Some Thoughts on Writing and Fear

Photo credit: Send me adrift. on Flickr
So I did this thing on Sunday night where I sent my second manuscript to my agent. And even as I think about it now, more than twelve hours later when writing this post, I still get a little quiver of anxiety.

There are a couple reasons why.

Firstly, this is the first manuscript my agent will see that she didn’t read before offering to represent me. It’s kind of a weird situation, because with the first manuscript, you know your agent will love it because they chose you based off of that manuscript (so they’ve already told you they love it). Any manuscripts after that? You kind of just do your best and hope everything works out. Judging by what I’ve seen other agented writers talk about online, this not an uncommon anxiety amongst writers.

Second, the manuscript. This MS, and the next one I’ll be revising, and the one after that all terrify me for various reasons. For the MS sitting in my agent’s inbox, it’s mostly the extremely personal nature of the manuscript, which I won’t really get into today, but I will say writing it was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had with a book.

To give you an idea, when I finished first drafting it, I immediately put it away and declared it was awful and I’d never look at it again. Partially because I rushed through the ending and writing the whole thing was ridiculously difficult, and partially because the idea of taking that manuscript seriously and actually showing people really really scared me.

Even now, after seven people have read it and given me (largely positive) feedback, it still scares me. And to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m more terrified that my agent will read it and tell me to scrap it (or that it needs a bajillion years of work) or if she’ll read it and love it. If I’m being totally transparent here, I think the latter, right now, sounds scarier than the former.

Just writing this post is freaking me out a little.

There’s this quote on writing going around that I’ve even shared myself that basically says to write what scares you. The implication is that’s where your most powerful, raw writing will come from, and in my experience, that’s pretty true.

I’d also say, however, that writing what scares you doesn’t stop being scary after you’ve written it. If anything, it’s more terrifying, because you’ve written it, it’s out there, and now other people will see it. Potentially.

It’s no wonder so many writers struggle with anxiety.

I don’t know if this book will ever go on submission. I don’t know if it does go on submission if it’ll ever sell. I don’t know if any of you will ever see it.

What I do know, is despite the terror, I’m proud of this book.

I know that whatever happens, I love writing, and I’m excited to dive into my next project.

I know that even though my next book scares me, as does the book after that, I’m going to revise them anyway and make them as good as they can be.

Writing what scares you, as it turns out, is scary. But usually it’s because the stories that come out of it are really extra special.

Have you written a MS that scares you?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Writing what scares you doesn't stop being scary after you've written it." (Click to tweet)  
Have you written a MS that scares you? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


Heather said...

This seems like something that writers have to deal with forever, just because writing is so subjective. If you want to build a car, you have to build a car a very certain way and if you don't build it that certain way then maybe you will get fired because we need those things to stay together. But even though we have very certain ways of writing books, we also have to make sure it's not too certain, and then you have to think about whether you did it right or not or whether people will like it. *scowls* I get you, but this is not the thought I will think when I go to my happy place.

Sam Taylor said...

One of my WIPs was taking me to a place I didn't want to go ... and previous drafts suffered when I refused to march in the direction. Recently, I bit the bullet and wrote the scene that terrified me. I still cringe when I review some of them. But my CPs have responded well to them, and I know my writing is stronger for facing my fears, and that I'm writing a story I couldn't have written even a year ago.

Fida Islaih said...

Hmm. None of my previous WIPs scared me but I had scenes that scared me. Maybe I need to dig even deeper. Thanks for sharing!

Darth Lolita said...

I felt that way about the last MS I wrote, the one that still needs polishing and revising because I really want to publish it even if it scares me.

I was in a really angry place when I started that manuscript, and I kept thinking about this old abusive relationship I've gone through and how unsafe I felt at times as a woman in this day and age. Eventually that anger warped into fear, and I managed to use it to write, but you're right in saying that the fear doesn't just magically disappear once you're done. It's more like I understand that part of me a little better, even if I can't fix or alter how I feel.

