Writers in the Storm

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October 31, 2016

Halloween, Shmalloween: Nothing Inspires Terror Like Writing

blood-spatter-497546_1920Holly Robinson

I am no fan of Halloween. Maybe that's because, as a young child, I started having waking nightmares about a cloaked figure with a pumpkin head that would regularly appear and sit in a rocking chair beside my bed. He never said anything. Just rocked and rocked, until I screamed for my mother.

This guy followed us to every house we lived in—a lot of houses, since my dad was in the Navy and we moved every couple of years. Who knows why that strange figure was my chosen metaphor for fear? I had never read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and there weren't a lot of scary movies on TV back then. Yet, there he was, my own bedtime monster, the product of an overactive imagination.

For years, I was an insomniac. As soon as the lights were turned off, I'd lie on my back and stare at the ceiling, afraid of turning over because I was so certain I would see, if not Mr. Pumpkinhead, a face peering at me through the window or at the side of the bed.

I'm still afraid of the dark. If my husband's out of town, you can bet I keep a light burning. And, if I'm dumb enough to visit a haunted house attraction with my kids, like that Ripley's Haunted Adventure in Myrtle Beach where they have an actual clown chasing visitors with a chain saw, it might be weeks before I get a good night's rest.

Holly RobinsonStill, none of this compares to a writer's fears. Whether you're aspiring to finish your first book, a debut author, or an old workhorse like me (my sixth novel, Folly Cove, was just published), I bet you suffer from the same night terrors I do—fears that may drive you to quit, as Orly suggested in her recent post.

Here are my top five fears. What are yours?

1. You'll never finish this book.

Many of us get about two-thirds of the way through a manuscript and despair about it ever coming together. And guess what? Sometimes it doesn't.

2. Who'd ever want to read anything you write?

There is always a black place in your mind where a little gremlin is whispering, “You're not good enough for anyone to want to read your writing. Give up!”

3. Nobody reads anymore!

Let's say you get lucky. You get an agent, an editor, and a publisher. Or you self-publish. Congratulations—but you're still not free of those night terrors. As you listen to friends discussing the many TV shows they watch, you can't help but ask, Hello? Is anyone even reading anymore, in these glory days of Netflix and Amazon TV binges?

4. My book won't get reviewed.

How many print magazines and newspapers do you actually subscribe to at your house? How many of those carry book reviews? And what happens to books that are never reviewed? Enough said.

5. The reviewers will hate it.

Oh, the trolls, the trolls. You know they're out there, waiting to descend in hordes to punch in their single-star reviews. Why should you escape their blood lust?

So, Happy Halloween, my fellow writers! It's time to stock up candy—you're going to need it to get you through the night—and your manuscript! If it's any consolation, keeping the lights on at night is a great way to get more words on the page and keep the monsters at bay...for a little while.

Your turn. What are your top 5 writing night terrors?


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About Holly

Holly RobinsonNovelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil farmer's Daughter: A Memoir and the novels The Wishing Hill, Beach Plum Island, Haven Lake, and Chance Harbor. Her newest novel is Folly Cove, available in October 2016. Holly's articles and essays appear frequently in publications such as Cognoscenti, The Huffington Post, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines.

She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places. Visit her at www.authorhollyrobinson.com and on Twitter @hollyrob1.

21 comments on “Halloween, Shmalloween: Nothing Inspires Terror Like Writing”

  1. I'm with you on #3. Holly. I never worry about reviews, etc. I figure it's my job to put my best work out there - whatever happens after that is beyond my control.

    So my fears are more:

    Will I ever be able to get the story in my head on paper as perfect as it is in my head?

    When I'm in the boggy middle, how will I EVER get to the end? You can't get there from here!

    I'm a hack! I'm not smart enough to be doing this. (mostly after I read a really good book).

    Great post - thanks for being with us today!

    P.S. - I still think you're sleeping with the Cover Gods - that cover is AH-mazing.

    1. Ah, Laura, I couldn't agree more about the "boggy middle"--such a great way to put it. I'm wading through that right now with my newest novel, and I'm convinced there is not only a bog, but quicksand beneath it! Thanks so much for letting me visit with you all today!

