There is always a new writing fear

A single red leaf on a concrete background. Words: Fear of failing. When you have something to lose. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtFEAR OF LOSING WHAT YOU HAVE IS PARALYZING

One of fear’s main jobs is keeping us safe: safe from falling, safe from making mistakes – from failing.

But, as many things, it is a more useful servant than it is a master.

I visited WriterUnboxed.com this morning, as I do most mornings, to get my brain in gear, give it time to focus, possibly preload it with something creative.

And I run smack into a blog post by Annie Neugebauer in which she talks about how to overcome the fear of making a mistake.

And not just any mistake, but the fear of falling flat on your face when taking a risk in your writing.

It is possible to miss the source of your fears

I left the following comment:

I have found that what scares you to write doesn’t often get the scary reaction – it’s more likely to be ignored, after all that courage it took to face the fear. In either case, though, you’re absolutely right: taking the dive feels good.

I’m doing that right now, diving into the fears I deliberately planted in the middle book of a trilogy – from the very beginning. I have spent years asking myself if I really had to go this route. The answer is that I do – there’s no way around it, and there’s never been a way around it.

If no one else in the world likes it or thinks it’s essential, oh well.

But now that a small number of readers have said they’re waiting for the second book, and the first one is slow, I just realized that I have been afraid of disappointing those readers! Who didn’t even exist when I started the first book.

What a concept: being able to disappoint readers.

Understand this first: the whole of what will be the Pride’s Children trilogy was meant to be, was planned out to be, a single book.

Due to my plotting with Dramatica, when the story got too long in the telling, the breakpoints to split it up were obvious (one of the great pleasures of plotting thusly), and it took very little to separate the pieces out into three volumes instead of one.

Writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD has not been automatic

I expected it to be easy; after all, I was just going to the next scene in a long list of scenes, and thought I would merely be doing what I always do: gather what I have assigned to the scene in Dramatica, Save the Cat, The Key…Power of Myth, The Fire in Fiction – my go-to books while writing; structure everything into a scene that ‘happens’ in time, instead of a collection of bullet points; become the character – and write.

And I’ve been baffled by how hard it’s been.

I even started a post (in draft) about how hard the first scene was to write (short version: a new kind of scene required some new thinking).

But it wasn’t until this morning, after Annie’s questions:

What scary drop have you been avoiding?

and

And are you willing to accept any bruises or ego dents that may come?

that I realize what was going on: a brand new kind of fear, one I’d been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t fully engaged with.

I may get reassurances on this one, of the “I’ll like anything you write” or “Whatever you’re planning can’t be that bad,” from my friends who really believe that, and have taken risks of their own.

Facing reality may not change it

But those reactions are promises made to a future which doesn’t exist yet. When making the comment – and encouraging writers to take the risks – readers and other writers don’t know what they’re endorsing: they are writing a blank check.

If I blithely accept the recommendation to keep going – it could still turn out to be something my readers hate.

All I can say at this point is that it is built into the story from the beginning, and if you liked PURGATORY, you have already bought into the foreshadowed premise, whether you know it yet or not.

If you don’t like it, remember it was a choice made with full realization that it is dangerous – and that I tried my darndest to make sure it was the best choice. The only choice I have is to write it as well as I can – and to be as accurate as I can be to the mind of the character I’m writing in.

I am trying to sneak it past the reader, which, paradoxically, may require mentioning it early, and then being almost too subtle.

You just gotta trust the writer

I remember being delighted by a comment in a review:

I honestly don’t know how to explain the grip this book had on me from the first. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I wanted it never to end. I’ve read other books that affected me this way, but the authors always hurt the spell by tossing a plot bomb in through the window. Ehrhardt may do that before the trilogy is over, I can’t see the future, but she doesn’t do it in this book.

That’s, of course, one of the readers I don’t want to disappoint, who were kind enough to say I knew how to finish a book.

Maybe, when it’s all finished, I will describe why it must be the way it is.

I hope it will gain more readers than it loses me. If not, I am still writing this trilogy for me.

As a reader, what do you do when the ending of a book doesn’t satisfy you?

As a writer, have you come to this place?

Comments are most welcome.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create ten images a month – for free. If I ever need more, I will be using them.

Also, thanks to Blasty for helping me try to remove unauthorized downloads of Pride’s Children from Google search results. They are looking for more free beta readers to help them finish figuring out their methods. They have removed over 2000 infringements already for me. I mind, because I don’t want my work enticing readers to phishing sites. If you want to read for free, ask for an electronic Review Copy and consider writing a review.

