The 5 Most Nerve-Wracking Things About Starting a New Writing Project

Blank pages are scary.

Now, other more seasoned writers might disagree with me. Blank pages aren’t scary, they’d argue — they’re full of promise and opportunity! After all, a blank page is a writer’s canvas, the home of what will eventually become an incredible story. What’s more exciting than that?

I’m not saying they’re wrong. After all, there is something uniquely enticing about filling a blank page with paragraph after paragraph of plot, characters, and conflict. But there’s also something about seeing the blinking cursor in the top left corner of a brand-new Word document that intimidates me. It’s almost like it knows that I’m going to spend a good ten minutes just staring at the screen while I figure out how to start things off, or like it can tell that I’m going to write twenty-two different versions of my opening sentence before I’m finally satisfied enough to move on.

Look at it sitting there, just mocking me!

Ever since I made “finally finish a manuscript” one of my 2019 resolutions, I’ve been facing blank pages almost on the daily. From the empty legal pads that I use to plan my novels to the empty Word documents that I use to write them, I’ve had to write a lot of first lines and overcome a lot of blinking cursors. I’m currently in a stage of the writing process that I like to refer to as “idea ping-pong” — I’m bouncing around between all of the story ideas that I’ve had in the past few months, trying to find one that I care about enough to devote the next several months of my life to writing — so most of those first lines have been false starts, stories that I won’t actually end up pursuing for a while.

However, between all of the different stories that I’ve worked on, I’m starting to notice a common trend. With every new project that I start, facing down that first blank page gives me the same five worries:

What if my idea isn’t original enough?

This is something that I think about the most whenever I start a new writing project. In the book-reviewing community, books are bashed left and right for being “too trope-y” or “yet another cliche dystopian novel.” I really don’t want to write a cliche book, yet with so much fiction out there in the world, it seems impossible to come up with a completely original idea!

But then again, maybe it’s meant to be impossible. As some wise person* once said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” (As an example of this, I once read an article that shows how the plot of Harry Potter is pretty much identical to the plot of Star Wars, despite the two works being vastly different in terms of genre and medium.) It seems like every story out there has been influenced by countless other stories, whether that means drawing from physical books that other authors have written or simply taking inspiration from the outlandish tales that spring out of crazy life experiences. If that’s really the case, true originality is unachievable. But successful books still need to be able to take the hodge-podge of influences that they’re drawing from and combine them in a way that is somehow fresh and different, and that’s a skill that I’m still working to perfect.

*I tried to look up who said this quote so I could make sure I cited the correct person, and apparently no one really knows who said it? It’s been attributed to everyone from Tolstoy to John Gardner. So I’m just going to leave it at “some wise person” and hope that’s sufficient!

What if my plot isn’t interesting or complex enough?

Authors who invest themselves enough in one idea long enough to produce a series that spans six or seven books are already impressive enough. But authors that manage to make hidden symbols in the first book foreshadow a huge reveal in, like, the fifth book? Those authors blow my mind. How do they weave together so many different plots and subplots and mysteries and conflicts with such mastery? Do they plan out the entire series ahead of time so they can make sure that all of their sneaky hints get put in the right places? Or do they just take it book by book and connect things together on a whim? How?!*

Granted, this is probably a skill that comes with time, but as I try to plot my first novel, it’s kinda intimidating to think about. I’m constantly worried that the plot I’m creating is too simple or too obvious in its twists and turns, and I really don’t want that. I’ve read a few books recently where the “surprise endings” weren’t surprises at all — I could see them coming from a mile away — and they were pretty disappointing. It would bug me to no end if my own work turned out the same way.

*If you’re reading this as an author who’s done this kind of foreshadowing, first of all: kudos and second of all: TEACH ME YOUR WAYS!

How much should I talk about my project online?

Ah yes, and here we come to one of the biggest debates that I’ve been having with myself over the past couple of months: is it okay to post the details of your writing projects online? I’m talking mainly from a protecting-your-ideas standpoint here, not a seeking-motivational-support one.* Ever since I started this blog, I’ve shied away from posting anything more detailed than the name of one of my main characters when discussing my writing projects. There’s literally no justification for this other than me being nervous about the potential of someone stealing my ideas and writing a way better book than I ever could** — which I feel ridiculous even mentioning, but there you have it!

