My husband is something of a worry-wart. He’s afraid of nonstick pans (because they might release chemicals into our food), and he worries about sneaking snacks into the movie theater (because what if we get caught?!).
He also worries about anything and everything getting stolen. When we were moving from Minneapolis to Maryland a few years ago, he brought his deconstructed 3-D printer (mostly wires, plexiglass, and pieces of metal) into the hotel room with us each night because he was afraid someone might steal it out of the car.
“Babe,” I told him, “no one wants that. It looks like a bunch of crap. No one would even know what to do with it.” (Later I had to apologize for saying his 3-D printer looked like a bunch of crap.)
I’m not saying all of my husband’s concerns are unfounded – in fact, he’s a good balance for me as I tend to be under-cautious — but in my opinion he spends too much time worrying.
It’s a problem many people seem to have.
In my work with other writers, I’ve noticed that some people let themselves get bogged down with unfounded writer fears, which takes time away from their actual writing.
In this case, I’m not talking about the fears that plague most creative-type people from time to time: Will I fail? Is this any good? What if I lose my ability to be creative? Those worries are harder to banish. (See my post When You Worry You Might Never Write Again.) But take a look at the concerns below – these are unfounded fears you can forget about… and use that worry-wart energy towards your writing instead.
7 Unfounded Writer Fears
(What NOT to Worry About When Writing A Novel)
1. Someone might steal my idea!
Quit your worrying. Like I told my husband about his 3-Dprinter, no one wants your idea (they have their own!), and besides, they wouldn’t know what to do with it if they did steal it. Even if someone does write a book with a similar premise to yours, they won’t do it in the same way. The Twilight books and the Sookie Stackhouse / True Blood series are both about mortal girls falling in love with handsome vampires, but they are drastically different books. Your book is going to be yours, and you don’t need to worry. Just write.
2. I need to get my work copyrighted!
This is something my husband was worried about before I set him straight. No, you do not need to get your work copyrighted, and in fact, this is often seen by literary agents as both amateur and pompous. As soon as you write (or type or tweet), your words are automatically copyrighted to you and fully protected under U.S. copyright law. Here’s what author Victoria Strauss has to say on the website Writer Beware:
Many authors have an unreasonable fear of theft by agents and publishers–but good agents and publishers won’t risk their reputations this way, and in any case it’s easier just to work with you than go to all the trouble of stealing your work and pretending it belongs to someone else. As for bad agents and publishers…they aren’t interested in your work at all, only in your money.
3. Is it okay to use real place names? Should I make up fake business names for a real city?
When writing fiction, it can be easy to get tripped up on minutia such as this. For example:
I’ve set my novel in New Orleans, and I have a scene at St. Joe’s Bar. But what if they sue me for using their name? Should I make up a fake name, like St. Joesphine’s? What if someone who lives in New Orleans reads my book and says, “hey, St. Joesphine’s isn’t a real place! This author doesn’t know s*&t about New Orleans, and I’m boycotting this book!” OR, what if I use St. Joe’s as the name of the bar, but I get something wrong – like my character orders something they don’t serve there? Maybe I need to get online and look at drink menus for different bars. Maybe I need to fly to New Orleans and spend two weeks drinking in bars as research…
See how this can throw you off track? Well, quit your worrying. It’s fine to use the names of real places. Unless you’re saying something terrible about the establishment (that’s called libel) or making something dreadful happen there in your novel (like a murder) then no one is going to sue you.
In fact, chances are no one is going to sue you no matter what you write. No offense, but unless your book becomes a best-seller, the owner will probably never find out that you used the name of his/her business, and if they do, well, businesses appreciate publicity. Maybe, one day down the line, you could even do a book reading there as cross-publicity.
And as for getting things “wrong,” if it’s something little, like your character ordering a type of beer that St. Joe’s doesn’t carry, no one is going to notice/care. If you’re worried you might make a bigger mistake, then maybe you should make up a name. You’ll have more wiggle room that way, and you don’t have to waste time researching a drink menu.
So yes, it’s totally fine to make up fake names, even in real cities. When people read fiction, they expect that things are going to be made up. If they are reading your scene set at St. Joesphine’s, it’s true they might wonder if this is a real place in New Orleans, but they’re not going to discredit your book if they find out it’s not. So use the real name, pick a fake one, or use a place-holder name until you decide. Then move on to the actual writing of your book. That’s the important thing.
4. I just realized there’s already a published book with the same premise as mine!
See worry number one. Just because it’s the same premise doesn’t mean the author has done it in the same way as you. It doesn’t hurt to read the similar book so you don’t go in the exact same direction, but chances are your book is going to be totally different.
Now, when it gets to the stage of submitting your novel to editors, your agent may not want to submit your manuscript to the editor of the book with the same premise as yours (often editors don’t want to have “competing” projects that are too similar), but that’s something for your agent to worry about. Your only worry should be writing the book and writing it as best you can.
5. I have a letter/email/newspaper article/series of text messages in my novel. Should I use italics? A different font? Different indenting or spacing?
It doesn’t matter. Do whatever you want for now – just be consistent with what you choose. If your book gets picked up by a publisher, your editor will decide about all of that later. This is not your concern. Quit your worrying and write.
6. This first draft isn’t as good as [insert best-selling/prize-winning book here]. Should I give up?
Well of course your first draft is crappy. It’s a first draft! That’s why first drafts are (rarely) published (thank goodness). Let the manuscript sit for a while then come back to it and start revising. Get some beta readers, join a writing group, revise some more. Don’t worry, your book will get there eventually. Give it some time and some tough love.
7. I wrote a certain type of novel because it was trendy, but now I hear it’s not the trend anymore. What should I do?
First of all, don’t write something just because it’s the trend. It often takes books several years to come out, so by the time your book is published, there’s a good chance whatever is popular now won’t be anymore. Write what you want to write, and what you’re good at writing. It doesn’t hurt to think about your potential audience, but don’t write something just because it’s the trend.
That being said, if you’ve written something that now seems to be out of vogue, don’t despair. Trends come back around (see all the millineals currently wearing high-waisted jeans). And, for every agent/editor who says they’re “so over” vampire romance novels or fairy tale retellings, there’s still one out there who wants ‘em. Write your passion, and the rest will follow.
Now that I’ve said all of this, I will admit that there are some things you should worry about, like how to make money while you’re working on your novel, where to find beta readers, and how/when to query an agent. But the seven concerns listed above only waste your energy and resources. The key is to cast aside those unfounded writer fears so you have more brain space for what’s really important: your writing.
What are your writer fears, unfounded or no?
Read about more worries in the Writer’s Relief article: The 3 Imaginary Terrors Writers Are Afraid Of (And the Real Danger Most Writers Ignore)