Here are five tips for coping with writing fears, inspired by a bestselling author. Lionel Shriver revealed that coping with fear isn’t just for new writers. Even successful published writers have to convince their agents and editors to that certain book ideas will sell!
Before the tips, a quip from Lionel Shriver:
“Fictional creatures are fragile. On bad days authors can’t suspend their own disbelief,” says Shriver. “The characters seem plainly fabrications. The story feels made-up.”
I just finished reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver; it’s one of my favorite books, and it’s perfect for book clubs. At the end in the “About the Book” section, Shriver describes how difficult it was to find an agent, even as a published novelist. This is fabulous encouragement for struggling writers!
Lionel Shriver struggled not only to write this book, but to get it published. I was surprised to hear how difficult it was to find an agent for this, her seventh book. Here’s how and why coping with writing fears aren’t just for new writers – plus five tips for coping with insecurities and fears – based on Shriver’s experience.
5 Tips for Coping With Writing Fears
1. Remember that writing is hard work. “Writing that novel was a slog,” says Shriver. “I have more determination than the average bear, but anyone’s internal resources are finite. Having long resorted to journalism to make ends meet, I was already mentally preparing for a future as a full-time hack. But I finished my first draft because I wouldn’t be accused of not having tried.” She never dreamed We Need to Talk About Kevin would become a bestseller – especially since several literary agents turned it down.
2. Expect writing rejections. After reading the manuscript for a month, Shriver’s agent wrote her an email that said, “I don’t see how I’m going to sell this….I just don’t think anyone is going to want to publish a book about a kid doing such maxed-out, over-the-top, evil things, especially when it’s written from such an unsympathetic point of view.”
3. If you can’t get through, go around. “In the succeeding eight months I must have approached twenty other literary agencies, whose needs I didn’t suit at the time,” says Shriver. “On the cusp of giving up…I realized I wasn’t powerless. I sent the novel directly to an editor. Submitting a manuscript without representation is one of those things that wised-up professional writers are never supposed to do.” And what happened? “She read it over the weekend and made an offer on Monday.” Woo hoo! (Read my own 12 Steps to Finding a Literary Agent for another possiblity for successful writers!).
4. Stay hopeful for the future. Shriver says that re-reading her agent’s discouraging email now is “as gratifying now as it was shattering at the time.” Fellow scribes, you know those rejection letters you’re getting from agents and editors and publishing houses? Have faith that one day, you’ll be re-reading them with the same sense of gratification as Shriver. One day, you’ll be happily published – and you may even win an award or two (Shriver won the Orange Prize for We Need to Talk About Kevin).
5. Expect to pay your dues. “Granted, I paid my dues; not to put too fine a point on it, I was in commercial terms a flat-out failure as a novelist for nearly 20 years,” says Shriver at the end of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Even published writers can feel like failures – even writers who’ve had several books published. “My last novel sat wanly on my C:drive, unpublished. The previous six had all lost money.”
If you think it’s hard to struggle as an unpublished author, try struggling as a successful published writer! You may never really “make it” – each book may be as difficult as the one before.
Do you want write for a living? Join the Writers Work Community and get professional career training, writing tools, an online portfolio, and more. Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me!
But, fellow scribes, keep writing, keep sending out those book proposals and article queries. Eventually, you’ll move forward a step, and then another…and soon you’ll be the successful writer you dream of.