Everyone is insecure about something, whether it be their appearance, performance, or social standing. It’s no wonder, either. There will always be someone better looking, more talented, and more socially adept than us.
In this post I want to address the insecurities many writers face specifically. First, I’m going to rank them by the degree to which they affect me. Then I am going to explain why they are completely valid and unnecessary, and we should all just Stop It right now or else.
#5: Is My Idea Original Enough?
One fear I’ve always had is that I’ll write something so similar to something else that people will accuse me of copying another author. I don’t know why I’m insecure about the originality of my ideas, considering I come up with them from scratch and don’t consciously incorporate others’ ideas with my own. I’m not talking about themes, but plot and characters, because themes should be repeated throughout literature, or else they wouldn’t be worth exploring.
Here’s why we should be insecure about this: authors do copy other authors in real life and sell the copy as their own creation. It’s called plagiarizing, and it should be avoided at all cost. If we were not concerned about the accusation of plagiarizing, it would be far more common. We should not sell ideas unless they are our own. Additionally, it probably isn’t a good idea to directly take someone’s story and change a few aspects, like the names and locations. It is almost always obvious when an author does this, and it is annoying.
Here is why this insecurity is stupid: readers like a degree of repetition within genres, for the same reason fan-fiction readers will read about the same characters over and over in various settings. They grow attached to a certain motif and can’t get enough of it. So you don’t want your idea to be completely, wholly original, otherwise it won’t resonate with many people. The ideas that resonate the most are those that have been done before, but are done again in an entirely different way.
Formulate a concept for your story and make it your own. Don’t be discouraged if you see a story come out that is similar to yours. Just remind yourself that your story will merely fit into a category that your audience will like, and they will gladly read the same story again when you release it. Think: Hunger Games/Divergent.
#4: Is My Writing Good Enough?
Regardless of your niche genre or target audience, your writing must reflect capability on some level, and, like any skill, it takes practice to write well enough. Well enough by whose standards? Mostly, yours.
I am my own worst critic. I can’t help but compare my writing to other authors’ when I read their books. Fifty percent of the time, I think: I could write like this and sell as much as the author with enough time and patience. Forty percent of the time, I think: I could never write this well. And the last ten percent: I write way better than this; I have a chance in this industry.
Your prose and grammar matter, of course, though the overall quality of your writing is arguably subjective. I have read books that sound to me like they were written by an average high school student that have received high praise in reviews. I have also read books with decent prose that didn’t grab me like they should have.
Here is why you should be insecure about this: writers who are overconfident in their writing ability are difficult subjects of critique. They believe they are poets — masters of the art — and who are you to say otherwise? If you are insecure about your ability, that means you are open to suggestions and eager to improve, which means you are willing to put in the work to achieve the skill level you want. It also means you’re normal and somewhat self-aware. With this mindset, it is easier to self-edit, saving you further critique from an editor or reader.
Here is why this insecurity is dumb: you are never going to be perfect. If you are a perfectionist, you might over-correct your work or spend too much time polishing it. If you don’t ignore your self-doubts every so often, you aren’t going to move forward. Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at your work as a whole — and summon fresh pairs of eyes to evaluate it for you.
Your writing will never be “good enough.” You will always have room to improve. And that is part of the fun, isn’t it?
#3: Does My Story Make Sense?
This is especially tough to answer when your story is an epic, a thriller, or simply one with countless moving parts. If you don’t plan before or during the writing process, it’s easy to lose track of plot threads and character moments.
I struggle with this primarily on plot-adjacent issues in my story, such as magic systems, political strife, and character motivations. Does my magic system work in this world? Does it make sense that this faction is fighting against this faction? Is my character’s motivation consistent? Would it make sense for he/she to do this in this situation?
One of my biggest fears in publishing my next series is that readers will say the plot was full of holes, or the characters were inconsistent, or something so-and-so did on page 115 didn’t make sense. Why? Because those issues aren’t easy to fix after you publish! It’s a major reason I outline multiple times in the writing process. When I am finished with Gray Haze, I will definitely go back with a fine-tooth comb and poke all the holes in it that I can find so I can fill them before publishing.
