• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Writing anxieties and need advice

I always feels like my ideas aren't worth writing about. I don't just mean the general idea of my story I mean everything I put into it. I can still and tell someone else the idea and they always have input and their ideas are better than anything I could come up with. If I'm going to write. I need to be able to generate those great ideas myself. I do read a lot. I've even switched genres. But it's getting to a stage now where this anxiety is stopping me writing altogether. I never used to have this problem but after my Dad died, I took a break for years. When I came back to it I could never get back into the swing. I have tried quitting but that has never worked, I always come back to writing. Other people must have or have been through this. I just need some advice on what to do, please, because my current work feels like a complete mess and I don't want to walk away from another story. I know writing is all about the skill of the writer and that ideas are cheap but this is still being a problem for me.

I'm happy to share my ideas if needed, don't know if that would help. Maybe this anxiety is all in my head? But any help is appreciated x

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
You write through it.

I know it seems very simplistic, and there is going to be a big part of you looking for a reason to stop. But you have to think hard and decide how seriously you want to take your writing. I lost both of my parents within about 18 months in 2018 and, already suffering from severe mental illness, it messed with me pretty hard. I stopped writing for months on end. I stopped reading. I stopped doing anything I took creative pleasure in. But my parents both strongly supported my writing and I have both writing partners and readers depending on me, so I finally had to face down the fact that I'm a professional and I wrote through it. It was hard and a lot of it wasn't my best writing, but I wrote through it, knowing that this is what my parents wanted for me.

I wrote through it, and now I'm 70k words into our next book, due out late this summer. And you know what? It's starting to make things feel a little better. It's still hard, so very hard, but if I can make it happen so can you.


Every plot is at its most basic really simple and not original. It's all in the execution. And the execution can be refined and revised as many times as you want until you think its good. The important thing is to get a full story written down. It can be really terrible, and probably most writers first drafts are really terrible. Once you have a first draft, you can worry about improving it in a second draft and so on.

My own problem isn't that I think my ideas aren't good, but rather that I don't find my ideas interesting enough to spend several months or a few years with it.
I don't find my ideas interesting enough to spend several months or a few years with it.
This is exactly true! I know everything being said it true but despite that I'm still having problems. To the point no ideas are really generating at all now. It's been going on for ages and have gotten frustrated with it.


toujours gai, archie
>I always come back to writing
This probably means you are a writer. I was 63 years old before I finished my first book. I spent my professional life as a historian and as a computer tech (yeah, I know), and it wasn't until I was around 60 that I sort of looked around and realized I'd been writing my whole life. I had finished a master's thesis and a dissertation. I'd written whole web sites and history lectures, and I'd filled scores of notebooks with ideas and unfinished stories. At that point I told myself I was a writer because I seemed unable to stop. The only thing that remained was to finish, and that's when I got determined to finish something and just kept at it until I did.

At some point, finishing became more important than judging. Once I managed that, I realized something important, a realization that I hope helps you as well: no one can judge an unfinished work. Not me, not anyone else. Any judgment I make that this or that isn't good enough is premature. No one judges an unfinished novel. We read completed works and then like them or dislike them.

The same goes for the opinions of others. IMO, it's unfair to the reader to hand them two chapters (or whatever) and ask for their opinion. Yes, agents do this, but agents don't live on my planet. <grin> So, any judgments by friends and family or critique circles offered on an unfinished work are in fact unfinished opinions.

To put it bluntly, stop asking and keep writing. Finish something. For really poor reasons, I wound up writing a short story and a novelette while I was working on my first novel. Getting that short story finished *and* submitted to magazines was crucial to shoring up my self-confidence. Not, mind you, on the quality of my writing, but on my ability to finish a story. The novelette I self-published. I never even tried to market it. It was another exercise in finishing.

I sort of see it like running. You start running and thirty yards along you decide you're not very good and there's no point in running. I mean, at least get to the finish line, right? Maybe you decide you just like running. Or maybe you decide you want to enter a race. But until you have run your marathon (or your hundred yards!) you can't really judge anything.


Write about a frustrated writer that must make stories about demons to imprison them. The more people that believe the stories, the more powerful the demon that can be defeated. A collection a short stories to complete a whole. Plus it can take place at anytime or place even modern.

It's a start without knowing what you have been working on already.


Article Team
Is it the ideas that lose their appeal, or the characters?

