How to Overcome Your Fear of Writing Your First Novel

If you’re over the age of, let’s say, 12, and haven’t written your first full manuscript yet, then I’m guessing you’re like me, and you’re held back by some degree of fear. Now, if you’re over 40…, let’s say that perhaps 50 is even breathing down your back, and you still haven’t written the book? Then we have more in common than you think!

Are you constantly telling friends and family you’re going to write the next great American novel, yet you still haven’t nailed down a plot?

For years (don’t make me admit how many), I’ve been that person sitting at the Thanksgiving table talking about my future illustrious career as a novelist. The goal has been number one on too many New Year’s Resolution lists to count. I’ve even started and failed to finish about ten manuscripts. I’ve managed to eke out a couple of cute short stories (each about 15,000 words long), but I never get past about 17,000 words in my novel manuscripts. Why?

Does the topic of conversation always wind up at, “Hey, how’s that novel coming along?” when you get together with friends? And the worst part is that you start to think they’re mocking you because they should know better by now! Of course the novel is stalled (or worse, never got started to begin with!), so why are they bringing up such a delicate topic?

The good news is that you can slay the fear that prevents you from writing your novel! But first, you have to identify what those fears are…

Why am I so afraid to complete a manuscript?

Top 3 most common fears holding back would-be novelists.

  1. Fear of Failure. This seems like a no-brainer, right? But, we need to admit it. Preferably out loud. Imagine the worst-case scenario: We pour our blood, sweat, and tears into a manuscript that takes months, years, or even decades to write, only for no one to publish it. Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me? Because that’s a terrifying thought!
  2. Fear of Success. If you immediately feel me on this, then we’re cut from the same cloth! I mean, a successful novel could mean becoming famous, being required to do interviews on national TV, or even getting the novel adapted for television or film. In that case, we’d get to meet Hollywood royalty…and I’d have to lose a few pounds first! Then, what if my publisher threatens to drop me if I don’t produce another great story, but my well is dried up? What if I’m a one-and-done?!
  3. Fear of Negative Reviews. Do you ever browse Amazon book reviews before making a purchase? It doesn’t matter how popular a book is, it’ll undoubtedly have some scathing reviews! How could our tender hearts take such a beating right there on Amazon for all the world to see? What would our mothers, our kids, our friends say if they saw that someone called our writing “pitiful,” “juvenile,” or “the worst they’ve ever read”?

So, how do I overcome my writing fears?

3 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Writing Your First Novel

  1. Accept that the only real failure is when you cease to try. I could tell you that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected 12 times before being published. I could tell you that Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) was rejected 27 times before becoming an author. You’d scratch your head to learn that Agatha Christie got a rocky start, as did Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) and many more crazy-successful authors. The point is, if you’re a serious writer, you’re probably going to face rejection. If you write a novel that absolutely no one agrees to pick up, then guess what? I’ll bet you’ll have learned something that you can use to begin your second novel. You just keep going…or just keep swimming, as Dory would say. But you don’t give up.
  2. If you get so successful that you’re recognized or have to do on-camera interviews, then that’s a great problem to have, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure publishers don’t hold a gun to your head and force you to do live interviews. Think about it this way. Barnes and Noble stores stock about 1 million titles. How many of those authors would you recognize if they were sitting next to you on the bus? Let’s see, there’s Stephen King…See my point? Most of the millions of authors alive today lead quiet, private lives out of the spotlight. You don’t have to become a media darling just because you wrote a good book.
  3. Negative reviews come with the territory. Literally, the only way to avoid negative reviews is NOT to write a book. Now, if you don’t know it yet, all you’ll have to do is stick around this site a little while to know I’m an unabashed Twihard. I don’t care how old I am or what naysayers have to say about the books. I love them. And I love the movies even more. The franchise has made over 407 million dollars to date. Yet, check out the 1-star reviews on Amazon. You’ll see comments like this: “The entire series is very (very!) poorly written and has all the literary maturity of a sixth-grader’s personal journal.” While I’m sure it doesn’t feel good to read comments like that, it hasn’t stopped Stephenie Meyer from basking in her wild success! Every single book, every single author, every single writer of any kind gets negative reviews. Maybe we can look at it as we’ve arrived if we start raking in some nasty comments on our work. At least we’ll be able to say we finally finished the damn novel!

Finally, I’d ask you to consider that your “fears” might be procrastination in disguise. I know that’s the case with me. But no more! Let’s say to hell with our fears and just do it once and for all.

Isn’t writing a totally crappy novel that never even makes it to publication STILL better than never having the guts to try?

What are your writing fears? Leave them in the comments below. Let’s call these suckers out into the light so we can annihilate them with our literary swords!