I’ve written about writer’s block a few times, and the reason why is because I know the feeling of hating your own writing and being super self conscious about it. Writer’s anxiety is a real thing, and it’s often a major contributor to the dreaded block. And one of the biggest causes of writer’s anxiety is…well, thinking the very premise of your book sounds stupid, or that no one will ever want to read it.
So if you’re a writer who thinks your in-progress fantasy novel sounds stupid, how do you reconcile those feelings and push through anyway?
Ultimately, only you can push through that block, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tools and strategies you can use to put you in the right mindset.
Here are some tips to overcome that anxiety to help you on your journey.
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Check Out Some Great Famous Books With a Wild Premise
An unusual premise is not the same as a bad premise. There are plenty of incredibly popular books that have an unusual premise. But because some of these books have become so popular that they reach the mainstream, it’s sometimes hard to think of the premise objectively. If we did, we’d notice just how fucking weird books can get. Some examples include:
- Grasshopper Jungle: a YA dystopian novel featuring all of humanity mutating into giant, man-eating grasshoppers
- The Book Eaters: a dark fantasy novel about humanoid beings that feed on books instead of food
- Battle Royale: a dystopian novel about kids in a dystopian world killing each other in a brutal battle royale. (This premise seems really tame now, but setting aside the insane popularity of battle royale-type media now thanks to The Hunger Games, it would still sound like a wild premise)
- The Fifth Season: a science fantasy following three perspectives at different times, one in second person (the rarely seen “you” POV!). In a world that undergoes “Seasons” or apocalyptic events, orogenes are hated and feared for their god-like power to reach into and manipulate the earth
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: a fantasy about a woman who is immortal, but cursed to be forgotten by everyone
- Half a Soul: a fantasy about a woman only has half a soul, and as a result feels no fear or shame
- Kaiju Preservation Society: a sci-fi about an alternate world populated by cute, precious kaiju that must be protected at all costs
…and so on.
I won’t sit here and lie to you: the genre and premise of your book can factor into whether your book is accepted or not, because that’s just how the market works. But an unusual premise is not an immediate “no one will ever represent this book.” If anything, it makes you more unique and interesting when you’re pitching.
When you’ve got writer’s anxiety and feel like there’s no point because your book is too weird, just take a look around you at all of the bestselling books that have a premise just as unusual.
Take a Look at The Terrible Novels That Have Been Published…Thrive Purely on Spite
Is this the nicest or most ethical advice I could be giving you? Maybe not. But it’s the reality: there are some really, really bad novels out there that have seen massive success. Meanwhile, countless writers with the skill, the vision, and the creativity to create and publish something great—maybe even groundbreaking—refuse to do so out of a fear of failure.
Writing is subjective, which means I will not name any novels and claim they’re bad just because I personally dislike them. I will say, however, that just looking at books that are either 1. very much not to my tastes, or 2. downright bad or problematic, restores my faith in my own writing. There truly is something out there for everyone, for better or for worse.
Being humble is good. But don’t let humility turn into anxiety and prevent you from creating. Don’t let it cross the line from humility into self loathing and pessimism. If you thrive off of spite, then be spiteful. Read a book that upsets you, a book that you feel doesn’t deserve the acclaim and massive audience…and direct that energy towards writing it better.
Here, have some Reddit threads where people share the worst books they’ve ever read. Be bad; I won’t tell anyone.
Step Away For a While
You’ve probably heard fellow writers tell you something to the effect of, “being too close to your work.” You were the one who conceived of the book, so you are as close to it as it gets. You’re so used to reading and thinking about your story, reading it over and over again, that nothing registers. You’re less likely to notice spelling and grammatical errors when you’ve been reading the same thing over and over and over again, so who’s to say the same isn’t true of your plot, worldbuilding, and characters?
Being so fixated on one project for so long means that it becomes hard to separate your story from a single path forward. You are so stuck on picturing how you want a scene, chapter, or character arc to play out that you’re tunnel-visioning. And that can be detrimental to your story and characters.
Step away for a bit. Take some time to work on something else, even if that something else is another story. If you wait a little while and come back with your mind refreshed, it’s amazing how many obvious solutions and ideas will come to you.
Your break from your work-in-progress could be anywhere between a few minutes and literal months, but do what you have to do to break out of writer brain jail.
Collect Compliments and Positive Feedback For When You’re Feeling Down
I’ll let y’all in on a secret: I keep a folder on my laptop of the nicest comments I’ve gotten about my writing. This includes comments from you lovely readers on any of my articles.
If it sounds pathetic, then so be it. I am very pathetic. But it makes me happy.
Look, there will come a time in your writing career where you feel like absolute dog doodoo.
- My writing is terrible.
- I just read someone else’s work and it was so much better than mine. If they can’t get published, what chance do I have?
