May 23, 2012

5 Things Writers Live in Fear of...

... but don't have to.

In spite of the fact that we spend our days battling fire-breathing dragons, fending off hordes of evil vermin, rooting out spies and traitors, and embarking on impossible quests doomed to almost certain failure, all without a moment's hesitation, we writers do have our own set of fears to face - fears so deep and dark and ominous that at times they can leave us almost paralyzed.
Some of these fears are well-founded. Others, not so much. But we still live and suffer with them. So my goal for this post is to talk about some of the things that make us otherwise stalwart writers turn pale and trembly and, hopefully, put a few of those unfounded fears to rest. Here goes. (The list is arranged in no particular order, by the way.)

Fear #1. Rejection Letters  This is probably the single biggest fear of new writers (and possibly some not-so-new-ones as well). Waiting for the first one is the worst. Many writers (myself among them) have the idea that that first rejection letter will somehow crush all their hopes and dreams, brand them as a failure, humiliate them beyond recovery, and possibly even send them into deep mourning.
The Truth:  Writers, sometimes we write things that simply aren't up to par. It happens, and there's no shame in that. Listen to the radio or watch the news regularly, and it won't be long before you hear about some product being recalled because of factory defects - from companies with entire teams of designers, engineers, supervisors, and product testers who are supposed to prevent things like that happening! You're doing this on your own. It happens.
Sometimes the publisher simply doesn't need what you've written right now. Say you submit a fantasy short story to a magazine; you have no way of knowing that the editor just received 50 fantasy short story submissions last week and has already got plenty to keep him well-stocked for the rest of the year. Your story might be great... he just doesn't need it right now.
You're not branded. A little embarrassed, maybe. Branded as a failure, no. About a year after receiving my first rejection letter from an online magazine, I went on to receive my first acceptance letter - from the very same magazine. Just because an editor rejects a piece of your work doesn't mean he or she is rejecting you as a writer.

Fear #2. A Stolen Manuscript  Many writers are absolutely terrified by the thought of doing all the hard work and pouring their soul into a manuscript, only to have it stolen and published by someone else. Some writers are afraid that another writer will steal their work; others are afraid of submitting their work to a publishing house, worried that the publisher will steal their work.
The Truth: Ask yourself what another writer would stand to gain by stealing your novel and submitting it to a publisher under their own name. Unless your name is Ted Dekker or Beverly Lewis, there's no guarantee the novel will be accepted. Even if your name is Ted Dekker or Beverly Lewis, your name is your strongest selling tool. Someone submitting Ted Dekker's newest manuscript under the name Francis Anderson still isn't guaranteed the attention the same manuscript would get if it had Ted Dekker's name attached. If someone wants to make a dishonest fortune off of you, they can make way more money by spending 20 minutes online and stealing your identity than they could trying to publish your manuscript.
A publisher has way too much at stake to steal your manuscript. Even if they think it's fabulous, destined to become a hot best seller, it's in their best interest to deal honestly with you, the writer. Publishers are in business to make money. Stealing a manuscript isn't going to get them far in that department. No writer is going to sit quietly by and let their book be stolen and sold out from under them. It won't be long before the internet is abuzz with the news; the authorities and lawyers will be brought in; no writer will ever entrust that publishing house with their work again. By the time the dust settles, that publisher has lost way more money than they ever could have gained with a pilfered novel.

Fear #3. A Stolen Idea  What if someone hears your story idea, steals it, uses it to write a novel, and sends it to the publisher before you do?
The Truth: The human imagination is an amazing thing, in that multiple people can be prescribed identical story guidelines, and the resulting stories will be nothing alike. My friend LoriAnn once held a writing contest on her blog to demonstrate that very principle. She gave the readers the first line of a story, the last line of a story, and a set of elements and phrases the story had to contain. It was remarkable to see the variety in the submissions.
So even if someone does hear your story idea and use it for themselves, it isn't going to end up the same - unless of course you gave them a detailed, point-by-point outline of the entire thing. Which, of course, is entirely preventable. Just keep your detailed plot outlines to yourself! Save it for when the book is published and let your audience read it for themselves.

