How to Write a Novel When You’re Scared

This week’s post is all about how to overcome the fear of writing a novel.  I was asked this question by several people over the past month so it’s obviously something that people think about and want to know more about.  There is a ton of information on the web over how to start, how to finish and how to sell.  But there isn’t much information on the mental preparation you need to complete a draft.  Preparing your mind before you begin can be the difference between giving up and typing ‘the end’

 

Everyone can write a novel?

They say that everyone in the world has at least 1 novel inside them.  I think that’s true. However I don’t believe everyone has the ability to actually sit down and write that novel successfully.  Until a short time ago, I wasn’t even sure I had the ability to actually sit down and write a novel.  I was too afraid.  Now I’ve written 2 novels in the space of 8 months whilst running 2 businesses.  The first novel is being edited, and I am about to begin a 3rd.   How did I do it?

Hampstead Cemetery

Graveyard near where I live – Part of the inspiration for The Earth Experiment

How to overcome the fear

  1. Ignore your inner critic – the little voice in your mind telling you that ‘you can’t write and you should give up’ is not useful at this stage. Save him (or her) for the editing later on.  The inner critic will be more impressed and able to help, once you’ve written your first draft.
  2. Don’t sprint If you try to write too quickly, you’ll get worn out and bored with your own story quickly.  Take time out when you need a rest.  Remember the other parts of your life.
  3. Don’t worry about spelling and grammar Save your ‘reader eye’ for the first round of edits.
  4. Read as you’re writing Not at the same time obviously, but do continue to read.  The more you read, the stronger a writer you can become.  A lot of people recommend reading books in the same genre you’re writing in, however from my own experience it is possible to read other genres at the same time.  For me it helps take my obsessive mind away from the genre I’m writing in, and actually has given me ideas to improve my own work.

  1. Keep Going You will write a lot of crap on your first draft.  ALL writers do – even the most successful ones.  I do.  Guess what?  It’s normal.  And it makes a lot of newbies give up.  So don’t stop.  Keep going.  Do you know why?  In amongst the crap will be some good stuff.  I can edit, cut and rewrite the crap I’ve written.  I can’t edit, cut and rewrite blank pages.  Keep going!

 

Another big help in conquering the fear is to ask yourself 3 important questions before you sit down to write:

 

  1. What do you want to write?
  2. Why do you want to write it?
  3. Who have you written it for?

 

If you can answer those 3 questions, then your brain is already wired towards making an idea in your head, become a fully thought out novel on paper or computer.  I’ll now share how I answered each of those questions when I sat down to write my first completed draft.

  1. I want to write a fantasy story about science and religion
  2. I want to write it because I find both science and religion fascinating and interchangeable and I want to challenge the concepts of both. I also wanted to write a story where the main characters are female, as I don’t see enough female led science fiction and fantasy stories.
  3. I’ve written it for people who enjoy science fiction and fantasy stories, like me!

 

Know Why Writers Write

A lot of writers produce novels for different reasons, but I believe there are 3 main ones:

 

  1. Some want to highlight a personal, professional or political issue that’s important to them
  2. Some want to write to prove they can
  3. Some want to write simply because they love reading, telling and sharing stories

 

It’s the third group of people that you should try to be in, because I believe it is the group most likely to actually sit down and consistently read and write books.  You can tell a story and address an issue you care about, but if you don’t enjoy reading and telling stories as well, then not many people will listen or read what you have to say.  The most successful writers often share issues they care about, but they are successful because they first and foremost love reading, telling and sharing stories.

Earth Experiment Concept Art

‘The Earth Experiment’ – concept art by Erin Ewer

READ, READ, READ!

If you don’t read books, you can’t write books.  This is Stephen King’s top piece of advice to any aspiring writer and I agree wholeheartedly with him.  You need determination and a love of reading.  Writing a novel is not easy.  Life holds many distractions for all of us.  The best way I can describe it, is akin to running a marathon.   You can’t sprint your way to the end because you’ll collapse after a few miles.  You have to pace yourself and you have to know when to jog and when to pick up the pace.  The only way you’ll learn this is by doing it again and again, which brings me once more to…

 

…Keep trying!

Successful marathon runners do not give up, even when they lose.  They keep training and they keep racing until they eventually win a marathon.  The same is true of writing a novel, and of doing anything successful career wise!  The consistently great writers do not start great.  They build themselves up through practice and persistence.  They read a lot.  They write a lot.  They edit a lot.  They live a lot.  Then they start all over again.

 

That’s how it’s done. 

 

Good luck!

 

NEXT WEEK:  Career Change: When should you quit your job?

About the Author

John is an award winning science fiction, horror and fantasy writer. He is also a public speaker and consultant and has worked with Time to Change - a campaign to end mental health stigma - and for Wellment - an organisation that delivers mental health at work training. He loves science fiction, fantasy and horror stories and novels. His work has appeared in Vector Magazine, Ink Pantry, Sci-Fi Bloggers, The Huffington Post and more. His short fantasy "Thanks for Applying" won an Honourable Mention Award in the Writers of the Future competition in 2017. HIs short horror "By the Boiler's Hand" was longlisted for the 2018 James White Award and won an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future competiton the same year. John has spoken at several events including the Nine Worlds Geekfest in London, Bristol Con 2018, and the Moorfields NHS Trust. He has delivered masterclasses on ending mental health stigma in the workplace for Time to Change. He lives with his wife and a pile of books in the UK.

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