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Courage to Write – Tips From an Anxious Bestselling Author

Courage to Write Tips From an Anxious Bestselling AuthorOne of the best ways to find the courage to write is to learn from published authors. These tips are inspired by bestselling author Lionel Shriver, whose writing journey shows us that fear, anxiety, and perseverence aren’t earmarked for unpublished writers.

Even bestselling authors have to convince their literary agents and editors that certain book ideas will sell! Even bestselling authors have to write through fear, doubt, and self-criticism. Even bestselling authors wonder what the hell they’re doing…

“[Writing We Need to Talk About Kevin] was admittedly draining,” said Lionel Shriver in an interview. “And throughout, I was anxious that because I had never had a child myself, I didn’t know what I was talking about and readers who were parents would catch me out.”

That wasn’t the only reason she needed courage to write We Need to Talk About Kevin. At the end of the book, Shriver described how difficult it was to find a literary agent — even as a published novelist who already had an agent! Below, I explain how she coped with her writing fears, anxieties, and criticism from her agent and editors.

If you’re scared to write, you have to read The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes. I read it when I first started freelance writing, and it gave me the confidence I needed to succeed.

And, here are six ways to cope with writing fears, based on Shriver’s experience…

6 Tips for Finding the Courage to Write

Accept that you’ll need to fire up your courage every day, every hour

Will you feel more courageous after getting published once? I doubt it. Even authors armed with writing contracts struggle with fear and self-doubt — perhaps even more so than writers writing books without representation. Published authors have their first book, their awards, and their reputation to live up to. Even experienced freelance writers like me — who have editors who love my writing and keep sending me assignments — feel a bit ‘o fear and anxiety when they get assignments and submit articles. Writers need to stretch, take risks, and experiment with new writing styles, voices, genres. That takes courage, fellow scribes.

Prepare yourself for a long writing journey…and try to enjoy it!

Shriver was published before writing We Need to Talk About Kevin. She had an agent, she had the courage to write…but she still struggled to write Kevin and get it published. “Writing that novel was a slog,” she says. “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.”

Expect writing rejections – even from your own literary agent

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.” Fellow scribes, take courage! One of the best ways to cope with writing fears is to remember that one agent’s or editor’s rejection is another’s goldmine.

If you can’t go through it, get around it

“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? “[The editor] read it over the weekend and made an offer on Monday.” See? Goldmine!

If you can’t seem to get around it, read How to Make Writing Easy and Find the Energy to Write.

Do not give up on your book or writing career

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.

Fellow scribe, you’ll be happily published – and you may even win a literary award or two! Shriver won the Orange Prize for We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Learn to cope with fear, anxiety, doubt, self-criticism

Finding courage means paying your dues as a writer — because few published authors hit the bestseller list immediately. Shriver says, “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.” Even published writers can feel like failures – even authors who published several books. “My last novel sat wanly on my C: drive, unpublished,” says Shriver. “The previous six had all lost money.”

Lionel Shriver’s most recent novel is So Much for That. I haven’t read it, but I loved Kevin.

Do you have any tips for finding the courage to write? Comments welcome below…

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3 thoughts on “Courage to Write – Tips From an Anxious Bestselling Author”

  1. Finding this came at a good time for me. The Courage to Write is on my reading list as I am always afraid I will be found out, no matter where I am at on my way up.

    Thanks, Laurie. Saw you on Twitter.

  2. Great idea, to ask for all the feedback you can get. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, though…especially if it’s vague or unhelpful…but the key to being a successful writer is to keep going!

  3. I don’t get a lot of fear when I’m writing for clients I’ve been working with for a while these days, but the first time I work with anyone new, my stomach is in knots. We each have to keep moving forward with our writing, of course, and you’ve given some good tips here.

    Personally, I lay in a supply of Tums and keep asking for all the feedback I can get. I’ll use some of both (but not all of either) and I just keep going along.