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16 thoughts on “There is always a new writing fear

  1. marianallen

    I get really ticked when I’m enjoying a book and the writer blows the ending. The trouble is, what “blows the ending” means isn’t always the same thing, but depends on my mood. And, if I’ve loved everything except one bit, I’ll usually read other things the writer has written. And I’ll gladly discuss what I didn’t like with other people who DID like it, so I can reconsider my reaction.

    With your writing, I would know that anything I disliked would be a personal opinion and not a mistake on your part. PURGATORY taught me to trust you and your literary decisions. I don’t insist on liking or agreeing with all your decisions, but I know I can trust them to be made with deep thought and utmost integrity. That’s all I ask from a writer.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I know it’s all subjective – or we’d be a hive mind!

      I wouldn’t like all my decisions if I were someone else, and several people have told me they don’t.

      The way I plot, though, I make decisions about where the plot is going as a set – and everything from the beginning on is aimed at the end, including side trips. It helps me stay on message – because I can’t do that dynamically, as a good pantser does.

      Whatever works. And yes, there is a lot of thought involved! I’m really glad you like it.

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  2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Ha! I totally relate to the fear of disappointing readers, although I tend to focus on the readers I know much more than those I do not.

    One of my close friends adores Sarvet’s Wanderyar. One of the things she loves about it is the culture of the Hammarleeding people, so much so that she was afraid to read Livli’s Gift, because she was worried I would change the culture in a way that she wouldn’t like. If I’d known that before I wrote Livli’s Gift I might not have been able to write it at all! Luckily I didn’t. (She didn’t read Sarvet’s Wanderyar until after I’d already written Livli’s Gift.) When she did read Livli’s Gift she liked it and was happy to see that while the Hammarleedings do change as time passes, their culture retained a lot of what she loves about it. Phew! 😉

    These days I tend to worry about my first reader’s opinion while I’m writing. I don’t want to disappoint her, but I can’t write with my head cranked to look over my shoulder. It’s hard to “shut the door” (as Stephen King would say), and I have to work at it.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I think it’s a problem with those of us who find it hard to get the first few readers, because we write non-standard books without a mass built-in audience. Whereas with a detective series, the reader already knows that most of the major characters will be the same, with a slow-dance of change in long-term arcs, and can relax, our kind of stories are going to go in new directions by default.

      At least we haven’t gotten to the phone-it-in stage.

      My first reader doesn’t get anything until I’m satisfied with it. Occasionally I’ll think of her, but mostly I think of whether I like it. Come to think of it, she may find the latest thing difficult. Oh, dear.

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  3. Bun Karyudo

    I’ve never written a book, so I don’t know about fear from the point of view of the author. I think it sometimes exists the other way round too, though. If someone has really enjoyed a book and the characters in it, they may approach other books featuring the same beloved characters with a certain amount of dread, unsure what they may learn about them. I’ve heard that many people approached Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” with that attitude.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      A lot of people wanted to know more about Harper Lee’s characters – some of them were unhappy to find what they found.

      Even if they know and remember that GSAW was written BEFORE TKAM, and the story was reset to Scout’s childhood by an editor (?) suggesting it would work better, they expected a sequel – simply because Watchman came out AFTER and was about the grownup Scout and older Atticus.

      I’ve seen people do this to themselves (the reviews have a lot of it), and some think there are good reasons for subjecting themselves to the disenchantment, but I won’t.

      Watchman was like the extensive notes I take – gathered material, not ready for the public, ideas. During the writing of the final version of Mockingbird, most of that material would have been examined – and discarded. By the author. In her younger and more functional mind.

      She had years to turn those notes into a sequel, if she wanted to. She did not.

      I think she was badly served by her advisers, and her reputation possibly tarnished. And she never even got to enjoy the money.

      My opinion only, but I won’t ever read it, and blame the predatory practices of the publisher and the advisers, not Ms. Lee.

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        1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

          I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird last week, and it was wonderful. It had been decades since I last read it, so I’d forgotten most of it. Which meant I had the pleasure discovering it anew as I read. What a treat!

          I intend to avoid GSAW.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      PS: You won’t get that with Pride’s Children. It was planned as a single volume from beginning to end, and I only split it because, at 167K, the first third of the story is already twice the length of the average novel.

      I may make an omnibus volume in ebook format when I’m finished, but Createspace can’t make a paperback that fat, so I’ll probably not try it in paper.

      If it ever becomes popular enough, a limited edition hardcover would be the final paper option.

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  4. juliabarrett

    I don’t fear either falling or failing. If we never failed, we’d never learn. Endings? I love my endings. It’s my middles I sometimes feel I get wrong! I guess I go back and rewrite. Not sure there’s anything else to be done.

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