Writing a novel is one of the scariest things I’ve ever attempted.
And I’ve done some scary things in my life:
- I’ve moved to two different provinces on my own, both times having no prior friends or family present when I arrived.
- I’ve come face-to-face with a bull moose during rutting season.
- I’ve spend 24 straight hours in the woods on a fasting solo sit. (The fear in this isn’t possible animal encounters at night, but rather the act of sitting silently for hours with nothing to distract you but your own thoughts.)
- I’ve risked – and received – rejection asking guys way out of my league out on dates.
Just to name a few. As my father is fond of paraphrasing from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The brave will only die once.”
There’s nothing inherently frightening about writing a novel. Lots of people have done it. Many of you reading this post right now have done it.
And yet, novel writing ranks way up there on my scary sh*t list. For with the above-mentioned challenges I’ve conquered, they all either ended quickly or grew easier to withstand as time progressed.
But with writing a novel, every step along the way has given me something new to be afraid of that I’ve had to overcome:
In the beginning
Fear: I lacked the skill to do justice to the idea I’d come up with for my novel
- Solution: According to Canadian short story writer Nancy Lee, “You can’t conceive of an idea you’re unable to execute. It was your idea!” Eventually, I realized this isn’t to say said execution will be easy. Rather, that the same imagination and insight from past experiences you drew upon to dream up the idea will further serve you in turning that idea into a fully-realized story. For the story already exists inside of you.
Fear: I’d forget any or all of the endless scenes, images, and dialogue of the story unfolding in my head before I got to them in my unfolding manuscript.
- Solution: I created an outline. Or perhaps better termed a brain-dump: an 82,000-word mess of half-page length bullets points punctuated with commas, semicolons, dashes. The only way I’m forgetting this story now is if I get amnesia and no longer remember how to interpret my notes (which, actually, I’m also kinda scared of).
The fearful middle
Fear: In order to make time to write, I’d have to give up other things that are important to me.
- Solution: Recognizing that this phenomenon isn’t unique to creative people (although it can be particularly hard on them). All adults eventually come to the conclusion that, according to creativity and business advisor, Charlie Gilkey, “Everything we do comes at the cost of something else we could have done”, and that it’s okay to feel sad about that and mourn what had to be put aside.
Fear: Trying to explain to people what my novel is about.
- Solution: I’m still working on this one. For though I’ve written the one-sentence summary of my novel, this sentence is far too long and affected to say out loud. I need to create a more conversational version of this, and practice until I can recite it in my sleep.
Fear: I’d lose my work in a technological malfunction.
- Solution: I have more USBs secreted around my house and workplace than a squirrel’s cache of nuts in the forest. And I never leave the house without one on my person.
Fear: Deviating from my outline would lead me to write myself into a corner.
- Solution: I did deviate, and it was surprisingly exciting! It gave me the opportunity to experience my own work the way my readers will someday: as a blank slate, and in real time.
To the bitter end
Fear: I was writing too slowly and taking too long to finish.
Solution: Acknowledging that my daily writing time is limited and my “engagement threshold” for writing is particularly high. This has helped me accept my writing speed for what it currently is, and instead focus on achieving consistent output through good writing discipline.
Fear: As I approached my novel’s end, I’d discover it’s an unsalvageable mess and quit.
This is what happened with my very first novel: I was one page and one chapter from the end and I shelved the whole thing.
For as long as I’ve been writing seriously (nine years now), I’ve never actually finished anything serious – a fact that weighs heavily on me.
But my day of redemption is coming. Soon. I recently reached the milestone of page 350, which means I don’t have much more than 50 pages remaining. It’ll be a tough 50 pages, for I’ve a lot of big ideas to summarize and not much to work from in my outline.
But I’m older, wiser, a better writer, and not so easily dissuaded this time around. I will finish, despite the fear. I will finish because of the fear – because the only way to overcome something is to push through it; to, indeed, climb right over top of it and down the other side.
Right into the fears of revision, publication, promotion, and the start of the whole frightening cycle all over again.
Now it’s your turn: What’s scares you about writing? Or are you cool as a cucumber every step of the way? Let me know in the comments.