Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Weeding Our Manuscripts Part One: Weed Out Fear

"Listen...you know those days when you get the mean reds?" --Holly.
"The mean reds? You mean like the blues?" --Fred (Paul).
"No... the blues are because you're getting fat or because it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?" --Holly.
"Sure." --Fred (Paul).

In light of gardening season I'm going to start a miniseries on the weeds that have been messing with my writing life. Maybe you notice them springing up in your manuscript...or in your own heart. Some of these will be emotional/spiritual issues that cloud up our writing lives, others will be on craft issues.

Have you ever had the mean reds? I mean in your writing life? 

An intense fear that holds you captive. Thoughts such as:

I'm afraid I'll never be good enough.
              ....of what my critique partners/agents/editors/readers will think about my manuscript.
              ....of hitting the "send" button to an agent, to a contest, to an editor.
              ....of wasting my own time and my family's time in my pursuit of writing.
              ....of writing true from my own heart, perhaps this is the most scary of all at times.

What are your fears?

So how do you turn them off?

1) Our first line of defense: prayer. I would like to say this is the one I always turn to immediately. 

Here's some Scriptures that bring me comfort:

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."

Luke 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.

Let's remember that we're writing for the Audience of One. When we fear God, the fear of man begins to dissipate.

2) Remind yourself that its all a process.

Maybe you didn't just sign a contract from your favorite publishing house. Contest results can be elusive.

We will never reach that coveted state of writing perfection. Never. 

A few months ago I presented some writing to my face-to-face critique group. Two members asked me whether this was an older piece of writing because it wasn't the quality they were used to seeing from me. That was encouraging to me, because it showed me even though I hadn't seen the growth, it was there.

3) Don't be afraid to write badly, particularly on your rough draft.

Jennifer Egan, 2011 Pulitzer winner gave the following as her favorite craft tip in Writer's Digest (March/April 2012). Please note I am in no way advocating her book, I have not read it so I can't vouch for it.

Write Badly. Just write a lot of terrible stuff and wait for it to get better. I think the feeling that it needs to be good, that you need to wait for it to be good, is a recipe for writer's block. I've written so badly that my working title for The Keep, my last book, was A Short, Bad Novel. I'm not going to exceed that. I don't want to shoot too high. I would urge anyone to write badly and deal with the bad feelings that it brings in order to get into the habit of being a habitual writer and being present for the good stuff when it comes.

I find those words tremendously encouraging and you know what they show me?

Our insecurities about writing will not go away if we are published by X publisher, sell X copies, make the New York Times list or even win a Pulitzer. 

God is the only one who can help us put our insecurities in perspective.

4) Don't second guess anyone else's reaction to your writing.

Don't try to figure out what was meant by that Genesis judge's comment. Don't fret if you don't know how to apply the advice your critique partner gave you.

God will grow you in your writing. Allow for his timing. Don't let fear hold you back from learning, but wait for his timing. 

Just like in our spiritual life we have a growth arc. So many times I find myself frustrated because I'm not learning craft in MY time. 

Do you struggle with fear in your writing life? What helps you through the process?

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site. 


Anonymous said...

Thanks. This particularly has been something I've been struggling with:

....of wasting my own time and my family's time in my pursuit of writing.

I'll remember its not about getting thing done in "my time".

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh my goodness, this post was for me. I have felt such failure in quiting Speedbo at Seekerville and have questioned if I am even supposed to be writing! I can't seem to finish anything. Do I have only one story to tell?

So thank you. Your words were balm to my writer soul. :)

Unknown said...

I needed this today, Julia. Thanks. I'm struggling trying to really figure out my heroine, and she's so elusive. The pressure of the end of the school year isn't helping. So, I'll choose to remember that it's in God's timing that this story gets finished. And I'll pray. Hard. That He'll help me figure out this lady in my head. :)

Pepper said...

FANTASTIC post, Julia - and one I desperately needed to read today.
You know, anytime you throw in Scripture is was suppose to be there for SOMEONE to read... I was that someone today :-)

Fear? Worry? Self-doubt? Yep, been there and visit often.
Thanks for the permission to 'write badly' to create the habit in us to WRITE.
Thanks for the encouragement of God's call on our hearts and the challenge to be persistent.

Wonderful reminders!

Pepper said...

And Jeanne,

Susan Anne Mason said...


Thanks for the inspiring words and the laugh (A Short, Bad Novel!).