Lately I've been worrying about other things (mainly my future--I am graduating from college so the usual anxities are manifesting) and I think I'm going to use that anxiety again to finish other stuff. Like, I finally want to try a mythical sci-fi short because it seems like the perfect genre to explore my thoughts and worries and emotions.

Loved the post, Ava :D It's always encouraging to know other writers feel as I do.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! I completely 100% understand that conflict between terror and but it needs to be written. I also agree that fear is somewhat inevitable when it comes to the writer life, but I do think the end result is worth it. (At least, that's what I keep telling myself :) ).

Ava Jae said...

I definitely think it's something all writers have to face from time to time (even repeatedly). The other thing kind of scary is in the end, no matter how much research you do or how much work you put into it, you'll never write something that everyone likes. And that's okay, but it can be a little hard to accept.

Ava Jae said...

That's so great, Sam! It can definitely be scary even after CPs tell you you're on the right track, but I do think it's something we can learn from and become better writers because of it. Thanks for sharing.

Ava Jae said...

You're so welcome, Fida! I think we all start somewhere, and it was really only recently that I really started pushing myself to write things that were beyond my comfort zone, but so far, at least, I don't regret it.

Ava Jae said...

I really love what you said about how it feels like you understand that part of yourself better—I definitely agree. When you write something personal, it kind of forces you to wrestle with whatever aspect you're putting into your work, and when you come out at the other end, I've definitely found that all that grappling leads to a clearer understanding. That doesn't mean anything's changed, per say, but maybe it doesn't have to.

Also, I think it's great that you're trying to channel your anxiety into something productive. Good luck!

Martin said...

Very best of luck!

Ava Jae said...


Melissa Menten said...

I fictionalized a few true events in my current MS, and the scary part is maintaining the integrity of the fictional character and story while using enough of the real experiences to make it authentic. And writing about darker issues is always scary!

Jen Donohue said...

I hope to one day write an MS that scares me. That way I'll know it's doing its job!

Ava Jae said...

It can be, for sure! I'm weird and I tend to like writing about darker issues (maybe because of the ingrained conflict? Inner demons are my favorite), but it can definitely be intimidating at times.

Ava Jae said...

I like this attitude! :)

Leila said...

It's terrifying but despite being full of kidnap, murder etc, my first draft felt like a boring nothing-novel until it twigged that I need to open the demon pits and let lose with the personal stuff, rather than coasting along with the plot. Things feel a thousand times more interesting, although I now can't read it before bed, and am almost dreading the bit where I have to show it to other people. Got to be done, though. Even the most upbeat, entertaining books are only awesome because they tussle with genuine emotions and anxieties.

Ava Jae said...

Putting bits of yourself and making your manuscripts personal, I think, is probably the scariest thing you can do with your writing. But the end result is often writing that's much more powerful and resonant. Good luck, Leila!

Hannah Hunt said...

I'm definitely late to the comment party on this post, but I have to say, Ava, this is one of the most reassuring blog posts I think I've ever seen from you. I'm currently working on rewriting a MS that doesn't scare me while drafting one that DOES. And I have to say, the rewrite MS is a good buffer between me and the fear of the second, new MS.

It's hard putting a lot of personal fears into a manuscript, but I think that's also what makes the characters in the really good ones so human. Because they're not holding back on what they fear which is also what the writer fears. You know? By writing the scary stuff for your characters you turn them into real people.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Hannah! I totally agree that buffer MSs can be nice—the one I'm revising now, while it presents different situations that are a little scary, isn't nearly as personal and so it's been kind of relaxing to take a step back from the harder, personal stuff.

I do agree, however, that while it's hard to get personal with a MS, it's rewarding. My protagonist for the WIP I wrote about in the post is probably one of the rawest characters I've ever written, which was tough, but I'm glad I did. She definitely felt very real while I was writing her.

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