Saturday, March 16, 2024

You're Not Alone: Common Writer Fears and How to Overcome Them


I’m teaching a Novel Writing course at my college this semester. (I usually teach it once or twice a year.) For a midterm exercise, I asked the students to write about how drafting and getting feedback on their first chapter went. One of the students wrote that he was reluctant to offer any feedback that a writer might take as negative because he feared what they might say about his draft in order to get back at him.

Sound silly? It wasn’t to him. And this fear kept him from giving his best feedback, and it prevented him from gaining whatever insights into writing he might’ve gleaned from giving that feedback. In other words, his fear held him back. It prevented him from growing – and helping someone else grow.


Of course, this student is young, and this is likely his first time giving feedback on someone’s work. A more experienced writer would be long past having such basic doubts, right?




Whenever I’m asked what’s the most important quality writers need, I always give the same answer: psychological resilience. The fears, doubts, and worries never go away. But if you’re lucky, you get better at dealing with them. And the first step in that process is understanding that these fears are absolutely normal. All writers experience them to one degree or another. And the second step? Acknowledging these fears, understanding them, and learning ways to live with them.


So let’s talk about some scary stuff.

Fears Before Writing

·       I’m not good enough to be a writer. Wherever you’re at in your career, good enough is always just out of reach. It’s an ever-moving goalpost. You are where you are as a writer today, and if you keep working, you’ll be a bit better tomorrow. That’s the closest thing to a guarantee you can get as a writer. Improvement, no matter how great or small, is the goal.

·       I can’t be a REAL writer if I don’t have a writing degree. Bullshit. The only things you need to do in order to be a writer is to read a lot and write a lot, get feedback on your work, and never stop trying to improve. Writing programs can be very beneficial for some, but they aren’t necessary. If you’re there basically to purchase an identity as a writer, you’re there for the wrong reason. If you’re there to experience structured, guided growth as a writer and to be part of a community of like-minded writers, then you’re good. But a degree still isn’t necessary. Most writers I know don’t have writing degrees, and I know plenty of people with writing degrees who don’t write.

·       I need to be in a writers’ group to be a writer. Again, you don’t need this. But you do need to be cautious. It’s too easy to allow the group to become a creative end in and of itself, and you end up giving and getting feedback on work that no one ever attempts to publish. But if you find a group that supports one another and helps each other grow and work toward their writing goals, you’re golden.

·       I’m too young/too old to be a writer. All that any of us have is today. Start writing or don’t. Your age has nothing to do with it. Besides, you won’t stay young for long, and you’ll be one more day older whether you write or not.

·       My life is small and boring, and I don’t have enough material to draw on to be a writer. You have a lifetime of experience up to this point, and you add to it every second you live – especially if you remain open to the world around you. Work with what you have today and make the most of it. Do the same tomorrow. And the next day.

·       It’s selfish of me to devote so much time to writing. That’s one way to look at it. But the reality is, if you don’t take time to write – see if you can follow me here – you won’t get any writing done. A difficult concept to grasp, I know. There’s a reason why a lot of creative people don’t have kids and why they prefer to have relationships with other creatives who understand their need to write. Writing isn’t selfish. It’s self-fulfillment. By working toward growth, you’ll be a better partner, parent, friend, coworker, etc. Balance is needed, though. When my first daughter was born, my writing output slowed to a crawl. I knew it would, and I knew that it was temporary. I learned to get up early to write, to write during kids’ naptimes, to write in bits and snatches throughout the day, to write after they’d gone to bed for the night. I made myself do it even when I was tired, and I made time by not watching so much fucking TV. I also stopped reading novels for a while and primarily read short stories. I wasn’t willing to take time away from my daughters, so I made sacrifices elsewhere. I also learned that things don’t need to be perfect; they just need to be good enough. My great-grandmother used to say, “Your house will still be there when your kids are grown.” Worry about how often you dust, do laundry, or mow the lawn then.

·       I don’t know what I’m doing, so I need to learn much more about writing, then I’ll be skilled and knowledgeable enough to start. Thinking you need a writing degree fits here too, but I’m talking about going to writing conferences, reading how-to-write books, watching instructional videos on YouTube, reading fantastic author blogs like this one, following authors, agents, and editors on social media, hanging on their every word. I’ve known too many people who never believed they knew enough to start, and guess what? They never started. Start with the knowledge and skill you currently possess, write, and keep learning, but don’t allow learning to eat up all your time and become an excuse for not writing.