  2. Oh my gosh. A cloaked pumpkin head man who followed you when you moved? That's horrendous. So sorry. I could feel your fear as I read this. My fear is never finishing. 6 years is a long time on one story. Though, I have read many many books on writing and have learned a lot. After reading all of them, I now believe my writing sucks. And so I dress up in my writer's garb and try not to look into the mirror, fearing the muse from hell is casting spells on me.

    1. Alice, we ALL have that fear about never finishing--half of what we do as writers is illusion, especially the bit where we sit down and pretend we can make our stories behave. You're in good company! Thanks for weighing in.

    2. If the muse from hell is busy casting spells on you, then there must be an awful lot of muses from hell. I see mine regularly. Alas.....

  3. Great post, Holly! For me in childhood it was a small dinosaur that lived under my bed. He was too little to jump up on the bed, but if I dangled my arm over the edge he would bite down on my hand and drag me off. My writing fear is far more real: will I take a wrong turn, lose the thread of my story and not realize it until I have blown my deadlines. Having said that, I need to get back to the keyboard. Thanks for a cool post!

    1. Yes, James! And you reminded me of another - breaking my process. Since I have no little say in what it is, who's to say it'll hang around for the next book? Or the one after that?

      Thanks a pantload for the reminder!
      Happy Halloween!

  4. Wonderful post!! My writing fears are too numerous to mention, I'm afraid. But mostly they center around trying to tell a story I am unequipped for...and that when it gets all finished and handed in, I will want to start all over again and rewrite it, but they won't let me. And, of course, there's the fear that I'll never think up another one. Ack! Back to work with me. Thanks for airing out our fears. And omg, a pumpkin headed person sitting in your room!! It's no surprise you grew up to be a novelist! 🙂

  5. #2 - My fear is that it will not sell. And it wasn't a bogeyman at night but a large rat with red glowing eyes. Of course we were on a farm. FIeld mice loved to sneak into the barn (to be caugt by the cat). All you heard was the click or scabble of claws. Handled the one by turning on a light. Still working on #2.

  6. On my favorite holiday, you have to go and bring up the F-word, Holly. I claim your #5. It's not that I'm worried about the reviewers, but I want to put out the very best book that I can. If people don't like it, for whatever reason, my perfectionism takes a real hit. I have a very narrow slice of the genre pie with "military science fiction romance," so if I were worried about anybody reading my stories, I'd skip to another genre. Well, maybe not. I'm a science fiction freak. Thanks for sharing a fun post on this delicious day! Now I'm off to get a mop to clean up the Kool Aid somebody spilled at the top of this post. Happy Halloween!

  7. I hate when someone reads it and creates parallels that don't exist just because it contains an element of something else. Does it mean I didn't convey it or just that the reader needs to connect it to something even if it makes no sense?


  8. We had our first ever Halloween party yesterday (Halloween's not very big in Australia). Now sugar hyped children in fancy dress are one of my fears.

    My number one writing fear? That I will never make any money from writing and will therefore always need a day job. That sounds superficial and materialistic doesn't it? I am ashamed to admit it, but I'm being honest. Oh dear.

  9. Holly...I have to admit that #2 is my biggie. I am in the middle of revising and at times, I think it might have potential. But other times, I have to work at shutting up that voice that tells me I'll never be good enough to be published, good enough for anyone to want to read. I keep a roll of duct tape on hand when the little bugger just won't shut up.

    The scary pumpkin headed man that moved with you??? Geesh! I can't imagine living with that. I didn't have any boogie men that haunted me. Guess I was so ugly I scared them off! 😛

  10. Fun post, and it tends to reduce many of our fears. Nothing reduces my childhood fear of people in gorilla suits. Oddly, I've been to Rwanda and spent an hour with real gorillas, but I wasn't afraid of the real thing--only people pretending. And my writing fear is that I'll never again have a good idea for a story. Gaaaaggghhh!

  11. Great post, Holly. So many fears, so little candy to drown them with.

    #2 gets me. And nipping at its heels is the fear that each new book will be rejected by editors with a big fat evil clown laugh.

    And agree with Laura - that cover is gorgeous!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

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