I’ve even tossed around the idea of starting a weekly feature on this blog where I (and any other writers who want to join in, of course!) write flash fiction or short stories based off of random writing prompts, but this irrational worry of mine has been holding me back. I think that once I have more writing experience under my belt and more confidence in my own abilities, I’ll be a lot less worried about this… but for now, I’m still struggling to overcome it.

*I know first-hand that events like Camp NaNoWriMo can be super motivating for getting writing done — and announcing my commitment to those events online just motivates me that much more to stay on track with them!
**Because let’s be honest, looking at my level of writing ability and my sheer lack of writing output up to this point… this is more plausible than it seems.

Am I still going to like this idea in a month?

For me, disillusionment has always been one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome while working on a long-term writing project. I’ll be chugging along just fine, writing a little bit every day and loving how my manuscript is turning out — and then, suddenly, I wake up one day and think, This is the worst idea that I’ve ever come up with. Why am I bothering? Just like that, the last few weeks of productivity come crashing down around me, and I feel the sudden urge to either abandon or completely rework my project. Spoiler alert: I end up giving in to that urge wayyyy too often… and that’s pretty much the reason why I haven’t finished a manuscript yet, summed up in a neat little paragraph.

All sarcasm aside, however, I think this is one of the easiest worries for me to overcome. Every writer who’s ever managed to be successful at their craft will tell you that “first drafts are supposed to be messy” — this is a sentiment that I need to start embracing a lot more. I need to focus on just getting the story down on paper, without worrying about how “good” of an idea it is. That can come later, in the editing stages. Of course, it’s easier said than done to adopt this mindset, but you better believe that I’m going to try my darnedest to going forward.

Is anyone actually going to want to read this?

I’ve found that I produce some of my best work when I’m writing just for myself. Every few weeks, I’ll search up a random writing prompt on the Internet, open up a Word document, and freewrite whatever story pops into my head — and it’s super liberating. I almost never produce anything that I would want to publish, but the words flow so much easier when I’m not faced with the pressure of thinking about how someone else is eventually going to be reading and judging my work.*

When I sit down to work on a longer writing project, however, I run into a mental wall. I don’t write novels solely for myself — I write them so that one day, they might be published and read by people all around the world. And that’s pretty scary to think about when you’re staring at a blinking cursor with nothing more than a vague idea (or, if you’re a planner, a thoroughly outlined idea) of what you’re going to write rattling around in your head. During brainstorming sessions, I’ve even found myself subconsciously discarding ideas that I think aren’t popular enough in the fiction world, or that I think are funny but other people might find lame — which isn’t good, because it significantly slows down my writing process by forcing me to doubt myself.

I guess that the only way to overcome this is to write for myself all the time, not just when I’m doing my occasional freewriting. But I’m still trying to figure out how to do that. It’s hard enough to shut your inner editor up as it is, but even harder when she’s goading you by talking about how many people might read your book someday!

*To be fair, I still do have trouble coming up with my first line and conquering that blank page, but it’s significantly easier.

Writing is difficult. And for me, the hardest part has always been getting started. Sure, I may also have difficulty finding the time to write every single day, and I definitely struggle to come up with character names — but when it comes down to it, nothing has been a bigger obstacle to my writing these past couple of months than that frustratingly cheery cursor that greets you when you open up a new Word document.* Like I said above, blank pages are scary.

What I (along with any other writers out there who are having a hard time starting their projects) need to remember is that once you finally come up with that perfect opening line, it’s off to the races. The blank page is no longer blank, and it’s no longer frightening. Instead, it’s filling up with words faster than you ever could have anticipated, and as long as you keep at it, adding one word after another whenever you have time, it will one day contain something that you can be really proud of — a finished story. That’s definitely worth a few doubtful thoughts along the way!

*If you follow my Twitter (which you should! 😁), you’ll know that my poor furniture choices have also been a major distraction… but I digress.

What do you worry about when you’re starting a new writing project? Got any tips on how to overcome the first-page jitters, or any thoughts on how much is too much to share about your project online?

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38 comments

  1. This is such a wonderful post! 😀 Everything you said is something that I’ve felt at one point, or something that I’m currently struggling with. I recently decided that I want to post a bit about my new WIP, but I’m so scared of other people stealing my ideas! You’re not alone in this feeling.

    For me, the hardest part is moving on after you’ve started. It’s easy for me to come up with ideas, but after a while, I might find that I don’t really know what I’m doing with the plot, so I get stuck.

