The novel I’m working on right now has nearly been the end of me.
I wrote four novels (three were published, one’s in the drawer) and one nonfiction book over a four year period. And yet it’s taken me nearly that long just to get to the halfway point of my current novel.
I should have been confident about this new novel. I’ve written novels! I’ve been published by a major publisher! I spent years in this business and have seen it all!
And yet for several years I was plagued with a really serious, gnawing, crippling doubt: what if I never finish it?
What if I just talk about writing but I never actually write? What if that whole writing thing was just a certain point of time in my life that is now gone?
Ironically enough, as so many fears do, this one became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I became so fearful of this novel… I didn’t work on it enough. I completely made my fear real.
Earlier this year I was finally able to banish some of these fears from my head and start charging forth with the writing. I started chipping away and chipping away, passed the halfway point, and now, for the first time in years, I’m confident I’m actually, really going to finish.
The lesson I’ve learned: fears have a way of making themselves real.
The thing you’re scared of has a frightening tendency to make itself a reality. Banish those fears, focus on your goal, and even though it’s so much easier said than done, try not to doubt yourself.
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 Fisherman by George Bellows
Mark James Maccora says
Thanks for the great blog. This one speaks to my soul, Nathan, especially as a binge writer. I have been working on a novel for 6+ years, have a full draft that has gotten consistent notes and reviews from readers, and I’m fighting myself and my fears on the last push to finalize it. Will it be good enough? Will it be complete? Will it say all that needs to be said? I can no longer fear such things. I’m reprogramming myself to be a daily writer with a minimum time commitment instead of productivity goals, and I hope this creates the change in mindset that keeps me positive through the doldrums.
Glynis Jolly says
Nathan, I know exactly what you mean. Back in 2014, I wrote my first draft of my first and only novel. I got it done in nine months. Yay for me, right? No. I immediately sabotaged my w.i.p. but losing it somewhere in my PC. What had actually happened is I didn’t trust my skill to go on to the next draft. I didn’t think I’d ever be good enough to actually finish a book to the very end. I did find my rough rough draft, but I still haven’t been able to bring myself to work on it. Instead, I’m taking a writing course online.
You cannot comprehend how much I needed commiseration on this topic. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Nancy S. Thompson says
I so could’ve written this post. I’ve been the exact same way for the last 2 years and now wonder if I’ll ever finish. I’ve been way too occupied with the dismal state of this nation as of late that I can’t concentrate on much else. But I’m still trying and I won’t give up. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one. Thanks, Nathan!
JOHN T. SHEA says
Ah yes! That deadly question What if!? I know the feeling all too well. The Inner Critic is the most critical of all, constructive only up to a point. But I’m glad to hear you’re besting him! Let us know what your WIP’s genre is etc. when and if you feel like telling. And the best of luck with it!
Tracy Line says
Oh my gosh-I needed to read this today! Thanks for the great reminder, “The thing you are scared of has a frightening tendency to make itself a reality.” I’m writing that down and putting it up where I can see it every day. I don’t want fear to win.
Anneliese Schultz says
Marianne Williamson points out, “‘The Course’* teaches we create what we defend against, so our subconscious mind will set things up in such a way that we will create it.”
June 2007 – I’m just glad that when I was writing the first novel in my cli-fi series, I somehow unthinkingly accepted that since I was also teaching full-time, it would take however long it took (10 years).
Feb. 2017 – losing the first 10 chapters of my latest novel threatened to stall it out completely. It was almost 6 months before I took heart again, but what got me and it moving was realizing that with a word count (which I’d always resisted) of only 250 words a day, I could finish it by the end of the year. Worked beautifully.
Thanks for bringing up all these crucial issues!
* “A Course in Miracles”
it happens when you raise the bar – suddenly hurdles you’ve skipped become goals…and you start thinking about it
creativity comes from the subconscious – take dictation (rather than dictating to it) & trust you’ve got it. You do.
oh & thanks for the reminder
Wow, Nathan, these words are very close to my heart, and what everyone needs to hear. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
For years I’ve received an inspirational which goes something like: ‘Fear is our only foe while Faith is our best friend.’ Faith just means having confidence in, and conviction of, a positive outcome to whatever we need and desire. And in ourselves. And in others. We can be too paranoid about others. We only need a tiny amount of faith to manifest the positive outcomes we all crave. However, spending time listening to the lies of fearful thoughts always generates the emotion of the same name which is always a lose-lose: drop in confidence and energy; and over time even harmful to health and rationality, plus this focus and resulting negative emotion changes the personality for the worse and ensures a negative outcome. Tests have been done showing that fear, worry and agitation (all degrees of fear) can and does contribute to mental issues such as dementia. The mind realises that prolonged anxiety is extremely harmful for the body so it shuts the mind down, to one degree or another, until the person starts taking control of their mind instead of being a puppet on the strings of their thoughts. On a spiritual level, many of our thoughts do not originate from us. So we need to be extremely careful what thoughts we choose to accept, focus upon and react to emotionally. The positive thoughts take more work, that’s for sure, but they feed our energy, through the positive emotional reaction, and they ensure a positive outcome.
Btw, Nathan, this new project that you’ve received so much inner resistance to will likely turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done. Congrats on winning the battle of the mind. This is the real battle in life we all must take on – and win – even though it’s not an easy one,
I spent a year on something. I loved the idea (I still do) but I just could not figure out the story. So I’ve put it aside. I hate losing that year and that it isn’t finished, but is it sometimes true that your mind and your novel just aren’t meshing?
Terin Miller says
Thanks, once again, for writing what I’ve been thinking.
This fear is real and, perhaps, more real the more time passes between being published, let alone writing.
It is almost exactly where I’m at with The Hollow Men — except four novels published, one self-published, and three published by NOT “major” publishers.
And I have spent nearly an equivalent time in writing the “work-in-progress” as the time it took for those four novels to see readers. And, of course, I have one in the drawer. And one in my head for when I really finish this one. Time is the enemy of all writers.
As writing pal, former journalist and old high school chum Tom Schmidt once discussed with me, “No one ever knows how much time they have” on this planet, in this life, in a career or to write, let alone “be published.” And, as the Schmidt Corallary notes: “It’s even less time than you think.” The solution? Get writing. It’s what writers do. For God’s sakes, don’t wait until an artificial time like “NaNoWriMo.”
In my humble opinion.
Neil Larkins says
Ah, gee, Nathan, why’d you hafta go and admit you’re like me? I looked up to you, got strength and great inspiration. Then you went and showed me you have feet of clay. (Or a few toes at least.) What an even greater inspiration! I’m still struggling with my little memoir, The Last Time You Fall, but think that after nearly twenty-five years of starting dozens of drafts and finally finishing this one, I’m gonna make it. Probably fifty revisions of the first two pages. And realizing after five years the thing should be told in first person rather than third. But it’s done. Those little tweaks here and nudges there are about to niggle me to death, though. Okay. Well, I know I’ll make it… and if I can, you really can. Thanks for another great post, Nathan.
Jason Covert says
I’ve nearly finished four novels at three drafts a piece or least I will have before the end of this month and I haven’t had that problem.
Mostly, it’s due to the fact that I’ve goals or little milestones that I have to keep reaching for.
Also, I’m not in the mindset that a novel is an open ended thing and therefore can never be finished. I start and end the process focusing on part of the story that I’m telling.