What’s been stopping you from producing that magnum opus? Taken from the opening of Jurgen Wolff’s 2007 Your Writing Coach, what follows is our take on his Seven Deadly Fears of Writing. Those fears that stop would-be, and even some professional writers getting on with the job of writing.
The fear of rejection
Rejection by whom? Readers? Publishers? Agents? If you don’t put your work out there, you’ll never know. And these days there are many more outlets for your work than the traditional publishing routes. Was it seventeen publishers that rejected J K Rowling before Bloomsbury picked up Harry Potter? Rejection happens. It doesn’t stop your life.
On a personal note, the day I ceremonially burned fifteen years’ of rejection letters was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
The fear that it won’t be good enough
This is what any conscientious writer should have in the back of their mind; it’s what long-time, best selling ‘name’ authors confess to. A small calm voice keeping up the quality control is no bad thing. It needn’t stop you writing, or re-writing.
The fear of success
It’s a rare problem to have; there are also plenty of ways of dealing with an excess of success. Most involve having a calm head, keeping some distance from pressure or intrusion, and surrounding yourself with good people with your welfare in mind.
The fear of revealing too much
This is going to depend on what you’re writing and how closely you’re ‘writing what you know’. Fiction that is too biographical? Auto-biography that cuts too deep? Find a good editor whose judgement you can trust. Alternatively, write under a pen name and make clear in the foreword that it’s a ‘dramatised account’ of whatever.
The fear that you have only one book in you
One thing at a time. If there’s one great book in you, get it written and think about what comes after, after. It’s hard enough getting one book finished. That very process will give you some insight into what else you could do in time.
The fear that you are too old
You may not have the brash energy of youth, but older and wiser heads are known to prevail, and there’s no limit to age and wisdom. As long as the old grey cells are working, there’s time to put those stories and wisdom down on paper.
The fear of being overwhelmed by research
If the project isn’t a labour-of-love research dig and an end in itself, big books can be a challenge. But unless you’re writing the dissertation for your PhD, no one is expecting pinpoint academic accuracy with footnotes and a bibliography. You need to weigh up just what it is you’re diving into? Historical periods, specific locations or settings, characters with particular skill sets or backgrounds? It can all seem endless, a bottomless pit or an ever-increasing set of concentric circles, heading out forever. Stop right there.
Make a plan. Take it a piece at a time. Focus in on what you absolutely must include and build out as many layers as you need to support the content you’ve outlined. Some writers only use 10% of the research they collect. Why not work out which 10% you actually need, add a little contingency, and get writing. You can always top up when you find yourself short of a detail. For most projects, it’s the narrative that is key, with the research overlaid on it like a tapestry. The stitching doesn’t have to be immaculate or minute all the way through.