As Frank Herbert wrote in the Litany Against Fear in DUNE, “Fear is the mind killer,” which was clearly meant to be the inner monologue of writers everywhere.
At each stage of a writer’s career, our destructive troglodyte brains love to try and stump us, to keep us from writing. It’s a process that never goes away, really, at whatever level of your career you might be at from first timer to New York Times bestseller.
The details might differ for you as you read this, but this is sort of a fear ladder that authors go through, starting with the smallest:
I want to write.
I wonder if I can write a whole short story?
Okay, great did that. Now can I write something longer, can I do a whole novel?
Whoa, did that… hmm… wonder if can I do it again?
Yep. Okay. Keen. Can I get one of my novels published?
OMG, a publisher wants it… and now they want more of the same, multiple books in a series. Am I even capable of writing a sequel, keeping a series going?
Right about…. HERE is where I am right now as America’s Favorite Lower Midlist Urban Fantasy Author™, climbing the fear ladder rung by rung. I proved I could get down four books in my first series, the Simon Canderous paranormal detective novels. Then I proved to myself I could launch a second series successfully with the three book Spellmason Chronicles.
But that still leaves me hanging somewhere in the middle of that fear ladder as a writer.
Those higher up than me look down with whimsical nostalgia at how easy those fears were to manage when they were on my rung of the ladder, and those below me look up as they shake their fists, shouting, “Shut up, Strout! You don’t know how good you’ve got it!”
Always remember that fear is a relative thing for a writer, again dependent on which run of the ladder they are desperately clinging to. And of course there are the future fears and woes I worry about, should I ever move up the ladder to, say, making the bestseller lists:
Once I’m on, can I make the list again?
What if readers don’t like the next book?
What if I run out of ideas for the series that is working?
But the super fear lurking behind every stage—word by word, book by book—is: How do I get the words down time and time again, especially in the face of all those fears? And worse, what if I write a book that is terrible? Many wannabe writers I know get stuck at the perfectionist fear stage and barely get a paragraph down, let alone a whole book. So how do I sit down and not give in to the fear of producing a crappy book? I have a simple calming mantra: It’s okay to suck.
In fact, I heartily encourage it. Why?
Because when you first finish your book it is absolutely going to suck. It should. It is, literally, the first draft. That name alone implies there will be many more to follow. The trick to writing isn’t to vomit forth pure gold. It’s to get it down so you have something there to fix.
I can see the holes in a plot or what’s missing in a character once I have that initial draft down and a better feel for where the tale is going. Those are things I can add in later, things I can refine as I stitch the Frankenstein’s Monster of my book together until the reader can no longer see the stitches.
Fear does not keep me from attempting to get my book down. I embrace the suck. I encourage the suck. And then? It’s my job as a writer to beat the suck out of it. Through writing, rewriting, beta readers, editors, copyeditors… once I realized I do not have to get perfection down on the page the first time out—that only many passes will make it whole—I realized there was nothing to fear.
But circling back to DUNE for a moment, sit down at your computer, take a deep breath and incant with me the Litany Against Fear used by the Bene Gesserit to clear your mind and calm yourselves before launching yourself at the page:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Are you a writer or do you know a writer who would enjoy the gift of…well, Anton Strout, for the holidays? Anton is auctioning off a read and critique session where authors can have him read a piece of their work and hear what this “Simon Cowell of Writing Critique” has to say! There is only a day left to the auction, however, so don’t miss it! https://www.ebay.com/itm/232557450209
The Spellmason Chronicles 1
Ace, September 25, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY…
Alexandra Belarus is a struggling artist living in New York City, even though her family is rich in real estate, including a towering Gothic Gramercy Park building built by her great-great-grandfather. But the truth of her bloodline is revealed when she is attacked on the street and saved by an inhumanly powerful winged figure. A figure who knows the Belarus name…
Lexi’s great-great-grandfather was a Spellmason—an artisan who could work magic on stone. But in his day, dark forces conspired against him and his, so he left a spell of protection on his family. Now that Lexi is in danger, the spell has awoken her ancestor’s most trusted and fearsome creation: a gargoyle named Stanis.
Lexi and Stanis are equally surprised to find themselves bound to each other. But as they learn to work together, they realize that only united can they save the city they both love…
The Spellmason Chronicles 2
Ace, September 24, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
NO STONE UNTURNED…
Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.
With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.
But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.
The Spellmason Chronicles 3
Ace, September 30, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
HITTING ROCK BOTTOM
When Alexandra Belarus discovered her family’s secret ability to breathe life into stone, she uncovered an entire world of magic hidden within New York City—a world she has accidentally thrown into chaos. A spell gone awry has set thousands of gargoyles loose upon Manhattan, and it’s up to Lexi and her faithful protector, Stanis, to put things right.
But the stress of saving the city is casting a pall over Lexi and Stanis’s relationship, driving them to work separately to solve the problem. As Stanis struggles to unite the gargoyle population, Lexi forges unlikely alliances with witches, alchemists and New York’s Finest to quell an unsettling uprising led by an ancient and deadly foe long thought vanquished.
To save her city, Lexi must wield more power than ever before with the added hope of recovering a mysterious artifact that could change her world—and bring her closer to Stanis than she ever thought possible…
Fantasy and science fiction author Anton Strout has given readers equal shares of chills and laughter since the first book of his Simon Canderous paranormal detective series, Dead To Me, came out from Penguin/Ace Books in 2008. He continues his tales of mayhem in Manhattan with his second series, the Spellmason Chronicles, as he treats readers to the story of a girl and her gargoyle, and explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and love with his trademark snarky twist.
The Once & Future Podcast (theonceandfuturepodcast.com) is his latest project, where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors to listener's ear holes one damned episode at a time..
In his scant spare time, his is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.