Writing and Worrying

A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.Thomas Mann, German writer (1875 – 1955)

I can’t do this. I can. No, I really can’t. This is terrible. Why am I wasting my time? Why can’t I be as good as [insert fantastic author here].

Yeah, welcome to the inside of my head. I’ve been working on a second Regency-set historical, and it is about 2/3rds of the way done. But–and this is a big but–I’m not sure if it’s good. I’ve got a lot of ends to tie up, some to undo in the first place still, and I worry I’m just writing loads of words where nothing happens.

My case is not unusual. In fact, I doubt if there are any authors out there who haven’t had the same derisive little voices lodged inside their heads (well, all except Barbara Cartland, who apparently thought she was all that and a side of fries). So–given that giving up is not an option, how do we rise above (which, of course, reminds me of hardcore band Black Flag‘s song “Rise Above,” which is an anthemic triumph. But I digress–a natural problem when one is beset by insecurities.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946, English essayist, novelist, & satirist (1903 – 1950)

Last week, I printed my whole manuscript out and read it over with a pen and some post-its in hand. I edited, wrote down themes and plot points I needed to bring in and/or flesh out, and this week I’ve been incorporating the smaller edits and am getting prepared to dive in for the bigger stuff. But what if it still stinks?

Keep writing. Keep doing it and doing it. Even in the moments when it’s so hurtful to think about writing.Heather Armstrong, Keynote Speech, SXSW 2006

My mind has been chasing itself in circles, nutty dog style. Can I assemble a plotting group? Should I revisit the synopsis and try to nail down my story? Do I just plunge back in and start writing again and see where the story takes me (“. . . to Stinkyville,” my mind answers. Shut up, mind!).

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.
Isaac Asimov, US science fiction novelist & scholar (1920 – 1992)

Stay tuned. I guess if I were secure, I’d be content with my stinky story, and wonder why my readers (if, indeed, this manuscript reaches the point of publication) didn’t like it as much as I did.

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.
W. Somerset Maugham, English dramatist & novelist (1874 – 1965)

And now–back to the work-in-progress.



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Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
16 years ago

I’d be quite happy to be a part of our plotting group if you so desire. We could get one together after the next meeting. I’m sure K, J, & J, would like the help!

Megan Frampton
16 years ago

Thanks, EKM. I’ve emailed you guys. We’ll see if it helps! (Do any of you other Riskies have plotting groups? How does it work?)

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

I don’t have a plotting group, but I wish I did! I’m trying to do a new synopsis, and it’s giving me fits.

Thanks for this post, Megan! I always feel better knowing I’m not the only neurotic writer out there, not by a long shot. I veer between thinking I’m OK and thinking I should never be allowed to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) again. Wish I knew how Barbara Cartland came by that boundless (and rather groundless!) certainty…

16 years ago

I’m definitely a skilled worrier. I have accepted a challenge to write a book by August, and when I started plotting, I also started thinking that I won’t be able to write another single-title-length book, and if I do, it won’t be as good as the first one, blah blah. Ugh.

For what it’s worth, I think writers who worry take time to make the story as good as it can be. Or so I keep telling myself. LOL!

Elena Greene
16 years ago

Painful as the self-doubts are, I wouldn’t want Barbara Cartland’s boundless certainty!

I regularly meet with two writing friends to talk shop, critique and do plot brainstorming if someone asks for it. We don’t have a set process. It’s kind of a free-for-all. Since there are just three of us and we have similar attitudes towards the craft, it works.

I’d be curious what a more organized plotting group does.

Megan, I’m sooo sympathetic toward the dilemma of whether to go back and revisit the plot or “pants it” a bit. I agonize over that too. I think for anyone who isn’t a confirmed pantser or plotter (I’m somewhere in between) it can make sense to switch off between the two if you get stuck. Hope that helps!

Elena, also a major worrier

Megan Frampton
16 years ago

I think this isn’t the first time I’ve recognized this agony is just a prequel to doing what I have to do, if it’s writing a book, or deciding to have a child, or anything really big and momentous. I am a pre-worrier.
So after all this, I actually feel much better, and a bit enthused about finishing the darn thing.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

One thing I learned from being a parent, Megan, is that kids get fractious and fearful before a big conceptual/cognitive breakthrough. Of course, they’re better at learning and growing than we are, but still . . .

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