·       What if this piece doesn’t turn out the way I imagine? It never does. It might be better, it might be worse, but it’ll most likely just be different. Send it out to an editor and write something else.

·       Everything I write is crap. I feel this way all the time about everything I write, including this blog entry. I let myself feel it, and I keep writing anyway. Even if what you write is crap, you’ve still created something that’s never existed before. You still learned something from writing the piece. You still grew as an artist. When I was first starting out, old pros used to say, “The first million words are practice.” I found this very comforting because it meant it was normal to spend time learning, it was normal that not everything I wrote would be successful as a piece of writing, but it would be successful as a learning experience. The old saying is “Give yourself permission to write crap.” I think a better way to think of it is “Give yourself permission to practice.” And I bet that eventually, some of your practice will result in publishable work.

·       No one will ever read what I write. Maybe not. And even if they do, few people (relatively speaking) read for pleasure. Fewer still read fiction, and fewer still read the kind of weird-ass horror I like to write. I write for myself first (even when I write media tie-in fiction because it’s fun to write) and then I write for the people who would like to read the stuff I write, whoever they are and however many of them there are.

Fears During Writing

·       Am I starting my story at the wrong place? Maybe. But you won’t know until your write your story and see what you think of the completed piece when you read it over. And there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of different ways to begin your story. You only need one that works, and there is no one right choice. So pick one and start writing.

·       What if I get writer’s block? Some writers don’t believe writers’ block exists, some do. I believe it can be several different things: You’re afraid of failing, you’re tired, you’re not healthy, you’re currently dealing with emotional stressors, you’ve been writing so much for so long that you’re burned out. Identifying the reason you’re feeling blocked will help you fix it. Tired? Get some damn sleep. Hungry? Go eat. Burnt out? Take a vacation or maybe work on a different project, one that’s just for fun.

·       How will I keep track of all these characters, plot points, settings, etc.? Experiment with different organizing techniques. There are a zillion of them in how-to books and videos. Try writing software (but not fucking AI). Keep experimenting until you find something that works for your current project. And if the technique you found doesn’t work next time, search for a new one. Plus, if you’re a newer writer, maybe write simpler stories – fewer characters, fewer plot points, fewer settings – to make them more manageable. It’s like learning to juggle. First you learn how to throw one ball correctly, then two, then three, and so on. Building basic skills allows you to add more elements to your work over time.

·       My vocabulary isn’t strong enough for me to be a writer. Use the words you know now, and use new ones you acquire as you move through life if they feel natural and right to you. Keep reading. Besides, there are millions of words in the English language. Even a gigantic doorstop of a novel can only ever use a fraction of them.

·       I’ll never master all the skills of fiction writing. Correct, you will not. And what the hell kind of fun would it be if you did? The goal is to keep learning, improving, and growing. That only has to stop when you die. (And who knows? Maybe not even then.)

·       What if I’m writing the wrong kind of story? There is no wrong kind. There is no right kind. Write whatever the hell you want at any given moment. Explore. The more types of stories you try, the greater the chance you’ll come across a kind you love and are really good at. When I started writing, I wanted to write light fantasy novels like Piers Anthony. (If you squint really hard when you read some of my books, you’ll see his influence.) But I tried all kinds of things until I found editors and readers responding most strongly to my horror and my tie-in fiction. And lately, to my nonfiction.

·       What if I’m organizing the material wrong? Just write the damn story. You can always rearrange things later. Plus, just like I said about beginnings earlier, there are lots and lots and lots of ways to organize your story, and many of them will work just fine. Just start making choices.

·       Do I need to get feedback every step of the way to make sure I’m doing this right? I think this is a terrible idea. You’ll continually second guess yourself and may end up blocked because you’re afraid to make any choices at all. Getting feedback on a finished, developed draft is fine. Getting feedback on an initial idea or an outline is fine. But you don’t want feedback to end up becoming a crutch that stunts your growth as a writer and makes it hard to complete stories.

Fears After Writing

·       What if it really isn’t any good? Then it won’t sell and you’ll write something else. Maybe you’ll recycle some of the concepts or text for another story someday. Maybe it is good, and you just need to keep sending it around until someone sees how good it really is. Never pin all your hopes on one piece of writing anyway. You can always write more.

