Writer's Anxiety

By Kristen
Updated November 24, 2007

A writer's job is to ask "what if?" The primary cause of worry is asking "what if?" It's not wonder so many writers worry about things excessively.

What if it's not good enough?

Read Every Writer Sucks.

What if my friends and family think I'm writing about them?

It may happen. Perhaps you see a fat guy on the street, and he inspires you, so you write a story about a fat guy. The story comes out. It's a success! Then your fat uncle calls you and tells you how upset he is that you wrote a story about him without his permission. Maybe he'll just be angry. Maybe he'll demand a cut of your royalties. Maybe other family members will stop talking to you. It's completely out of your control.

People are going to feel personally attacked no matter what you do. If you were a painter and painted a work entitled Fat Guy, your uncle would eventually think that he was the inspiration for your painting, even if he looks nothing like the guy in your painting. If you sold cars, he would probably be offended if you recommended a full size vehicle instead of a compact. If you worked at a clothing store, he would probably complain if you showed him the section for big men. Your writing isn't the problem; he is.

You can't control another person's insecurities, so don't bother trying. Just tell them how you were inspired, and leave it at that.

What if I really am writing about my friends and family, and they're offended by my work?

Before the work gets submitted for publication, tell your loved ones that they are in the story. Let them read the story. Ask them to tell you how they feel about what you've written.

If they are offended, try to soften the tension. Explain to them how their role in the story is important. Remind them that people grow and change, and this story shows how they have grown and could inspire readers to grow. If they are still ashamed or offended, change every character's real name to convey the story without identifying your loved ones in reality.

It is possible that your loved ones could sue you for writing about them without their permission, so it is very important to get their permission. It may even be necessary to have your loved ones sign a release form. If your loved ones refuse to give you permission, rewrite the piece using them as inspiration for your fictional characters rather than directly about the real people.

What if my work isn't original enough?

It's fine to be inspired by somebody else's work. Writers create stories based on Shakespeare's works all the time. Television writers jump on the latest fads, and repeat themes until we're sick of them. Obviously, you don't want to directly copy another person's ideas without giving them credit and obtaining permission if necessary.

What if I thought my idea was original, but somebody else already wrote something similar?

This will happen. I repeat, this will happen. Every idea that we have is based on ideas that we've either learned from other people or witnessed firsthand. Logically, if you've learned an idea from another person, then other people have those ideas. Even if we witnessed something firsthand, it's likely somebody else witnessed it too, so they will also have an opportunity to share that idea as well.

When this happens, just admit it. Say, "Wow, I thought I was the first person to have that idea. I guess I wasn't. Well, great minds do think alike. If I had time to read every story ever written, then I probably would have known that somebody else had this idea first. However, just because the stories are similar doesn't mean that mine is any less significant."

What if somebody thinks I'm plagiarizing?

This is a touchy subject for writers because everyone is so protective of their work.

If we can coincidentally have the same ideas as another writer, then we could just as coincidentally write similar lines. Writing is based on language. Language is based on how we speak to each other. If somebody says "round like a ball" in one conversation, we may pick up that phrase and repeat it in other conversations. That's how we learn language; that's why your children repeat everything you say. Likewise, if we read jumped up on to her feet in a moment, it is possible that we may repeat that phrase in our writing without even realizing it.

If you know that you didn't sit down and copy a book (as I just did since jumped up on to her feet in a moment was randomly taken out of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll), then don't worry about this. Just let it go, and write what comes into your mind.

What if my work is misinterpreted?

It will be. The beauty of language is that what one person says and what another person hears is based on each individual's understanding of the language. In my home, it's perfectly fine to say "damn" as an expression of frustration. In my neighbor's home, "damn" may only be used in conversations about actually going to hell. When I say, "that damn toaster burnt my toast again," I don't actually mean that my toaster is going to hell. However, my neighbor's daughter may hear me say "damn toaster" and wonder why I think that the toaster has a soul and why that soul is going to spend eternity in damnation. This is where misinterpretation begins.

You're story will be misinterpreted. Your job, as a writer, is to attempt to tell your story for your particular audience. Pay attention to how your audience talks. (Don't worry if members of other audiences don't speak the same way.)

If your audience includes people from all walks of life, then get out your dictionary and try to use words as they are defined. If you are writing for a small group, then feel free to use slang they understand.

What if it's too controversial?

Controversy is good. It feels uncomfortable because it pushes us to think about things outside of our normal comfort levels. Thinking is good! Make people think.