I don’t want to introduce a spell in my book, for example, that could potentially solve everyone’s problems and neglect to use it again. I don’t want my entire plot nullified by a silly, abandoned deus ex machina. 😛
Here is why you should be insecure about this: I have read too many stories/watched too many movies and TV shows recently with elements that didn’t make sense, to the point where they actually ruined the stories altogether. I don’t think it’s possible to uncover every plot hole before releasing it — sometimes it’s even okay if something doesn’t make sense to the reader/viewer, as long as the lack of explanation is explained or the story is engaging enough that the reader/viewer can comfortably suspend their disbelief.
Take the time to outline your story, either before or after you write it, and examine your characters’ actions looking for reasons they would do something different. Look for events that didn’t need to happen, or gaps in the narrative that an additional scene would fill. A fresh pair of eyes can also be invaluable for this, as they don’t have the same biases you do. Find someone you can tell about your story out loud and allow them to ask you questions.
Here is why this insecurity is stupid: have you seen real life? Your story will never be as much of a mess.
But, in all seriousness, this is a Highly Valid concern, and you should pay more attention to it.
#2: Will Anyone Read It?
No, not just anyone. But if you have worked long and hard enough to produce a unique story of objective quality, someone will. After you write it, of course, you’ll have to put more effort into spreading the word about its existence.
I am insecure about this because of social anxiety that is prevalent in the real world and online. I don’t like posting online. I don’t want to post exclusively promotional material, but I can never think of what to say otherwise. I don’t like interacting with strangers (or even acquaintances, for the most part). Being a self-published author is excruciating for that reason. I want to be successful, but a huge part of my brain won’t allow me to do what is necessary to get there.
I want everyone to read my book, but only if they’ll enjoy it. If I could make a positive difference in the mind of a single individual, then my work will be worthwhile.
Here is why you should be insecure about this: it’s unlikely anyone will read it if you don’t put it into a few of their hands. The desire for your work to be appreciated by the masses is common among creative people. What else would drive us to spend hours/weeks/months/years pouring our soul into a project? The “process”? Bah. The process of creating is often painful. If you rely on your enjoyment of writing, you’re not going to last very long. You have to be striving for something greater than that.
Here is why this insecurity is dumb: so what if no one reads it? Keep writing, keep working, and keep modifying your goals. You’re going to need a lot of luck, sure, but not until you do the work. Don’t think about who or how many people are going to read it until your creation is complete.
#1: Am I Wasting My Time?
This is a big source of anxiety for me because I do spend most of my waking hours on my laptop typing a story I can only hope enough people will read. It’s a major investment; I could be doing a million other things. Will it be worth it?
Here is why you should be insecure about this: maybe you have a family to support, and you should spend your time with them or supporting them. Maybe you are letting it consume you to the point where you neglect them altogether. Maybe, in the future you discover that it was a waste of time, that circumstances beyond your control force you to abandon your dreams.
If you are not thinking about the way you spend your time, you’ll be prone to waste it. Writing or not, you likely waste at least five hours a day. So, think about your goals for a second: are you writing merely to improve? Are you writing to make money? Whatever the reason may be, you should set smaller goals for yourself that will increase the odds of you reaching the bigger ones. If writing is just a fun pastime for you, then perhaps you could do something more productive (not that you should stop altogether, obviously; this is just a thought exercise).
Here is why this insecurity is stupid: writing is probably one of the most valuable skills in the world. A good writer can influence many people. A good writer can express themselves in a manner others cannot. Unless you virtually do nothing else day after day, writing is a productive use of your time.
In my case, I have greater goals in mind when it comes to my works-in-progress. It is possible that in a few years, I will realize I just wasted many years crafting a story no one will read or care for. It is possible that disaster will strike, and I will abandon my lofty notions altogether.
Even if the worst happens, I know I’ll be able to pick it up again. Even if this book fails, I have many back-up ideas that may not. Everything you do in life comes with pros and cons — you can’t always predict the consequences of your actions. No matter how much time and effort I invest in my wip, I still have to rely on faith and luck to make a career out of it.
I can’t help but shake the awful truth that as unlikely as my success may seem in this crowded industry, and as much as I will have to rely on faith and fortune in the future, I will never be able to sell a book that isn’t written. I have to write it first.
Am I wasting my time? Not entirely. I’m learning and growing every day simply by making these goals and sticking to them. I’m doing something that I love in hopes it will make the tiniest difference in the world. I am developing my sole marketable skill. Something is bound to come of it someday.
What are your insecurities as a writer? Let’s discuss in the comments! 🙂