·       What if people don’t like it? Fuck ‘em. Try to find readers who will like it, and go write something else in the meantime.

·       What if no one reads it? It sucks when no one comments on your work or you get little to no reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Do like Chumbawumba says – Get back up. Write something else. (Are you starting to see a pattern here?)

·       What if no one cares? What’s most important is that you care – about your work, about growing as an artist, about making contact with readers (however many you get). And the odds are someone will care, maybe someone you’ll never know about. But the great thing about social media is that you sometimes get to see someone say something nice about your work. One positive comment can be like a drink of cold water to someone traveling in a desert. It’s enough to keep you going for a little while longer.

·       What if I won’t be able to write again? You will. If you did it once, you can do it again – and probably better next time.

·       What if I can never write anything this good again? Good is a meaningless term. Check out the Amazon reviews of a book you love. Some people love it, some hate it, some are indifferent to it. Same book. Different readers. Try not to compare your current work to your previous work. Write today’s work.

Writing Career Fears

·       What if my work gets rejected? It will. I got two short story rejections this week. You might apply to get a table in the dealer’s room at a convention and not be accepted. You might propose a workshop at a convention and be turned down. Setbacks of varying kinds are normal in an artist’s life. Take the hit, take some time to recover if necessary (but not too much), and get back to work. The more rejections you get early in your career, the better, because you can get used to them, and they’ll lose their power over you. They still suck, though. (Any editors out there want to buy two weird horror stories?)

·       What if trad publishing/indie publishing is the wrong way to go? I’ve said it before, there is no right or wrong choice in writing; there’s only what you try at any given time. Try it all and see what works for you, what you like, what you have the most success with (however you define success).

·       I’ll never find a publisher/agent. Not with that attitude you won’t! But seriously, there are so many options available for writers to get their work to readers that you don’t need a publisher or agent. And if you want to find one, do other things while you’re looking. Write short pieces, start another book, start a YouTube or TikTok channel . . . Don’t wait around for anything. Use the time.

·       I won’t be able to negotiate contracts. You can learn. There are so many resources available on the internet, and you can reach out to more experienced writers for help. Short story and article contracts are fairly easy to deal with. Book contracts, not so much, but like I said, you can learn. I know many writers who handle all their contracts. I handle my contracts for short stuff, and I rely on my agent to deal with book contracts.

·       I’ll get ripped off by scam editors/agents/reviewers. It could happen, so you need to educate yourself on how to recognize scammers. This is a great place to start:

·       What if I get terrible reviews? A lot of writers don’t read reviews because they don’t want to be influenced by them, whether they’re positive or negative. The truth is, if enough people read and review your work, some will dislike it. Science Fiction writer Mike Resnick used to say, “I never argue with people’s opinions of my work.” I think that’s one of the healthiest attitudes you can have. A review is an opinion, not fact. I read all the reviews of my work that I can find because I can learn from them. But some are easier to take than others. If you’re afraid of seeing terrible reviews, don’t look at any. If you just have to read your reviews, start developing a tougher skin as fast as you can. If you want to write, don’t let anything stop you, especially bad reviews.

·       What if I get no reviews? This is one of the worst things than can happen to an author. Indifference is far worse than hate. If people hate your work, they’ve at least engaged with it, and they’ve reacted to it. Offer free copies – print, electronic, or both – for honest reviews. (And don’t get upset if the reviews aren’t five-stars all the time.)

·       I’ll never have the time to effectively self-promote. This is probably true. Partially because, no one knows what effective means when it comes to promotion. It’s difficult to correlate a promotional effort with sales data. Your Facebook or Amazon ad might or might not have caused the small spike you see in your sales. There’s no way to ever know for sure. Remember that you’re a writer, not a promoter. Promote as much as you can without eating too much into your writing time. And do whatever kind and amount of promotion you’re comfortable with. The best promotion for your writing is your writing, and the more writing you do, the more each piece promotes the others.

·       What if my sales are low – or nonexistent? I feel your pain, my friend. And here I’m going to sound like a broken record, but write something else. Try a different genre if you like, just keep writing.

·       What if my author persona is a dud? Fuck personas. Just be yourself (or at least the best version of yourself). A persona of one kind or another will develop naturally over time anyway.