If you can create a character you care about, might it not be easier to stick with them until they reach the end of their story?

Also, what skip said, finishing something just for the sake of finishing is very valuable for the confidence, even if it's a silly little story about a bear and an idiot boyfriend.

Another thought might be to do a remix of someone else's story. Just to see how much your own personal touch changes it. One of the things I really want to do is write my own version of one of my favourite children's stories. Just to see what it's like, and how it would turn out.


Article Team
Since I was young, I always wanted to write. I would do bits of this and that. It would be sort of writing, but it was never something really complete. Fast forward twenty something years. I was going back to school for the second time. One of the things I told myself when I went back was to stop avoiding what I feared, which is what I did a lot before. I didn't know it then, but I had and have anxiety and dysthymia. When I selected my courses, anything that scared me because it was hard, I met it head on. I kept telling myself failure was always an option, and if it happened, it was OK.

One of the things that I met head on was taking a writing course. The format was every other week we would bring a 1-3 page piece/excerpt and we would read it aloud to the class for critique. Guess who ended up being the first student to read their work aloud to the class for the semester? Me. Brown underwear time does not even come close to how I felt at that moment. But I got through it. No one laughed. The world didn't explode. The sun didn't go supernova. When I finished school, I continued to seek out writing classes and writing groups. Sharing not just my work with others but sharing the ups and downs of getting a story out helped me be more comfortable with the imperfections in my writing.

That comfort and continuing to be more and more comfortable with being imperfect has allowed me to continually march forward with whatever I'm working on. In doing this I realized something about ideas. The initial idea(s) are seeds. As you write them out they grow and mature into your story, and they bear fruit, and within that fruit are more seeds. Sometimes you set those seeds aside for later. Other times, you write them out and let them grow into your story, too. Eventually, you have so many ideas growing in your story that you have to start pruning. And in that pruning process, sometimes, the original idea(s), or at least some of them, get pruned away to make room for one of the children, because that child sprouted into something better, maybe even magnificent.

If you never write out your initial idea(s), no matter how good or bad you think they are, they never bear fruit and so no new seeds will come from it. No new seeds means no chance at better ideas coming from it. You have to let yourself write terribly. You have to let yourself fail. Otherwise, you never give yourself a chance at something better.

A few years ago my father passed away. I went into a funk. In order to get back on the horse, with my latest project, I revised the way I worked. I did extra planning and thought things out way more, because that was easier to do than putting down prose. Once I had my detailed outline worked out, I started to write. I used to write between 1-2k every day. I set a low bar this time, 250 words. This is a plodding pace, but I found in some ways it's working out better. It allows my to course correct easier, and I allow myself the luxury to stop when I'm unsure of something, and need to reevaluate. Like I said, it's slow, but sometimes I write a lot more. Regardless, I'm making constant progress, and when I look back and what I've written, the slower pace and more planning has made it so in my estimation there's going to be less editing needed overall.

This is what I went through, and this is how I've dealt with it. It's about constantly making progress, however you want to define what progress is. For me, failure counts as progress, because it teaches you what not to do.
Someone asked me at my first ever book launch: was it hard to get published?

I thought: well, no...the first publisher I sent it to said yes.

But to say that would have completely ignored the 15 years it took me to learn the craft - forged through recurring inspiration and rejection - until I was good enough to conceive of and produce something worthy of publication. It occurred to me, in that moment, that if you have the right product it's easy to get published. If you don't it's impossible. (Mind you, that was 10 years ago and everything to do with publishing is harder now.)

Something for the OP to consider...is it possible that what is happening is that your own good taste is telling you that what you're working on is not really up to your own high standards? If yes, I would see that as a very encouraging sign. Keep improving your craft and when you do have the explosive, break-through idea you'll be better equipped to do justice to it.
Thanks for the input so far.
I do write shirt stories which I've finished (I think I uploaded one on here months ago). Maybe it's the mammoth task of a full length novel that intimidates me. I need to focus on getting on finished, and forget the quality maybe. So I'm going to try splitting up the acts into mini stories. Same as how I would do a brief plan for a short story and finish it all a few days. Take a few days break. Write another plan and then do the short story. So it's like a chronicle of short stories I can then add together to make one whole novel.
Don't know of that would work?
I'm looking at it from the other side. Is it actually a bad thing that the ideas of other people add to your own? To quote Steve Jobs, who (wrongly) quoted picasso:
Good artists copy; great artists steal.

