
If you’re not careful, these emotions can take over your life.
Many writers spend too much time fretting over unanswerable questions:
- “Is this story brilliant or terrible?”
- “Is this novel going to get published?”
- “Will I ever be successful?”
- “Am I just fooling myself?”
Worry and doubt are not only painful, they are deadly to a writing career. As author Gary Korisko points out, doubt can keep you from new projects, force you to abandon good work, and prevent you from sending your work out.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Much of our worry comes from misconceptions about what it means to build a writing career.
We all have ideas about book marketing, the publishing industry, and what makes a writer successful, but where do these ideas come from? They’re often based on hearsay, or things we’ve simply imagined, with little basis in the real world.
Becoming aware of a few basic realities can eliminate a lot of pointless worry about your writing.
Here are four facts that can help you stop worrying, and renew your confidence so you can enjoy your writing life.
#1. Failure doesn’t mean anything.
Yes, rejections and disappointing sales hurt.
When they start building up, they can feel downright devastating — but only if we think they actually mean something. But do they?
Here are some of the things we tell ourselves about failure. None of them hold water.
- Failure means you have no talent. We should ask Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Margaret Atwood, and John le Carre about that. They all experienced repeated failures in their careers — and they are all now recognized as among the greatest writers of their generation.
- Failure means this specific work isn’t good enough. Even if you’re fairly confident of your writing skill, you may question the value of a particular story, poem, or novel when it starts racking up rejections. That would mean that Stephen King’s Carrie, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm weren’t any good, either — they were all rejected dozens of times. So we can chuck this idea, too.
- Failure means we’ll never make it. It can feel like this sometimes. But again, all it takes to dispel this idea is a quick look at some authors who failed again and again before they became successful.
So what does failure mean? Nothing.
Failure might sting—but it tells you absolutely nothing about your talent or your future.
#2. Everyone else is confused, too — at least some of the time.
“Every writer – every person who shares their art — doubts the value of their work at some point in their career,” writes Claire DeBoer. You might be surprised if you knew how many successful writers have felt the same way.
After his first highly successful book of short stories, Junot Diaz went into what he called a “no-writing twilight zone,” when he seemed to be stumbling in the dark. “I wrote and I wrote and I wrote,” he said in an article in O Magazine. “But nothing I produced was worth a damn.”
It took Diaz years to come out of this difficult spell, but when he did, he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Sue Grafton, the author of the bestselling Kinsey Millhone series of detective novels, has a similar experience every time she writes. In an interview she said, “When I start a new book and I’m dismayed and distressed and can’t find the story line, I’m always thinking, ‘Uh-oh—maybe the juice is gone, and that’s why this is so hard.’ ” And yet, her bestsellers keep coming.
Almost every successful author has had spells of feeling ‘lost.’ So when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, don’t despair. Remember that it’s just part of the writing life.
It will pass.
#3. Publishers and agents don’t have a secret key to success.
Writers often think that publishing professionals know a bestseller when they see one, and could — if they chose to — list the qualities that will lead to success in the marketplace.
If this were true, every agent would only represent bestselling authors, and every book published would soar to the top of the charts.
Instead, the history of publishing is littered with rejected manuscripts that later became bestsellers, and giant advances on books that never sold.
I’m not saying publishing professionals don’t know what they’re doing; just that the market is unpredictable, readers are fickle, and the qualities that go into creating The Da Vinci Code or The Hunger Games are simply not that clear.
In short, you can stop wishing you knew the magic formula. There isn’t one.
#4. You can choose to “have what it takes.”
Many writers worry about whether they have the right stuff for success.
They ask themselves:
“Do I have enough talent?”
“Have I had the right training? Am I interesting enough? Smart enough? Educated enough? Lucky enough?”
But anyone who has been in the publishing game for awhile knows that natural talent, luck, and education are not the essential ingredients for a successful career.
The main thing you need to succeed is something you can choose to have: perseverance.
“Writing is a life-long journey,” writes Mary Jaksch. “To keep going, we need to overcome obstacles, fight the dragons of doubt and fear, find nourishment along the way, and taste the joy of being creative.”
As Jaksch makes clear, there is nothing mysterious about this. All you need is the will to work hard, develop your skill, and keep submitting your work, even when the going is tough.
Do that, and you already have what it takes. The decision is yours.
Worry plays no useful role in a writer’s life.
It doesn’t help us write better, nor does it increase our chances of success. In fact, it can get in the way of success by stifling our creativity and diverting our attention away from our work.
The next time you feel yourself sinking into worry mode, remember these four basic facts about the writing life.
- Failure is meaningless.
- Confusion is normal.
- There’s no secret formula.
- The most important quality is perseverance.
Post these facts where you can see them. Imprint them on your brain. Live with them so you can stop worrying and start writing with joy.
How do you nix worry and get on with the business of writing? Share in the comments!