- I’ll never write like [insert very famous and very experienced author with an army of editors and copyeditors working with them on every book]
- I post about my book, but no one ever shows interest. I must be a bad writer
- Other writers can knock out thousands of words in a day, and I can’t even sit down and write one word
- The idea for my book is stupid, but now I’m in too deep and have to accept it’s a bad idea
Thoughts like this are inevitable. You will get frustrated, doubtful, angry, self conscious. You’ll compare yourself to others, you’ll notice times where you get less engagement than usual and get bummed out—you’ll straight up want to quit writing entirely sometimes. But I’ve found that, when I’m feeling really down about my writing, looking at old comments gives me the boost I need to move forward. You are never as bad a writer as your own anxiety makes you believe, and saving thoughtful comments from others (who gain nothing from paying you that compliment) can be really uplifting and validating.
Write When You Should Be Paying Attention to Something Else (Strategic Procrastination)
As someone with both ADHD and anxiety, I work best doing something that gives me anxiety when I’m not supposed to be doing it.
If I’m listening to a lecture or a meeting and it gets to either 1. something I already know, or 2. something that isn’t directly relevant to me, I may occasionally take a moment to get some words down.
Obviously, you have to be mindful about when you can let your attention drift. You can’t be sitting in on a one-on-one meeting with your nose in your notebook writing the lore for the thousandth city you’ve created. But I’ve found that when you have writer’s anxiety, it’s very difficult to force yourself to sit down and write, focusing your attention specifically on the task that’s giving you anxiety. If I’m doing something else, however, I don’t know…feels like it tricks my brain into seeing writing as less overwhelming and scary than usual. Fewer inhibitions.
Again, tread carefully. Pay attention when you need to. But don’t be afraid to seek out moments where shifting your attention from something else a little bit might help you get some words down when you’re stuck.
You can also seek out moments where there’s a task you really, really don’t want to complete, and use that to work on your writing. I’m never more active and determined than when I’m completing a task to avoid having to deal with another, more stressful task.
Watch Similar Media That Could Be Relevant to Your Fantasy Novel
Movie, TV shows, books with a similar premise…anything that’s even slightly related to your work-in-progress. Binge it. Use it to inspire you.
Now, when you have writer’s anxiety, inspiration might not be what you’re looking for. Being anxious about your premise isn’t necessarily solved by finding inspiration, but it can be helpful for a number of reasons:
- Visualization: helps you visualize a fight scene or a scene involving supernatural abilities
- Character inspiration: helps you rationalize the decisions your characters would make and their personalities
- Plot ideas: if you’re procrastinating because you don’t know where you want your story to go next, it helps to see the problems other, similar characters in media are dealing with
- Validation: people like unique, wacky ideas. Seeing how much love there is for unusual media is validating and encouraging for anyone doubting their own work’s premise
For me, I sometimes like watching “All Powers From” type of videos, videos that feature all of the powers of a particular character in a movie or TV show. Not only is it cool to see the evolution of a characters’ abilities, but as someone who has a hard time visualizing scenes and loathes describing anything, I like having a reference point, even if only a loose one.
Basically, find what you’re missing. Seek out references, whether it’s a show, a movie, Pinterest aesthetics and moodboards, those cool TikTok renders, etc, etc.
Some might call it procrastinating, but I call it research. 😉
Create a Checklist With Many Easily-Achievable Goals
You may have noticed that I’m writing a lot of these tips from an ADHD perspective. I do this because a lot of writers I know struggle with ADHD, anxiety, or a combination. And I’ve seen many, many articles written intended to help people ADHD focus better, but many of them fail to consider one crucial thing: when you have ADHD, you’re lacking in dopamine. You need to be stimulated or feel like you’re accomplishing something actively at all times, in order to feel motivated to do anything. It’s not as easy as “set a timer every ten minutes and force yourself to write.”
This tip in particular is meant to help those who procrastinate because they feel they aren’t being stimulated, or if the dread of even starting is as overwhelming to you as it is to me. Start a checklist with every little thing you have to do. Every. Little. Thing. I’m talking turning on your computer, opening up your writing software, writing fifty words, everything. Give yourself a ton of easily reachable checkpoints so that you have frequent hits of dopamine, frequent feelings of accomplishment that let you push forward.
It doesn’t always work, but it did help to change my perspective on how to approach procrastinating out of writer’s anxiety.
Read Other Peoples’ Work…But Not For The Reason You Think
I recommend reading the work of your peers often. You’ve probably heard other people recommend doing this to get a sense of the varying styles of writing.
But that’s a lie.
You know the real reason why you should read your peers’ work?
To seek out their weaknesses.
Find everything they do wrong with their writing. “Oh, that sentence went way too long,” “Oh, that dialogue was really unnatural,” “Oh, that was the biggest exposition dump taken on a page I have ever seen.”
Notice the mistakes. The delicious, delicious weak spots, where the writing could really use some work (everyone has them!). Internalize it. Apply it to your own work, but in a negative way. Like…spraying bug repellent on your work, except the bugs are mistakes and the bug repellent is recognizing common writer mistakes and making sure never to make them yourself.
Force Yourself to Write Anyway
As someone with ADHD, I’ve always hated this advice. It’s giving, “Just don’t be sad, and you’ll feel better!”
However, I can’t deny that this is what overcoming writer’s anxiety ultimately comes down to: sitting down and getting the words down.
When I’m really, really not feeling like writing, I’ve found that treating it like ripping off a bandage puts me in a different mindset, one that allows me to take the hardest step: getting started.
Get Extremely High