I would say that bouncing ideas off other people and discussing them is actually a very valid way to develop ideas. You can do this with yourself by writing your ideas down and then building on them or you can do it with other people where you discuss the ideas and work out how to make them better. It's pretty normal in most professions to brainstorm together, so why should writers be any different? Just thank them in the acknowledgements and you're good to go.

As for writing a complete novel. That takes time. It's a daunting task if you look at it from the start. But simple math helps. If you write just 250 words per day (about 1 page of a novel and maybe 20 minutes work, depending on how fast you write of course) you write 91.250 words per year. Which makes for a nicely sized novel. You could even take weekends off and finish at 66.250 words and still call it a novel.

As for writing it as small stories that fit together to form a larger one, there's nothing wrong with that. A lot of writing advise even indicates that you should treat your chapters as mini-novels with a clear storyline, good start and some kind of resolution. Also, many older novels were originally published in multiple installments in magazines, which meant they were not only written as separate pieces but also published that way. This is also sort of making a comeback, with people self-publishing a novel in parts to amazon as a way to write and sell a series instead of a single novel. How well that works depends on the execution mainly.


The creative process is looking at existing things and seeing new possibilities of how they can be combined into something new. Creativity is not making something that was never done before, but doing something in a new way.

In the time where a door stopper trilogy counts as the smallest common size for fantasy and fantastic movies are usually planned as a series going for 10 years, episodic storytelling has become somewhat forgotten. But it used to be pretty much the standard in a lot of mediums. Multiple stories with the same characters in the same world, that each are complete stories with their own beginning and end are much esier to tackle. And each episode can easily be anywhere between 10 thousand and 500 thousand words long.


Thanks for the input so far.
I do write shirt stories which I've finished (I think I uploaded one on here months ago). Maybe it's the mammoth task of a full length novel that intimidates me. I need to focus on getting on finished, and forget the quality maybe. So I'm going to try splitting up the acts into mini stories. Same as how I would do a brief plan for a short story and finish it all a few days. Take a few days break. Write another plan and then do the short story. So it's like a chronicle of short stories I can then add together to make one whole novel.
Don't know of that would work?

I think that's a good way to approach it, think of each scene, or chapter as a short story, it can only improve your writing. Trying something different might help to break the cycle. I also found that writing 'Morning Pages' helps me to sort out all the crap that holds me back and allows me to move forward, small steps at a time works for me. I also agree that your feelings probably are experienced by many writers. The 'imposter' feeling but you keep going back to it so to me, that means you need to write. And grief can really knock you back, so be kind to yourself.
You took a break which lasted several years. My experience with pretty much everything tells me that if you take a long break, your skills wither. And when you try picking it up, what came naturally before is now an impossible feat. However, the skills are still in there, somewhere, and can be rediscovered. Just don't expect it to happen overnight.

A lot of people are unsure if it makes sense for them to aim at writing. And a lot of time, their unsureness is grounded in pretty concrete reasoning. You said that "my ideas aren't worth writing about. I don't just mean the general idea of my story I mean everything I put into it." That's a pretty solid reason NOT to write. So sure, maybe you should abandon writing.

But, you don't need to wrestle with that decision right now. If you, when you're trying to write, are going in circles about whether you want to write in the first place, then you're essentially telling yourself that what you're doing is pointless. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy and you're sabotaging yourself. My advice: try postponing your anxiety. Set an alert on your calendar in a few months' time. "Do I wanna be a writer?" So whenever you're unsure if you should or shouldn't be a writer, then your anxiety may be ever so valid, but it's something that you have a concrete date for. Until then, you're an author, dammit, and that messy draft is a bloody bestseller.

Not sure this will work. I never tried it. But I have successfully postponed a lot of things in my life—the dishes, the dentist, the overdue bills—by telling myself I'll do it later.
Is is that no ideas are coming at all or that you are critiquing them as not being good enough before a word hits the page? I ask because I have always been a loud proponent of writers being willing to share small examples of their true first drafts right alongside their finished/published scenes. I've only seen a few examples of this, and I want to tell you, I've yet to see a true first draft that would make me turn the page to read the next scene!!

