This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Welcome to our writing advice column, where you'll find bestselling author Julie Cohen answering reader questions! Hit a roadblock or have a writing-related query? Drop them in the comments or email email@example.com and keep your eyes peeled for Julie’s response in later columns. This week, Julie discusses THE FEAR.
How do you get over that feeling of not being good enough when you’re writing? I love writing, but I have so much self-doubt. Does every author go through this or is it a sign that it’s not meant to be?
Here’s the real answer: YOU DON’T EVER GET OVER IT.
I have never, ever, EVER met a successful author who feels that they are good enough. There may be some out there, but I haven’t met them yet. When a group of authors get together, if the coffee or wine is flowing, sooner or later they are going to start talking about how rubbish they are, how their book is going badly, how they don’t think anyone cares, how it used to be easy but now it’s not, how they’re pretty sure all the negative reviews are true and that they really might as well give up now…
I call it THE FEAR. You have only to mention THE FEAR to an author to see a gleam of recognition in their eyes.I once took wine with two of the most successful women’s fiction authors on the planet. I won’t say their names, but believe me, you’ve read their books. And when I said, ‘But surely by now you two must have got over THE FEAR,’ both of them turned to me and said ‘Oh my God, no! It’s worse than ever!’
It’s not surprising, I suppose: writing, like any creative pursuit, is very personal. You feel that you’re not only putting your work out there for scrutiny, but also yourself. It’s bound to be scary. Also, writers often work alone, and it’s very difficult to trust your own judgment, especially when you’re starting out.
Personally I think that THE FEAR is not only natural, but necessary. Having THE FEAR means that you are challenging yourself, trying to break out of your comfort zones. It means that you are putting your work out there to be seen. It means that you’re serious about what you’re doing and that you care about it. Often the hardest, and the scariest things to do are the most worthwhile and rewarding.
So…how do you get over it? If I’m right, you can’t. It will follow you your entire career. However, I do think it helps to know that everyone has THE FEAR, and that it’s normal, and actually even maybe a good thing.
(If you want a good book to read on this very subject, try The Courage to Write by Daniel Keyes, which talks about the ways that some very famous authors have tried to overcome their fear. I also love the idea behind Sarah Painter’s charming and helpful Worried Writer podcast; check that out and hear how other authors get through their fears.
Having writer friends who know what THE FEAR is like can help, too. They can remind you that you’ve overcome it in the past, that no, this attack is not worse than any other time, that yes, you’re always this miserable, and of course it’s okay to have a bit of chocolate to get over it.
(Non-writers don’t tend to understand. They look at you like you’re a crazy person when you tell them that the book you loved yesterday is the WORST THING IN THE WORLD today. The best thing non-writers can do is nod indulgently and supply you frequently and copiously with cake. I’ve been trying to train my husband to do this for the past twelve years.)
Mostly though, Linda, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal with it. Feel THE FEAR and write anyway. If you’re scared, you’re doing it right.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But no one ever said this was going to be easy. Thank God for chocolate.
Julie Cohen has had 20 books published under her own name and pseudonyms, selling nearly a million copies and being translated into 15 languages. Several have won or been shortlisted for awards, including the Romantic Novelists' Association's Award and the National Readers’ Choice Award. Her novel Dear Thing was a summer 2014 Richard and Judy Book Club pick.
Julie is also a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, tutoring courses for Penguin Random House Academy, The Guardian, Literature Wales, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and Writers' Workshop. She runs a fiction consultancy business, with several of her clients having gone on to publication. Her latest book is Where Love Lies.