Apr 14, 2014, 07:00AM

Dealing With Writer’s Terror

I’d prefer plain old writer’s block.

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Writer’s block is easy. Even on the rare occasion when I can’t think of a topic, going for a walk or kayak ride usually does the trick. But after 20 years of non-fiction, I started on fiction two years ago and have run into what I keep thinking of as writer’s anxiety or writer’s terror, and it is far more daunting.

My first novel is coming out this summer. My second novel is scheduled for completion by the end of this summer. The intersection of the two novels is what is sending me down the rabbit hole of constant migraines and that chest-clutching feeling of not being able to breathe, both of which make me want to find excuses to avoid my laptop, which technically should be chained to me right now and in fact always mentally is. If I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about writing.

I just got the final edit back on The Scarlet Letter Society. It’s set to be released in digital by June, print by fall. The fact that this week is the last chance I have to make any final changes is scary. It’s my first novel, so I worry that I could’ve done a better job; I was flying by the seat of my pants, tightrope walking without a net—frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing. I lose sleep thinking about how zero-star “this novel sucks” Goodreads reviews will make me cry. I wonder how I’ll learn to ignore the haters; knowing I’m my own worst critic is a scarce comfort.

First world problems, right? I’m thankful just to have it published. Maybe the book will find success, maybe it won’t, but either way I should consider it an accomplishment. Fear of failure is what clenches my throat, what brings the migraines. I’ve got to figure out a way to get outside of my own head.

In addition, when news of the novel contract was released, there were two inquiries about film rights. That sounds awesome, yes? Except I don’t know the first thing about when or how you’re supposed to sell film rights to a novel. Shouldn’t I wait to see if the book is success, when it seems like I’d make more from film rights? But of course if the book is a flop, I won’t make anything at all. My literary agent is fantastic, so I will look to her to guide me in the unknown waters. She’s asking for the outline of the second novel, for the film rights folks.

I didn’t even know I had a second novel until my book contract was a two-book deal. I saw it in printed letters in front of me and actually thought “Wow! There’s another book? What’s it about?” But I was happy to discover that it only took asking the question “Well, what happened to my characters the day after this book ended?” to be able to find some answers. So the outline is coming along.

Another thing that’s upsetting me is my day job. Here at Splice Today, where I have very happily worked as Senior Editor for the last two years, I’ve been writing two-three pieces a week, and had to make a decision to write only once a week for awhile until I can get ahead of the novel process for both first and second books. Less writing means less income, and I signed with an indie publisher, which means I won’t see money from the book unless I sell books. Fair, but fear-inducing. Stress over money is my life’s perpetual anxiety.

I know that the current “writer’s terror” phase will pass because there’s too much to do and I can’t sit around being a paranoid psycho and avoiding the elephant in the room by watching bad TV. I simply must figure out how to get my shit together, do what needs to be done, and move on because anxiety isn’t a nice place to visit, much less live. 


Follow Mary McCarthy on Twitter @marymac.


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