Being a writer—being in any kind of creative pursuit, honestly—is an exercise in dealing with fear and doubt. Constantly struggling against that little voice inside your head that says “You can’t do this. Why are you even trying?”
And the fears don’t end as you progress down your creative path. With every fear and doubt you face and overcome, there’s a new one waiting just around the corner, ready to rear its ugly head and set you right back to where you started.
For some reason, I thought getting past the early stages of my writing career would mean getting over my fears. I no longer worry about finishing stories; I know I have what it takes to complete multiple drafts of the same novel. I no longer fear my writing isn’t good enough; I’ve had too many people (both amateur and professional) tell me that I’m a strong writer.
But the middle years have brought a new set of fears, ones I didn’t think I’d have to deal with when I was starting out.
I fear my ideas are too cliché to sell.
I never thought my ideas would be something I was worried about, but after getting three different stories back from a contest with the same piece of criticism on each one—too predictable, too cliché, nothing to make it stand out from the thousands of other stories of the same stripe—I was shaken.
And this is a problem, because I like tropes. I like the Hero’s Journey and Secret Princess stories and all sorts of stories that could be considered cliché. Logically, I know it’s just a matter of tweaking those stories to tell them in a new way, but I’m still afraid. What if I can’t?
I fear the query process.
But not really for the reasons you might think. I’ve done research. I have lists of agents to send to. I have a query letter and a synopsis that really just need another once-over, and a draft that just needs the last half to be polished. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to finish the draft and start the query process.
Because once I do, things are going to change. Either no one will want my novel and I’ll have to start the entire process over for another story (potentially another several years of work), or someone will and I’ll be down an entirely different rabbit hole, a process I’ve read about but have never experienced myself. And there are days I think I’m just as scared of success as I am of failure.
Where I am right now, in the pre-query limbo, all the possibilities are still open. They’re all still there. But sooner or later, if I want to be published, I’m going to have to take that step. And that scares me.
I fear hurting people with my story.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned so much about diversity—things I never even considered as a relatively sheltered kid growing up in southern Oklahoma. And one of the things I’ve realized is that representation in media is absolutely vital, but it’s also all too easy for writers—particularly writers who aren’t part of a marginalized group—to write stories that reinforce stereotypes and just add a heap of terrible representation onto people who already have very little to begin with.
I know my stories won’t appeal to everyone, but I want to include as many people as I can. I want to be able to reach out to others and say “Here, look! You can have adventures too!” But I also know my own ignorance, and I fear that in my efforts to be inclusive, I’ll end up hurting people from stuff I don’t know, no matter how much I research. And good intentions do not protect you from criticism in that regard.
I fear no one will want to read my stories.
I think this one kind of speaks for itself. Even if I get an agent (or, conversely, decide to self-publish), I’m afraid no one will want to read my stories. Even though I tell myself if I want to read a story, then surely someone else out there will want to, the chances of my story making it into those people’s hands is quite possibly laughably small. And I’m afraid no publisher or agent will want to take a chance on me.
It seems ridiculous now that I thought I’d get past all my fears and worries as soon as I reached a certain point in my writing journey. Hell, Neil Gaiman himself said, at a talk here in Tulsa early last year, that he reaches about 3/4 through every project where he’s convinced he’s an utter fraud and calls his agent to let them know.
So I guess this means that, no matter how far I am down this road, I’ll be battling fears, doubts, and insecurities. And each time, I will take a deep breath and slowly fight my way through them, with the help of my friends and my faith.
Because I do want to be a professional writer, and I’m not going to let my fears stand in my way.