·       What if other authors don’t see me as a colleague? What if they think I’m a joke? Writers are, in general, very welcoming to newcomers. Some of the biggest names might be a little standoffish at first because they’re so accustomed to people trying to use them instead of getting to know them as people. But many will warm up to you given some time. And if someone does treat you poorly, fuck ‘em. Don’t let anyone else define you. Don’t give them that power. Only you get to define you.

·       What if no one shows up to my signing/reading/workshop? This will happen to you. It’s happened to me and will likely happen again. This is a situation where you have to feel like shit for a while, and then move on.

·       I’ll never win an award for my writing. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. You have no control over this, so do your best not to worry about it. Awards are nice – they’re acknowledgements from your peers that you’re doing good work – and you can use them as marketing tools. But there are all kinds of “awards” that are less tangible and far more valuable. I attended the Ohioana Book Festival as an author one year, and a young woman came up to my table and asked if I was the Tim Waggoner who wrote a young adult fantasy tie-in novel called Temple of the Dragonslayer. I said I was, and she told me that was the book that made her want to be a writer. No award, however nice it may be to get one, could ever come close to a moment like that. If you write for any length of time, you’ll get similar “awards” too.

·       I’ll never be able to support myself – let alone a family – with my writing. Odds are this will be true for you. It’s always been hard as hell for most artists to make a good living in this world. A lot of writers who say they’re full-time writers have spouses who make good money (and provide health insurance for the family). They probably also live very simply in a place where the cost of living is low, and they live alone (or with a roommate) so they can get by on not a lot of money, and even then, things can be tough for them. There’s a great chance they do other types of writing – nonfiction, freelance business writing, technical writing – that pays better than fiction, or they do freelance editing, or they might teach (like I do). I teach writing, and according to the Ohio Arts Council, anyone who produces art or teaches an art is considered an artist. I think most people wouldn’t count teaching an art as equivalent to producing art, though. At any rate, my goal when I started out was to live a creative life, and I have, and I’ve supported myself and my family with the money I’ve made (more as a writing teacher than a writer), so I’ve succeeded in my goal. I still sometimes feel like I’m not a “real” writing since producing writing is not my sole source of income. Maybe I probably always will.

Strategies for Dealing with Your Writing Fears

·       Write, write, write, and write some more. Writing is the antidote for almost all writing fears. It’s like if Dory in Finding Nemo was an author. “Just keep writing, writing, writing . . .”

·       Learn to function with fear. Your writing fears may never go away completely. Mine haven’t. So you need to learn to get on with your work despite the fears. The more you write, the better you get at functioning with fear.

·       Make choices. Much of our writing fear comes from being afraid to make a wrong choice. But if you make choices and keep making choices, even if they aren’t always successful, fear will lose its hold on you.

·       Build a support network of fellow writers. One of the best ways to fight fear is to have company while you do it, people who understand what you’re going through because they go through it too. Not only can you get emotional and professional support from your network, you can also learn others’ strategies for dealing with writer fears.

·       Accept where you are now and keep working toward tomorrow. Don’t be in a rush. You can only do today’s work today, and you can only grow so much in a day. Where you’re at right now is okay, and where you’ll be at tomorrow is okay too.

·       Understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Learning a craft, getting good at it, and learning the ins and outs of the publishing business takes time. A lifetime, really. The sooner you understand this, the less power fear will have over you.

·       Envy is the writer’s disease. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Don’t eat yourself up because you can’t write like they do, you haven’t won their awards, haven’t published as much, don’t have all their fans or their money. Run your race, not someone else’s.

·       Remember the Dark Voices lie. Once, I was trying to write while I was exhausted. For some reason I don’t remember, I didn’t sleep well the night before. I nodded off in front of my computer, and I had a quick mini-dream where a voice said to me, “Your words are small words.” I started awake and said, “No, my words are big words.” The Dark Voices will always speak to us, sometimes more often than others. We can’t help but hear them, but always remember – those voices lie. Don’t believe them.

