Kathleen’s Daily Specials: Irrational Terror and Crippling Self-Doubt

I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I begin my “Writing Fears” post. I’m an anxious sort. I’m afraid of tons of things. In fact, my daily specials include irrational terror and crippling self-doubt. 

Yesterday, Lisa wrote about her fear of losing her work. I’ve got that fear-base covered, too. Will I spill tea on my computer and fry it before I can back it up? Will the cloud implode? Will chapters mysteriously drop out of my manuscript, never to be found again while I rewrite them with a ghosty feeling in my head about having done this work already? These thoughts loop, pretty much, on the quarter-hour. 

Here are some other persistent worries and full-blown phobias related to my writing life:

  • Not having any good story ideas. You know how some people have a million? They’re planning their next three consecutive NaNos while finalizing revisions on their current book? That’s not me. I tend to have exactly one idea at a time. And I’m afraid it might not be that good.
  • Speaking of “not that good,” I worry I’m not a skilled enough writer to execute my one idea. When I first decided to try to write fiction, my idea was a highly-autobiographical multi-generational family saga. I’d need to be about fifty times better than I am now to write the book I planned. It took me 20,000 words and almost a year to figure that out.
  • Speaking of word count: I worry that I’m not fast enough. A writer I admire cranks out drafts and revisions with lightning speed. I’ve read her work, and it’s polished and thoughtful, and just damn GOOD. And, I’m about three or four times slower. And, also, maybe worse.
  • Speaking of “worse,” what if everyone hates my debut? What if people read it, and they’re like, “She got a book deal? For that?” And then, what if my agent and editor have the same thought, and just as it’s starting, my writing career is over?
  • And what if I can’t think of any good similes and my sentences don’t flow and my book doesn’t sell well and, and, and?

I should end my post this week with, “But, even though we all have fears, we should continue marching forward!” I think that’s the truth: even though it’s terrifying and failure looms, what choice do we have but to carry on? I think it’s normal and typical for writers to feel this way.

It’s scary and uncomfortable, but I live in this angsty place, too, and I’m mostly still breathing. At least until I get an edit letter via email. When that happens, I hold my breath and call on my reinforcements to open and pre-read the feedback. I wish I were kidding. 

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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This article has 6 Comments

  1. Kathleen, I loved reading about your fears and I get it but you are a good writer for sure. You mentioned lots of “what if’s” – I do that to my self also – specially when thoughts for me are What If I wrote a book – it would take me years and I don’t have that many left – and no one would read it I am sure…but it is nice to even dream that.anyway.

    I think I will stick to my paintings and I always have self doubts about them too but I keep on doing them …so I agree just keep on doing what you do best.

  2. Kathleen, I can totally relate to this. Thank you for the reminder that other writers can be plagued with self-doubt, too. And many congratulations on the starred review on Kirkus!! I’m participating in Pitch Wars, and one of the mentors I chose posted your big achievement on Twitter. I suspect this doesn’t do much to alleviate the anxiety (for me, at least, nothing does!), but hopefully it gave you a bit of pre-publication joy just the same. All my best wishes as you continue the crazy journey!

  3. Pretty much covers my writing fears… and I’ve written eight books. Sorry to say it doesn’t get better. AND I spilled tea on my computer as I was doing the last bits of polishing on my second novel. My first thought? Send the book to myself NOW. Which I did, two minutes before my computer gave up the ghost. I should tell you that there are “people” who can retrieve pretty much everything off a drowned computer. But better to leave the tea out of it. (smile)

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