That Stupid Thing Called Fear

I always think I’m pretty good about the fear thing. I do pretty well at working on my projects, facing the fear that they may never “make it,” tucking that away into the little box where it belongs, where it won’t get in the way of the actual writing. I do pretty well, too, working through a yucky first draft, opening up the little box again and dropping in the worry that yucky is the only adjective I’ll ever have to describe the story.

Where fear seems to hit me, though, is when I haven’t been working on a project for a while. Sometimes, it’s a vacation that takes me away, sometimes it’s the job-work that makes it hard to get to, sometimes–like recently–it’s that I’ve been working on some other writing project, like my picture book.

Whatever the reason, there comes a time when I have to transition back.

Here’s how I was feeling this week about stepping back into my YA historical:

  • This second draft just isn’t really much further along than the first draft. (There’s a good reason for this, which I talked about here, but still…)
  • I was really having fun writing a funny picture book, you know? I was smiling a lot.
  • Oh, boy, are there some not-cheerful research books I need to be reading.
  • What was I even writing last time I worked on the YA?
  • I so don’t have enough clue about my protagonist yet.
  • I think there are probably about a bajillion pages I should just cut.

And so on.

Then I spent a few minutes–seriously, fifteen? last week just looking at the last few chapters I’d written in the YA. And–as usual–I saw stuff that, yeah, made me gag, and I saw stuff–as usual–that was…good. And I started to see where, in the future, I’l need to compress events, edit too-modern language, and you know…revise. I’m not ready to do that, obviously, but the consensus between me, my brain, and my anxiety was pretty much: Hey, this isn’t all bad.

And some of the fear went away.

I spent another few minutes–three, this time? thinking about the next scene. Which is one I’d actually written for the first draft, but that still has a place in Caro’s new story. And I thought of some changes that would make things happen more quickly, make Caro more angry at another character, and show her at least trying to take charge.

One more little bubble of fear popped up. You probably know this one: Are these really the right changes to make?

Well, because I’d dropped myself back into the book the day before, I was able to take that bubble of fear, pop it, and drop the residue into the box. And slam the lid.

And I was able to sit down and write.

And fall in love all over again with this story and this world and, most of all, this hero.

The moral of this lesson is 1) Try not to stay away from a writing project for longer than you have to and 2) Try even harder not to listen to the fear.

It’s not only destructive; it’s wrong. Put on your armor, heft your shield, draw your sword. Then get back into the arena and write.


  1. claudine says:

    I love this! (please copy and repaste in the comments for all your posts).
    Seriously, I needed to hear this. (okay, copy that part too.)
    I actually own one of those little boxes where I store stuff I don’t want to worry about now. It’s imaginary and I forget to use it a lot, but you reminded me about it and for the first time I realized I can use it for my writing fears too! Yay!


  2. Karen Wiesner, author of “First Draft in 30 Days,” which is an outlining resource book, has a different perspective on leaving your work for awhile. In fact, she says it’s essential to put it aside periodically because writers tend to get really sick of their work, and they get too close to it to see what’s working and what isn’t. Sounds like you just experienced everything she talked about, including getting the love for your book back because you put it aside for awhile.
    I have a strange phenomena in that I can only stay interested in one work for two or three days at most, so have learned to always have five or ten things percolating in the coffee pot, (a favorite mind image of Karen’s.) When I get sick of figuring out the conundrum for the “Daniel story,” I might do some research for the “Cousins story.” Or of course, work on the blog. Because of a bad fatigue problem, it is quite often two or three weeks before my mind and energy level will let me work on something again, so for me, putting work aside is sort of automatic; in fact, downright compulsory. I know my system won’t work for everyone, but maybe a few might give it a try and find it helpful.


    • beckylevine says:

      Marly, I definitely hit times when I need to switch project gears, although it’s usually weeks or months into ones–this is why I’m liking having a picture book or two to work on, as well as the YA. I still have to deal with transitioning back, though!

      Good luck with your energy & project balance. 🙂


  3. My fear also tends to grow when I’m away from the work. So glad you found your way back in again!

    I try to remember that sometimes the books that scare us most are the ones we really need to write.


    • beckylevine says:

      Amy, I think you’re right–whether it’s the topic or the craft element. With this YA, I am very clear that if I were to give up on it, I would lose the chance to push my writing boundaries and, very probably, some emotional ones as well. All of which I need to KEEP doing!


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