Facing the Fear Monster in Our Writing Careers

Over the past few days, a feeling has been creeping into my life that I don’t much care for. It’s a feeling that any artist is familiar with: A sinking sensation in the pit of our stomachs, a feeling of panic that creeps through our entire bodies and pounds in our temples.

Mine started late last week. I’d just finished a writing session and was standing in my bedroom when, in a moment of dread, my inner voice woke up as if from a nightmare. “This book we’re working on,” it immediately said, “No one is going to publish it. I mean, it’s a romance and the main characters spend too much time apart.” With that all-too-familiar knot in my stomach, I plunged into a moment of panic. Would editors be dismissive? Would readers be disappointed?

Fortunately, this isn’t my first manuscript; and this wasn’t my first moment of sheer, overwhelming panic. This feeling of apprehension is a real part of the writer’s road. Maybe it’s even a healthy part, once we learn how to deal with it.

First, I had to realize why the Fear Monster had chosen this particular moment to rear its ugly head…

I’m nearly finished with a paranormal romance novella. It’s not my first project, but it is my first one as a full-time writer. Before, I had the constant pressure of writing articles for the magazine I worked at—but I also knew that once the article was finished and on the page I could move on. Somebody was paying me to write, and there was a kind of freedom in that–a built-in market, if you will, for my words.

Now, I’m on the open road all alone, and while it feels good to be cruising along and taking any side roads or shortcuts that catch my eye, there is a fear that comes with that freedom.

If I’ve learned one lesson so far, it’s this: That fear is both necessary and natural.

Fear can be a motivational tool to help us write the best books possible. If fear tells us our setting is lackluster, our dialogue is flat, or our characters aren’t motivated enough, we can use it to grow as writers. We can spice up our setting, learn to write snappier dialogue, or plunge deeper into character development.

My fear came from a real place; my plot breaks the mold in some ways. That doesn’t mean my manuscript is doomed. I’ve still got a three-act structure; I’m still armed with my trusty beat sheet. The story still meets the key reader expectations for its genre—it’s just that my characters are taking a rather unconventional path toward meeting those expectations.

So, my fear wasn’t unwarranted. And the fact that the Fear Monster reared its ugly head right as I was about to finish my first project as a full-timer was no coincidence. I’ve taken a road filled with uncertainty—a beautiful, exciting road, to be sure, but still an uncertain one.

Once we realize that fear is a natural part of the creative process, it’s easier to grapple with.

We can take a deep breath, acknowledge it, stare it down. We can even learn from it. We can use it as a tool to take our writing to the next level.

I’m writing this because I think that as writers we’re sometimes convinced that we shouldn’t be afraid, or that we should ignore our fears completely, or that we’ll one day outgrow them, the way we no longer believe the dust bunnies are really monsters under our beds or that the sound of branches scraping the window is really a werewolf pawing at the glass.

Truthfully, I don’t think we ever completely outgrow the Fear Monster. We just learn how to talk to it, how to tame it, how to harness its doubt-inducing presence and use it to our advantage. We can experience fear without being paralyzed by it. We can walk through the shadow of our fears instead of running away.

The moment we learn to do that is a huge moment of growth for us as artists. I’m still working on that novella, and when the time is right, I’ll seek input from my critique partners and beta readers about the plot and genre. I also realized that I’ve read a few romances that took a similar path and turned out to be wonderful reads. Knowledge is a great antidote for fear.

So is support. I voiced my concerns on Twitter, and a couple of fellow writers chimed in with words of wisdom and support. And I’m still working, so the Fear Monster didn’t stop me in my tracks the way it might’ve a couple years ago.

Midweek ROW80 check-in

1.) Wrote 1,670 words in my WIP, “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.”

2.) Reading to hone my craft: Making progress on this front, though I’m a little behind where I thought I would be this far into Round 1.

3.) Blog on Wednesdays and Sundays: On track to meet this goal this week.

4.) Checked in on Twitter every day this week. I haven’t checked in on WANA Tribe yet.

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday: On track so far.

6.) Super-secret project: I’ve come up with a few ideas for posts to write this week, but haven’t actually set pen to paper (or fingers to keys) yet. So, not much progress there.

What about you? Does the Fear Monster ever show up when you’re working? What does it say? How do you face it? How are your writing goals coming along this week?

A Round of Words in 80 Days, founded by Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. And, it’s a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland sprite. Debut release TANGLED ROOTS now available. Magic awaits at www.denisedyoungbooks.com.

12 thoughts on “Facing the Fear Monster in Our Writing Careers

  1. Congrats on the words and the progress on your other goals!

    I actually rarely experience fear regarding my writing. Frustration, hopelessness, resignation … yes. But maybe those are just different ways of expressing a similar reaction.

    1. Frustration is probably its own beast, but I would say hopelessness and resignation relate to fear on some level. I think many of these things–doubt, self-pity, anxiety about our work, etc.–can spring from fear.

      Have a great day, Ruth! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  2. I think you’re right–fear is necessary in writing, and once one learns how to cope with it, it’s helpful to the writing, too. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Tara. It’s taken me years to reach the point where I’m able to use my fear productively, but I’m glad I’ve finally reached this stage. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  3. Writing scares me more often than I admit publicly. Though, I’ve been managing it well so far this year. I have two approaches for dealing with it, in general. Sometimes, I set small, easily obtainable goals to help me feel accomplished. Other times, I step away and take time off. No matter what, I talk about it. I kind of rotate through my support system (husband and other writers). That way, no one hears me whine too much. 😉

    1. I do the same. I do better with it when I’m able to acknowledge that it’s part of the process and keep moving, but I have to admit that it does slow me down sometimes. I start questioning whether the scene I wrote yesterday was any good, and that can spiral. I’ve gotten a lot better about moving through fear instead of away from it. It’s so great to have that support system in place.

      Thanks for stopping by, Gloria!

    1. Exactly! When I first started writing, fear could stop me and completely freeze my creative process. Now that I’m learning to use it to propel me forward, it’s become a motivational force instead of a crippling one.

      Thanks, Patricia.

  4. Full-time writer . . . Congrats! All the best as you conquer those Fear Monsters – or win them over to your side. (I think my FM come in disguise too, Ruth. Hm, sounds like an interesting picture book idea: Fear Monsters in Disguise. Of course you’d both get a mention in the acknowledgments. :D)

  5. Denise,

    I’m just getting underway with my first real revision – in other words, I’ve made a plan and have a process to follow.

    But here’s the catch. The WIP I’m working on was written as an utterly unplanned NaNo project, and it’s a mess. That’s not fear; it’s truth.

    Somewhere in each scene, though, the fear monster (I refuse to give it capital letters!) rouses, and I feel like it’s all a hopeless tangle that will never amount to anything.

    It’s at that point that I walk away for a bit, and go on to something else. I like to play games with patterns, or hang with the kids, or do some hometending.

    When I come back, I usually can see what’s snarling things up. Like Steph, I work in small steps, so that there’s only so much I need to do each session. So I don’t have to unravel the whole knot all at once; I can loosen a little, then more, and more. I also like to work on several things at once, so that I’ve got something else to focus on; something that instills confidence.

    This is an important post. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’ve found that breaking a large project into small pieces makes it easier to tackle. I don’t have to write a whole manuscript, just one page, one scene, one chapter–even, on a rough day, just one sentence is a step in the right direction. And walking away can help. I’ve discovered some of the best solutions while doing the dishes or brushing my teeth!

      Thanks for your wonderful response, Shan Jeniah. Best of luck with your revisions.

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