Most all of us, I suspect, puts a lot of rough material down, even when we know exactly what is supposed to happen, before we get to the refinement and embellishment and structuring of it. Characters, scenes, worlds. All of it is rough and hazy at first. I've never written a page of dialogue, exposition or a character that I didn't tweak or work on refining their traits, paring them down and/or bringing them out into the light as the rounds of editing went along. And I should add I am not a pantser. I plan a lot ahead of time but it's all up for edit or removal if it suits the better story in the end.

I just wonder if you are loading up on the front end with expectations and self-criticism and not giving yourself a chance to really find your way into the story and characters through the writing? Perhaps you always did this but are more critical now as you've gotten older?

My advice, based on the whole of what you described above, and because it has worked for me when I was in that place, is this:

Try writing a scene. as ordinary and mundane as you can think of. A guy doing his laundry and the change machine is broke. Don't make it any more outrageous or genre related than that. It's a mundane scene in a mundane setting. The guy notices the time. It's almost too late to start a last load and there's only one other customer in the place. Your character has to ask that other customer for change. Don't even worry about the resolution at first. Just get the character moving and thinking. Why does he NEED that load of laundry done today? Why did he choose that particular laundromat? Is it in his neighborhood. Was he on the way to somewhere else and saw it? Is it the only one open til midnight? What is he hoping will happen to him after he does his laundry and gets out of there?

So the point of the exercise is this: That scene? It's fantasy. It's sci fi. It's horror. It's the same scene in a dozen genres. The window dressing, the fact the laundromat is on a space station or that the dryer is a vortex into a fae world or the coin the other customer gives him only work in that one machine all the way along the back wall, or that the other customer is an underworld succubus or a potential love interest. All of THAT is irrelevant right now. Though, if it comes to you as you are writing, go with it but don't stop to think it through!

Once you have something, even if it's just a page or two with no end. Stop. What you have, RIGHT THERE, is good enough. It's REAL writing.

I just wonder if, as happens to so many of us, you're getting caught up at times in wanting to have a mastery and control of all the other stuff that isn't so important and now, since you've been away from it for so long, your brain is telling you that the other stuff is more important and than just getting the pen/keyboard moving.

I hope some of this helps and, if not, at least know that MANY of us have been right there and there is always a way through! Don't give up and don't beat yourself up. Just keep trying and working through it. :)


My ideas are all boring. I feel like I don't have anything interesting to say.

But the thing is, I can't really point out any book or movie that has a really great plot. I know plenty of great works, but its not the plot that makes them interesting. They all have very simple and not terribly meaningful plots either.

This leaves the question of what actually makes a good story when it's not the plot?


Article Team
So I'm going to try splitting up the acts into mini stories. Same as how I would do a brief plan for a short story and finish it all a few days. Take a few days break. Write another plan and then do the short story. So it's like a chronicle of short stories I can then add together to make one whole novel.
Don't know of that would work?
That was my initial plan when I started working on Lost Dogs. It was just meant to be a bunch of short stories that went together to tell a longer story. It didn't work out like that, but I still think it's a great idea. :)
One of my favourite novels of the last 30 years (Trainspotting - not fantasy) was really just a collection of short stories that got its act together in the final stanza. Don't know if anyone's done that with fantasy or sci-fi - I suspect not.

Miles Lacey

Though I have a reasonably good outline for my work in progress and a firm idea about the part of the world it's set in and the characters who people the story the problem begins the moment I try to write anything. I'm terrified of sounding too preachy or doing too much info-dumping. I'm terrified my main character might be too one-dimensional or not really reflective of her age group. I'm terrified I'm going to violate some unwritten rule about how to write a non-white female character when I am a middle aged predominately white guy.

And would anyone want to read about a mage who sets out on a quest to get her thesis approved so she can become a tanked mage so she can practice magic? Maybe I could make her a mystery solving mage operating in a fantasy world with the technology of the 1930s? That story line appeals to me as I love watching British detective and American crime procedural shows. Maybe I could combine the two: maybe while she is embarking upon her quest to get her thesis approved so she can become a ranked mage she gets caught up in a mystery which results in her taking a whole new direction in her life and - in the process - introducing the world to the female crime solving mage or girl detective mage. SO MANY PLOT BUNNIES RUNNING RAMPANT!

Okay, so I'm ranting. I guess that what I am saying is that as long as you have the urge to fill pages with words and do so you are a writer and you should not give up until you either die or you reach THE END.