This week is face your fear week here at Life of Spice. My first post received some amazing and honest comments: Is the writing dream over.

In the spirit of facing our fears and doing it well, here is my second post… Trust me Allison will make you want to write.. NOW.. and without fear:

I met Allison Winn Scotch several years ago on an online writing board. She was dynamic, funny and prolific. If it were school, I would have said that Allison would have been voted as “Most Likely to Succeed” by the writing group and I would have been right. This lovely lady who started out writing magazine articles went on to write a New York Times best-selling novel and more.

Allison has just released her third book, The Song Remains the Same, and it is already getting rave reviews and I am sure it will hit the NYT best-seller list like her last one did. I just ordered the book and while I wait for it, I asked Allison if she would address a fear that I know I face and a number of my readers do as well: A fear of fiction. And, as gracious as she is, she agreed.

So here is Allison, in her own words:

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Fear of fiction by Allison Winn Scotch

Let’s get this out of the way right away: if you’re not a little bit scared when you go to tackle writing a novel, you’re crazy. If you’re not a little bit nervous that the whole thing is going to be a disaster, you’re foolish and probably a little delusional.

Fear is part of the process. And I’m not here to tell you that it’s not.

I have written four published novels. (And one truly awful unpublished one.) Every time, I am nervous and every time, I find something new to worry about. (Fortunately, I also learn from experience and realize that there are plenty of things that I once found terrifying that I no longer do.) Fear is not the reason why you don’t write a novel. Because if that’s the case, you will literally never get it done. Here are a few things that you might worry about, and how, in my opinion, you can overcome them.

1 – Your fear that you’ll write it, and it will be terrible.

Well, here’s the truth: you might write it, and it might actually be terrible. There is no guarantee that just because you want to do something, be a novelist, etc, that you will actually be good at it. Honestly. That comes from a loving place. There are millions of people out there who think they can write the next great novel, and only about two of them do, so that gives you some insight as to the odds that you are the next Hemingway. And to that, I say: SO WHAT. Write you novel. If it is terrible, a few things will happen: 1) you’ll discover that your dream of becoming a novelist might not happen. This might be gutting, but it also might be in many ways freeing. Writing fiction is a very specific craft, and that doesn’t mean anything about your other writing. 2) The writing process in and of itself might be the most educational thing you’ve ever done. That is what happened to me. I wrote a stinker of a novel, and it got me an agent but it didn’t sell. (Thank goodness!) But you know what else it did? All of my blood, sweat and tears taught me how to write a BETTER novel. One that DID get published. So many times a first novel is a stepping-stone. Just as so many other first things in life are a stepping-stone. Be okay with that, and then the fear can dissolve.

2 – Your fear that you’ll write it, and it won’t sell.

See above. The best thing that ever happened to my career is that my first manuscript didn’t sell. I would have been judged on something that I wrote when I had no idea what I was doing, and I never, ever, ever would have been given the chances that came after it. Is it absolutely demoralizing to get those rejections in? OF COURSE IT IS. The question then becomes, can you overcome your fear of further rejection and keep writing or do you quit? If you quit, then that is totally fine. (I mean it.) A thick skin and solid backbone are two of the surest requirements for this job, and it is probably better to know that you can’t handle it early on. (I really, really mean this in a super-kind way. You can’t always tell that from the internet.) If you don’t quit, I can promise you that your next book will be better. (Even if you don’t believe me now.)

3 – Your fear that you’ll be letting yourself down.

This is a complicated one because writers are often complicated people. In the back of many writers’ minds is a voice that is questioning whether or not they are good enough, not least because so often, we are told that we might not be, whether it’s by an editorial rejection or an agent rejection or a whole slew of other rejections that come our way. And it can be terribly demoralizing to think that your creative work – the one that you and you alone cultivated to life on what was once a blank page – doesn’t cut the mustard. (Forgive the food metaphor.) And how you deal with this fear is up to you. I, personally, am okay never take rejection personally, so that angle for me is pretty easy to walk away from unscathed. If someone doesn’t like my book or an editor doesn’t want to buy it or whatever, I always assume that it’s them, not me. (I know, I know, what an ego!) The harder thing for me is when I’ve written something that I’m not crazy about – THAT is when I feel like I’ve let myself down. The good news is that you can always improve, so this fear is one that in my case is easy to fix, IF I put in the work. This means that I don’t stop revising until my editor tells me that I’m done, that I read authors I deeply admire to hone my own craft, that I don’t rest on my laurels over the fact that I’ve published four books. What this means for you is probably different. But again, I’ll go back to my first point – if you write something, and it isn’t great, well, then, so what? At least then now you know. If you never write it, you will never know, and then, you’ll always wonder. It’s actually that simple.