Fear #4. Losing Years of Work  If your computer crashes, or gets fried in a lightning storm, or your house burns down, what will become of your writing?
The Truth:  Be afraid. Be very afraid. ; ) Just kidding. While this fear is actually very legitimate (I have lost work to both a computer crash and a lightning storm on separate occasions) this situation is entirely preventable, and there are a host of safeguards you can set in place to indulge your paranoia to your heart's content. In this case, paranoia is a good thing because it leads to preparedness.
My personal strategy consists of backing my laptop up onto two separate 2GB flash drives. One of the flash drives stays at the house, the other comes with me everywhere I go. That way, if the house burns down while I'm gone, one flash drive is still safe with me. Conversely, if I fall in the river and destroy one, the other is still safe at home. Occasionally I'll email a piece of my work to a friend or to my parents' computer for additional security, and there are tons of online backup services available for very little cost. Having a hard copy printed out is never a bad idea either. That way if the electricity goes out or the internet crashes, you still haven't lost everything. In my opinion, you can't be too careful when it comes to protecting your work. On one occasion my friend Heather even ran back into a building with a tornado bearing down on her to rescue the disc she had stored her writing on. There should be some kind of writer's medal or award for dedication like that. : )

Fear #5. Running out of Ideas  As a writer, your ideas are the life of your calling. What happens if you run out?
The Truth: If from this moment forward I never had another story idea, I would still have enough to keep me busy well into my sixties, possibly longer. That's not an exaggeration. I've already resigned myself to the fact that I will be leaving many unwritten story ideas behind me when I die.
Now, I'm sure not everyone is the same way. Still, let me ask you this: Did you become a writer because you just thought it sounded like something fun to do, so you sat and waited for an idea to come? Or, did you become a writer because you had something inside you that just had to be written and wouldn't let you have any peace until you wrote it? I'm guessing it was the latter. You write because it's just in you to write. Your brain is designed to concoct these things. It's just the way you're wired. You can't help it.
Yes, even the most highly creative person goes through dry spells, when the creative juices just won't flow. I've had plenty of those spells, and to this day they still scare me a little bit. But they don't last forever. Sooner or later something will spark a story idea or inspire a perfect line of poetry, and you'll be off again.

In Conclusion: You may not struggle with all (or any) of these fears, and that's awesome. But I know I did for a long time, and having someone lay them out in the open for me would have been a relief and a blessing. I hope this post can be that blessing for someone else.

What do you fear as a writer? Is there something you used to fear that you've since gotten over?


  1. I used to worry about running out of ideas. Now I worry about running out of time to write all my ideas (and they keep coming). It's very easy to spot an amateur when they won't tell you about a work or let anyone other than family and friends read it because they're afraid someone will steal it. What worries me is submitting a story and not hearing back from the editor because it was lost during transmission. I very much appreciate acknowledgement notices from publishers letting you know they received it.

    1. Electronic manuscript submission is one of very few ways in which I actually prefer modern technology over the old-fashioned way. I don't have to worry about an email languishing under the seat of some postman's car. But I agree with you - acknowledgment of receipt from the publisher is always nice.

  2. The only one I'm afraid of is losing my work. I've found, however, that uploading everything to Google Docs is a lifesaver. Then I don't have to worry about flash drives or power outages or anything, because it will always be there on my Google account :D

  3. It saves stuff online and syncs it to multiple devices...which is nice when you're like me and write on two separate computers and an iPhone.
    Perhaps I make my life too complicated? ;)
    Nevertheless, Dropbox is still awesome.
    And yikes...when the tornado happened, I was still backing my stuff up on floppy disk. Wow, that makes me feel old!! :)

    1. I know, tell me about it. Shall I bring up some of the other old-school things we were doing during that time period? ; )


What are your thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear your comments, questions, or ideas, even if you don't agree with me. Please be aware that I reserve the right to delete comments that are uncivil or vulgar, however.