Publishers may avoid stories that are too controversial. A children's book publisher will probably avoid stories with descriptions of sex. A Christian book publisher will probably avoid stories that promote Paganism. However, there's a market for everything, so just find the right publisher.

What if people think that I'm sadistic because my character is sadistic?

I've had this happen to me. I got the courage to share a poem with my mother. The poem was about suicide, but I wasn't suicidal. My mother naturally became very worried about me. I shared a story with a boyfriend; it was about killing a man during sex. He broke up with me and told everyone that I was dangerous. (I'm surprised he didn't get a restraining order against me.)

It can be difficult to find people who understand that while you're writing is very personal, it doesn't necessarily reflect your personality. I doubt Stephen King has ever intentionally killed anyone even though he writes about murder in shocking scenarios.

I suggest sharing your unpublished stories only with people who understand that the art shouldn't be confused with the artist. Published stories will eventually get out to everyone, so just brace yourself and be prepared to laugh when somebody suggests that you are secretly carrying out your sadistic desires through your characters.

What if I can't get the project finished on time?

I hate deadlines! I'm not good with them. (Of course, I always lie about that on resumes.) When I do have deadlines, though, I simply force myself to make time to get the job done. I schedule it. I multitask. I make it into a family project. I turn on the babysitter -- I mean television and pop in a long DVD if my kids are a bit too disruptive. I do what I have to do to get it done.

Of course, some of us can't have inspiration on demand. We need to have time to think about our ideas. We have to mull over them. For such writers, deadlines just don't work, so they need to make sure their projects are always complete before they submit them for publication. For some writers though, deadlines can force them to sit down, face the page, and spill out some of the best work they've ever done, so they do better when they get assignments with deadlines. Figure out which method works best for you.

What if I write something amazing, and people start expecting everything I write to be great?

It's scary enough to do your best and wonder if it's good enough to compete with the works of other writers. It's even more terrifying to compete with yourself. You might feel like giving up right after you get your first award because you've reached your peek. You might feel like a failure if you don't get additional awards. You might avoid writing something great in the first place, so you it will be easier to keep topping yourself.

Ignore it. Focus on the story instead of the success. Treat each story as you would treat your children. One child may become an astronaut while the other becomes a waitress. It doesn't matter to a parent. You just keep loving your children, helping them to be the best they can be, and wanting them to be happy. You're proud of them for who they are, not what they win or how much money they make. Give each one the attention and love it deserves.

What if I become famous, and I can't go to the grocery store anymore, or worse I get a stalker?

If this is your worry, then you'll be happy to know that very few authors are ever recognized in public by passersby. If you actually do become famous enough to find yourself surrounded by a crowd of fans, be proud of yourself (and make sure you have an unlisted phone number and PO box).

Stalkers, can pop up no matter what profession you're in. In high school, a boy used to hang around my bedroom window at night and repeatedly professed his love for me even though I wasn't interested. He persisted for years. I used to work at a grocery store, and one of my usual customers decided that he could convince me to fall in love with him even after I politely protested. He would come repeatedly ask for help. He would wait by my car in the parking lot. He would buy me gifts that I would refuse. At first I appreciated the attention even though I had no desire to date this man, but my appreciation turned to fear when he wouldn't stop. Even through this website, I've had a couple of people cyber-stalk me, and one even threatened me because I refused to meet him in person. Stalkers can happen anywhere, at anytime, to anyone. The only way to avoid them is to stop interacting with people completely, and since you probably won't do that, let yourself follow your passion (and take self-defense classes).

What if my publisher expects me to go on book tours?

Some publishers will expect you to go on tour. You'll have to travel from bookstore to bookstore, city to city, signing copies of your book and talking to people about how you were inspired to write. Don't expect elegant parties; it's really not all that glamorous. Don't expect anyone to recognize you even when you have a stack of your own books sitting on one side of the table next to you and a giant photograph of you writing on the other. Don't expect your publisher to pay for your entire family to go with you or give you lots of time for sight-seeing. Writing a book takes work. Selling a book takes work. It's work. It's a job. It's not always fun, but you will at least get the opportunity to sound like a celebrity and say, "I'm going on tour to meet my fans."

Some won't even offer a tour because they don't have a budget to pay for tours. In this case, if you want to spread the word, go on tour and pay for it yourself.

Some publishers will happily let you avoid the book tour scene, but you'll have to talk to your publisher to set up such arrangements. Maybe you can get away with just doing Internet and telephone interviews. Maybe you're work will be so popular that you can just sit at home and wait for the royalty checks to come it. There are many options today for writers promote their work.