You had so much wonderful advice in there. Each point could have a whole blog written about it.

You said: "Our insecurities about writing will not go away if we are published by X publisher, sell X copies, make the New York Times list or even win a Pulitzer."

This is so true - I think it's the bane of the writer's existence. Every writer it seems, even the New York Times best sellers, still have crashing moments of doubt and insecurity. I know I do.

I had an interesting AHA moment lately. I bought a book (a secular author whom I like) and as I was reading, I thought "Boy this isn't up to her usual standards." So I looked at the copyright year and it was about 28 years ago. I laughed because it gave me so much hope. Every writer (or almost) starts out so-so and it's the experience of writing that makes us all better.

(I'll be very old if I have to wait 30 years to get good though! LOL.)

So write on! And pray - that's always a good one. And know that we all have talent!


Teri said...

Love this! I especially like that your advice is well-seasoned with reminders that God is our audience and our need to trust Him and look to Him is far greater than seeking the approval of man.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Wow...it's like God told you to write this for me and post it today of all days. Awesome. I just got results back for a contest I entered...the first fiction contest I've ever entered. And the feedback was less than favorable in some ways. One judge was not very encouraging, though one was. At the end of reading it, I just wanted to cry. Sometimes I just wonder if this is even for me. I fear that I'll waste all this time and get nowhere. But then I remember that those are Satan's lies. He doesn't want me to keep going. He wants me to give up. I need to listen to the One whose voice really matters. I love the Audience of One thing. Funny...my mentor JUST texted me this an hour ago. God's trying to tell me something...

Julia M. Reffner said...


Oh, yes, I struggle with the evil Mommy guilt constantly. Sometimes if I think about what writing does for me personally, rather than fretting about the fact that I'm not bringing in income for the family (as a stay-at-home mom that is something that crosses my mind, your worry might be something different entirely). I know for me it helps me to reflect and relax and use up creative energy and that makes me a better wife and mom when kept in perspective.


I'm glad it spoke to you. Someday that next story will come bubbling up to you when you least expect it. I toyed with 3-4 ideas, plotting them out, until I reached the story idea that fits for my "second" novel.


Characters are hard to figure out and I know I have a tendency to overthink. I hope the end of your school year goes well. Hopefully the lower pressure of summer will free up that wellspring.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thank you for sharing that. I always know they speak to me and hope they'll speak to at least one other person. I'll need to constantly remind myself of these things. Excited for the end of school for you, too...less pressure and more time for you to write, play with those kiddos, and enjoy working on the house with the hubby.


I love that title. In fact I think I'm stealing it, at least in my own references. I love your AHA moment. What a great reminder for all of us. Know what you mean about it being hard to wait that long though.


Thanks, Teri. Yes, I struggle with this so I need the reminders. Glad it helped you, too.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thank you so much for sharing, I'm so glad it encouraged you. But I'm sorry about the rejection feelings, especially for a first contest. I'm glad one was encouraging. Can you keep her letter in a file? I have a few things I keep to encourage me on those rough days, one is from an author that told me when my work was VERY rough (and it still is) not to give up on my story. I get lots of rough feedback, but just when I need it God brings someone with a "don't give up on this story."

And this post, well it first went up with no pictures and no tail to it. I've been on meds for bronchitis that are making me a bit loopy and I doubted this post would even be coherent. God's faithful though :)

Jenna K. said...

Very encouraging post! I really needed it! I'm still trying to fight away the fears... :D

Unknown said...

Pepper, I bet you have even more stress than I do heading into the end of the school year. I'm "only" the mom at the end of a school year. If I recall, you also teach, correct?

Julia, I'll have to MAKE my time for the summner with my kiddos home. They've given me some good time today to work on figuring out my heroine, though, so there's hope for summer too. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Such a great and timely post, and something that we can use more than once in our writing career. I'm working hard on ignoring a particular fear with my writing right now, and it's hard. It's probably the hardest it's ever been. Thank you for your tips, Julia, and showing us that we're not alone.

Julia M. Reffner said...


I hear ya there on the MAKING time. Something I need to figure out a new schedule for now that I'm trying to wear the writing and editing hats. That's great that your littles gave you some extra time for working on your story.


Thanks for sharing, I'll pray for you with your writing. You have been such an encouragement to me along the way Cindy and I've definitely seen God work through you to minister to the Alley gals and readers here.

Mary Vee Writer said...

What an inspirational post, Julia.:)