Don’t Let Worry Drag You Down

Writers are often worriers. We’re plagued with indecision about the choices we make for our stories. We doubt the quality of our writing. We wonder if we’ll ever break through into the realm of publication, recognition, and even celebration. We sometimes fret that we’re wasting our efforts entirely in a profession with few to no rewards.

In addition to improving your craft and developing a sustainable writing habit, fighting low self-confidence about your writing is a task we all must face. Today, James Scott Bell weighs in on personal writing demons and turning worry into writing in an essay from his book The Art of War for Writers.

Don’t worry about being worried, and don’t let worry drag you down.

Not long after his novel Hold Tight debuted at #1 on the New York Times best-seller list, Harlan Coben was speaking to a crowd of suspense readers. He was asked if, with all his success, he still felt insecure with any part of his writing. He laughed and admitted that’s the writer’s stock in trade. Coben said he always gets to a point in a work-in-progress when he thinks, “This is terrible! I used to be so good. When did I lose it?”

In fact, if you’re not insecure about your writing, Coben says, you’re either mailing in forgettable stuff or somebody else is writing for you.

You will worry if you are a writer. Turn that worry into writing.

Some years ago, I was teaching at a writers’ conference in New Mexico. After lunch I noticed one of the conferees sitting at a back table, looking distressed. I went over and asked her what was up.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Am I ever going to get anywhere? I see all these people; they all want it just as much as I do. How do I know if I’ll ever make it?” Tears started down her cheeks. “Sorry,” she said.

I handed her a paper napkin. Then I took another one and drew the following diagram:

I explained that at the bottom, where most of the people are, is the realm of the “want to.” Or “think I have a book inside me.” But outside of some scribblings, maybe a short story or two, perhaps an unfinished novel, these people never move on to the next level …

… which is where people like you are (I told her). Those who actually try to learn something about writing. Who buy writing books, go to conferences, take classes … and write.

Above that is the level for those who actually finish a full-length novel. This is a great place to be. This is where real writers come from.

The next level holds those who write another novel, because the first one is probably going to be rejected. They do this, because they are novelists, not just someone who happened to write a novel.

Next are those who get published. Above that are those who are published multiple times.

At the very top is a Wheel of Fortune. This wheel goes around and lands on a book like Cold Mountain. Or The Shack. No one can control this.

Your job, I told the young woman, is to keep moving up the pyramid. Each level presents its own challenges, so concentrate on the ones right in front of you. As you move up, you’ll notice there are fewer people, not more. If you work hard, you might get a novel on the wheel, and that’s as far as you can get. After that, it’s not up to you anymore.

The conference went on, and I eventually forgot all about this incident.

A couple of years later, I bumped into her at another conference. She told me that this conversation and the diagram had a profound effect on her, and that she was going to keep going.

Two years after that, she wrote to tell me she had landed a book deal. She is now a published author.

For more insightful reflections on the writing life and writing techniques, check out The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.






Rachel Randall is a content editor for Writer’s Digest Books. She’s working on not worrying so much.

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44 thoughts on “Don’t Let Worry Drag You Down

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  5. reneebetrand

    Students are worried about their academic projects and assignments. Research paper writing is one of them and I was also worried about my research paper since I read this informative article. It was an excellent step by step guide to get over worries.

  6. Mary_MO

    I found this article at the right moment. Tag me on the “Wanna Be” section at the way bottom. I’m currently working on my novel, I can’t exactly say it’s writers block because I know where I went wrong and what chapter I need to start over with. But I have been worrying A LOT lately. I find myself going back and forth between my characters.. What can I have them do next? Where should I take them? These are two questions I ask myself the most. After introducing a new character to bring doubt into my main one, I found that I couldn’t seem to work all three of them together.
    It’s easy for me to write the beginning and then the ending part. But my biggest problem and worry is the middle.

  7. Kevin Reid

    The book is flooded with amazing quotes.It is really helpful for me . I really take interest to read information books after this read I need more assistance to write a book as now I am doing my research and writing.

  8. Jipsung Lucas

    Am just amazed at every thing i have just read. for sure, i hardly knew of any thing especially on how to start and where to begin my research for my book.I will throw away the worries for the time being, and get down to business. Thanks a lot.

  9. alwinspencer

    The book is flooded with amazing quotes. I was also impressed with the interior design. The publisher went to great lengths to make the reading experience enjoyable.

    1. annbrown11

      Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (, for more information about me.
      because i have some important thing i will like to discuss with you privately.
      Hope to hear from you soon.

  10. writerjohn123

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  11. HuffmanHanni

    I own that book “The Art of War for Writers”. It was one of the first books on writing that I bought and it really helped me realize that writing is what I want to do and that every single writer before and after me go through the stages of worry and doubt. Even well-known writers still go through it. It was comforting to know that and to know, too, that it will pass just as quickly as it sneaks up on you.


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