4 – Your fear of trying something new.

I can’t personally speak to this one because I am a gemini who thrives on change. (This is a self-diagnosis, not a clinical one.) 🙂 (Also, I really don’t believe in that astrological stuff, but sometimes, it’s an easy short-hand!) But a lot of people say they want to break out of their ruts but actually find a lot of comfort in that same rut. If you don’t take a chance, you also don’t risk failure. And that risk is scary enough to keep you from trying. Here’s the deal though: if you want it badly enough, you HAVE to risk that you will go down in flames. Sure, there is something wonderfully comfortable about your old patterns,  your old job, whatever. But guess what? No one else will write this book for you. If your desire to be a novelist is stronger than your inertia, then you’ll overcome this one.

5 – Your fear that people will judge you.

They will. It’s that simple. They will mistake your characters for you, they will call you a terrible writer in their Goodreads reviews. They just…will. Be okay with this – think of it as noise that you eventually learn to tune out. Eventually you will. Four books later, I’m rarely bothered by any of this. Readers read your books, and they form an opinion. That will never change. Once you accept this, you can pick up that fear, set it aside, and start writing your next novel.

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  1. Thankful for your message–and divine moments when the universe works it out so you hear something that you needed to hear, at the exact perfect moment.

    1. Allison is always amazing! I am glad this helped.

  2. Wonderful thoughts Allison!

    And may I add to #2 that no matter how bad it may be, at least you followed your dream and wrote it!!!

  3. Monica, It’s as if you reached into my mind with your posts this week. I’ve been procrastinating about writing a novel for several months now to the point of going to bed each night and saying to myself “I’ll write more tomorrow” but morning comes and guess what? I have an opening chapter and when I get down to it, am afraid to write any more in case I hit a brick wall. So I’ve created a different brick wall instead.

    I am going to keep this post and read it again and again.

    Thanks to you both.

  4. aaaaaaaand thank you for the kick in the tuchus. I’ve been reluctant to get back to my SF novel because the world-building is immense, but you’re absolutely right. Time to buckle down. As a wise muppet once said, “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.’ “

  5. Gosh that part about fear is soo true. The recipe ideas that I’m most fearful about experimenting with (I’ve put them off for over a year) have invariably turned out to be some of my best! This is definitely a keeper of a post to keep going back to. Thanks so much!

  6. What a wonderful article. truly inspiring.
    Fear goes with everything and we have to overcome the fear to give our best.
    I am afraid of writing fiction and I sometimes think I may be justified because I am not trained for it.
    Then I think back to the time when I started out practicing medicine. I had trained for a total of 8 years before I began there, and it was just as terrifying.
    It was not easy to get over the fear then and it is certainly not easy now.
    I am trying to believe that I did it then so maybe I can do it now

  7. This is just excellent. Thank you Allison and Monica!

  8. Excellent post … just what I needed to hear, right now! How did you do that???

  9. Excellent post. When I think about fear in fiction writing, what I think about is vulnerability. As a non-fiction writer, I rely on facts. Sure, my skills as a writer are used to pull them all together in a good way. But the vulnerability factor feels different when I’m writing fiction. I feel much more exposed because even though I’m not writing about myself, I am opening up an emotional terrain that (hopefully) connects with readers. That is kinda scary. It’s also kinda magic. 😉

  10. You’re right, Monica. Allison is always dead-on in her advice. She tells it like it is, and suddenly it isn’t quite as daunting. Enjoyed visiting your site, too.

  11. Applicable to people who do not write too…part of life, whatever you try to succeed at.

  12. That’s so true. Whatever you’re trying to do with your life, everyone needs a little boost sometimes and developing a thick skin seems to go with the territory. Thank you.

  13. Thanks for such a great and inspiring article. Will definitely help to keep me on the page.

  14. Point five is truly on the mark. Everyone has their own measuring stick for what’s good and you will never be able to meet everyone’s requirements.

  15. It always helps to read such encouraging words from writers like Allison. And it is true that people judge others. I haven’t read the Goodreads reviews, but I have seen reviews of various books by many authors on Amazon; people are very candid on that site (sometimes EXTREMELY candid). But the writers keep writing; they don’t let the reviewers stop them.

  16. I have come to the conclusion that the fear of success in some first time authors plays a big part in not getting published. For me it is the ‘what’s next’ that has given me cold feet. I’ve been sitting on my finished manuscript for a long time while writing other stories.
    The creativity in writing visual fiction is great fun, and the easy part for me, (even after rewrite after rewrite) but it seems there are so many ‘hoops’ to jump through these days, and if you are an unknown, nobody pays attention. I’m at a standstill. Help!

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