On the Fear of Writing

Guest Blogger: Caragh M. O’Brien

Please understand: I am not an insecure or fearful person. I’m strong and tough, and I laugh at myself regularly. Spiders and mice can’t throw me, and I’m only marginally afraid of the dark or donning a bikini. But today, I’m afraid of writing, and in light of what I’ve gleaned from my writer friends, I’m not alone in this.

It started last spring, when it hit me that someday I would finish the BIRTHMARKED trilogy and no longer be safely focused on the project that has consumed me since 2008. Sure enough, the first two books are now out on the shelves, and my third, PROMISED, has gone through copyedits and is, for practical purposes on my end, done. I’ve tried to prepare for this day by sketching out ideas for my next projects, running them by my agent, and starting a few. By no means am I reaching this moment cold, with no direction. I have direction. Direction is not the problem.

Fear is.

So, let me split my personality and face my fear head on.

Q. What if I write something horrible?

A. You will. Undoubtedly. Your first draft will stink.

Q. What if my agent doesn’t like it?

A. That’s very possible. He only likes good stuff. You trust his expertise and count on him to be honest with you, which means he’ll tell you if your next book is lousy.

Q. What if my editor doesn’t like it?

A. Then she won’t buy the book. You don’t want her to take on a project unless she’s thrilled about it. You’ll have to sub it to another editor and that editor might not like it either.

Q. So, I might not ever sell another book?

A. True. So what?

Q. I’d have to go on a job interview!

A. That is a fact, not a question, and while job interviews leave you nauseous and prostrate on the couch, you could end up teaching again, and you love teaching.

Q. What if I can’t write anymore because I’m teaching full-time?

A. It will kill you to stop writing entirely. You’ll filch your spare moments and weekends and find a way to keep writing because that’s what you really love, isn’t it?

Q. Normally.

A. Right now you have the chance to write, an agent who has utter faith in you, an editor who’s asking for your next book, readers who are eager to see what you’ll come up with next, and a family that’s behind you all the way. Be afraid if you must, but go write regardless.

Q. Way to add the pressure.

A. Ignore it. Be a grown up. Go write five pages a day until the end of March and then come back and talk to me again.

See what I’m up against? She’s a nasty taskmistress, this half of my brain that wields the whip. Yet she’s right. The only real failure is a day with no writing in it. The only thing truly worth fearing is not writing.

Caragh M. O’Brien is a happy person whose writing keeps getting darker. Her works include the young adult dystopian novel BIRTHMARKED, its sequel PRIZED, and the upcoming PROMISED, all from Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press. Having resigned from teaching high school English to write full-time, she lives with her family in rural Connecticut. She blogs regularly about writing and life at caraghobrien.com.




  1. This leads into what I think all writers have – doubts. No matter how many books they publish, doubts don’t go away. Fear can rise its head -fear of “the unknown” once your project is done and you have to start something new. Those “what if”s” can drive doubt in deep. Caragh makes a simple and good point – just go write something and forget about those doubts!

  2. Well, you said it all…or at least almost everything I’ve been thinking lately. I’m ready to Indie publish a book and my stomach is a mess thinking about it. But I like the “write pages a day until March and get back to me…” Yeah…that’s the ticket. I think I’ll do that and kick the old self-doubt in the A–.

  3. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 01-26-2012 « The Author Chronicles

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