Writers tend to be a worrying sort. We spend a lot of time in our heads, we have active imaginations, and that combo can lead to some pretty incredible worries.
One of the most important keys to succeeding as a writer is worrying about the right things. Sweat the things that actually matter and you’ll save yourself from spinning in an unproductive way.
Here are some things you should worry about and things you shouldn’t worry about:
Don’t: Worry about your idea being “stolen”
Ideas are a dime a dozen. Even your most brilliant, game-changing ideas have probably already been dreamed up by someone before you. The idea that someone is going to swoop in and beat you to the punch isn’t something that’s worth worrying about.
There are plenty of cases of books and movies with very similar ideas coming out around the same time. There are tons of great ideas in the ether. Your book is not going to live or die based on one idea.
Do: Worry about how you execute that idea
As I point out in my guide to writing a novel, there were wizard schools before Harry Potter, there were mystical lands before The Lord of the Rings, and there were helicopters with dorky names before Fifty Shades of Grey.
What set those novels apart was the execution of those ideas. Don’t worry about coming up with a completely original idea. Do worry about how you set your novel apart.
Don’t: Worry so much about that element of your writing you’re already worried about
Every writer has at least one or two fears that influence how they write.
For instance: I’m always worried I’m boring the reader. I don’t want any stretches that are going to put someone to sleep and make them put down the book.
Unfortunately, because I’m so worried about boring the reader, I end up over-correcting the other way and I don’t add in enough description and emotional reactions. I actually have to guard against my fear and force myself to write things that feel like tedium to me, but feel totally normal to a reader.
Almost by definition, because you’re so worried about something in your writing you’re not going to do that thing.
I’ve seen so many different ways this phenomenon manifests itself when I’m working with authors on their books. Some people worry they aren’t providing enough context and end up over-explaining, some people don’t like novels that jump around so they end up being overly linear, some people are worried their book is going to read like everyone else’s so they write overly purple prose.
Once you know how this manifests itself for you, you’re probably going to have to go back and pull yourself the other way to end up in the sweet spot.
Do: Worry about your writing blind spots
The biggest problems in your writing are inevitably things that are difficult for you to spot. And it makes sense: if you could have spotted them yourself you would have corrected them already.
These are your blind spots, and it’s why you should have your work edited before you self-publish or try to find a literary agent. You need other people to help you see things you would have had trouble spotting yourself.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a paid editor, though I’d be happy to help.
Don’t: Worry about what happens with any one agent
Sometimes writers follow agents on social media or find out who represents their favorite books and start getting their heart set on that one agent as the be all end all of agents.
Don’t do this. The right agent is the one who gets you and gets your book and wants to be your advocate. And you’ll never be able to predict who this person is going to be when you start the process.
Cast a wide net and keep an open mind. Even if you colossally mess up a submission with one agent, it’s not the end of the world.
Do: Worry about whether an agent is good and reputable
A bad agent is worse than no agent.
The tricky thing is that it’s hard to spot bad agents from the outside. They may well look by all accounts to be well-intentioned and reputable, and even worse, they may not even know they’re a bad agent.
But make sure to do your research (here’s how to research literary agents) and make sure to trust your gut when you’re vetting them.
Writers, what are some of the things you’ve been worried about that you later realized were irrational?
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: The Scream by Edvard Munch