Resources That Might Help You Work Through Your Fears

·       Eric Maisel has written a number of wonderful books to help creative people deal with the emotional difficulties that come with being an artist:

·       The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association’s Writer Beware Blog is the place to learn about writing scams:

·       The SFWA Information Center has all kinds of great resources – sample manuscript formats, sample book contracts, etc. If you’re not sure how to do something writing or publishing-related, this is a great place to go:

·       Jonathan Maberry’s Free Stuff for Writers. Jonathan offers a ton of examples he’s written, from outlines and synopses to comic book scripts and more:

·       Jane Friedman’s Blog. Jane is the authority on up-to-the-minute information on writing and publishing:


It’s rare, but April is one of those months when I’ll have two novels coming out at the same time from different publishers: Lord of the Feast and The Atrocity Engine.


Both books deal with the same mythos and share settings that I’ve used in a number of my novels, but Lord of the Feast is a horror novel and The Atrocity Engine is a dark fantasy adventure. You can enjoy each novel on its own terms, but it might be interesting to read both and see how I present my mythos in different ways.


Lord of the Feast


This novel is due out from Flame Tree Press on April 16th, 2024.




Twenty years ago, a cult attempted to create their own god: The Lord of the Feast. The god was a horrible, misbegotten thing, however, and the cultists killed the creature before it could come into its full power. The cultists trapped the pieces of their god inside mystic nightstones then went their separate ways. Now Kate, one of the cultists’ children, seeks out her long-lost relatives, hoping to learn the truth of what really happened on that fateful night. Unknown to Kate, her cousin Ethan is following her, hoping she’ll lead him to the nightstones so that he might resurrect the Lord of the Feast – and this time, Ethan plans to do the job right.


Flame Tree Press Paperback and eBook:


Amazon Paperback:




Barnes & Noble Paperback:


Barnes & Noble eBook:

The Atrocity Engine


The Atrocity Engine will be out from Aethon Books on April 30th, 2024. It’s the first of a dark fantasy trilogy, and the other two books – Book of Madness and The Desolation War – have already been turned in to my editor. I don’t have publication dates for them yet, but I’ll keep you posted.


Here’s the publisher’s description of The Atrocity Engine:


Men in Black meets Hellraiser in this rollicking mash-up of urban fantasy and cosmic horror from four-time Bram Stoker Award-Winning author Tim Waggoner.


Creatures from dark dimensions infesting your home? Demonic beings trying to drive you insane? Alien gods attempting to destroy your universe?


Just call Maintenance.


This underpaid and overworked secret organization is dedicated to battling forces that seek to speed up Entropy and hasten the Omniverse’s inevitable death.


Neal Hudson is a twenty-year veteran of Maintenance. A surveyor who drives through the streets of Ash Creek, Ohio constantly scanning for the deadly energy known as Corruption. Since the death of his previous partner, Neal prefers to work alone, and he’s not happy when he’s assigned to mentor a rookie.


But they better learn to get along fast.


The Multitude, a group of godlike beings who seek to increase Entropy at every opportunity, are creating an Atrocity Engine. This foul magical device can destroy the Earth, and they don’t care how many innocent lives it takes to build it. (Spoiler alert: It’s a lot!)


Just another day on the job. . .


Amazon Hardback:




B&N Hardcover:


Review Quotes for The Atrocity Engine


The Atrocity Engine received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, plus it got some wonderful blurbs from fellow writers!

·       “Waggoner offers a fresh variation on the trope of a covert agency combating evil in his blood-drenched Custodians of the Cosmos series opener.” – Publishers Weekly

·       “This gripping dark fantasy boasts an indelible cast and an unwavering pace.” – Kirkus Reviews

·       "The Atrocity Engine is a wild ride full of entertaining scenarios and scary monsters!" – Booklist

·       The Atrocity Engine is a kick-ass cross-genre thrill ride of a novel! Holy moly! Tim Waggoner is easily one of today’s best horror writers.” – Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of Cave 13 and Necrotek

·       "This is edge-of-your-seat Horror Fantasy. It's as if Stephen King wrote Men in Black!" —Scott Sigler, #1 NYT Bestselling author of Earthcore

·       “Fast-paced, cleverly thought-through, and deeply unnerving in all the right places—urban horror fantasy with a decidedly creepy difference. Don't read it in the dark!” – Diane Duane, New York Times bestselling author of Tales of the Five: The Librarian

·       “A brutal, dark, and disturbing novel that will live in your nightmares. It’s so good!” – Horror Reads


StokerCon 2024. May 30th to June 2nd. San Diego, California.


IGW Genre Con. August 17th and August 18th. Huntington, West Virginia.