    I also have trouble with writing in general, partially because I procrastinate a lot, but also because I’m worried that I will “waste my time” writing something that will never be good enough to get published! The only thing we can do at this point is just write, no matter how “bad” we think it is, because we will never get better if we don’t try 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahhh I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one. I feel almost bad saying that I’m scared of people stealing my ideas, but it really is something I’m worried about. I’m even more nervous to post full short stories (which is something I’ve wanted to do, but this is holding me back)… I don’t know if there’s any way to get over that worry, though!

      Even though I didn’t mention it in this post, I do feel you on getting stuck in the middle of a story thing — I’ve never put enough effort into planning my novels all the way through, so all of my previous projects have fallen into that exact rut. 😬 I’m hoping that this time, creating a thorough plot outline will help me get around that! I’ll still have to come up with the ideas to make the outline though… so we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully that comprehensive outline that you made for your current WIP helps solve the plot woes on your end 🙂

      Also, don’t worry — I’m a huge procrastinator, too! I’ve debated writing a “burner book” that’s just for myself, just so I can have the experience of writing a novel, but I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t because there’s no point if it won’t get published. But you’re totally right about us just needing to write so we can improve. That’s what we should make 2019 all about. We got this! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is giving me total flashbacks to when I was starting to write with the goal of publishing (instead of writing just to write). I wish I could say beginnings get easier, but I literally JUST wrote a post about how hard they still are so…🤷

    The biggest thing that’s helped me push past the empty page panic attack is the promise that I can fix it later. The first draft is for me, to tell myself the story and figure out what it’s going to be about. And a lot of times that involves what one of my writing teachers called “clearing your throat”: a lot of junk that you’ll throw out later but that get’s you into the groove of the story. Even if you start with “I want to write about” or “Once upon a time”, the page is no longer empty and you can just get on with it.

    Like

  3. I loved this post so much! I’ve been working on my fantasy wip for over a year now, but that’s really only entailed brainstorming + daydreaming and trying to flesh out everything I know/want to happen in the story before I actually start writing. Originality is definitely always a concern I have in the back of my head too, but for now, my philosophy is to just get the story down and if it winds up being too similar to something else, it’s easier to change what’s already there than something that doesn’t exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • By the way, I just have to say before I forget — your blog is absolutely STUNNING! I love the graphics and the design and everything! Okay, now onto my actual comment 🙂

      I totally feel you on the “working” thing. I’ve been “writing” my WIP for almost a year and a half now, and I haven’t actually put any words down in the actual manuscript… I’ve just kinda been tossing around ideas and thinking “oh, that could be cool to write.” I need to start subscribing more to philosophies like yours. Hopefully 2019 is our year to finally finish our manuscripts! We got this! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alex,

    The good news is that—congratulations—you’re a writer! That’s also the bad news. Even veteran writers deal with the things you describe. They’re inherent to the process and, at least for me, never fully dissipate. You simply learn how to manage them. Some things that work for me:

    – Accept the extremes. One day I’ll marvel at my story’s brilliance, and the next I’m convinced it’s irredeemable drivel. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Both moods will cycle, so don’t take either of them too seriously. Keep working.

    – Commit. This is a dorky analogy, but it transformed my approach to writing books: each project is like a marriage. It will have some rough days, but remind yourself that you chose this one because it had the potential to be something great. Sticking with it ultimately leads you to deeper and more rewarding places than if you forsake it for every tempting new concept that sashays through your head (jot down those flirts for later, but stay with your manuscript until it’s finished).

    – Give yourself permission to write imperfectly. The first draft is just a sketch to fill those scary blank pages and tune the story mechanics you outlined. It helps if you don’t look back at what you’ve written until you reach your target word count; that way, you’ve created the raw material of a novel, and it’s much harder to throw away than a few experimental chapters.

    – Don’t obsess over originality. Almost everything has been done before in some form, but not in your voice or with your vision. Focus on the craft of YOUR tale: are the character arcs dynamic? Does the plot have suitable stakes and tension? Are you avoiding (or subverting) the obvious genre cliches? Readers don’t mind familiar elements if you use them to tell a good story. I, for one, look forward to reading your debut novel someday!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your incredible (and incredibly thorough) advice, J.K.! It’s a relief to hear that more experienced writers have the same struggles that I’m currently facing. Somehow, all these worries are more manageable when they’re reduced to the status of just another step in the writing process. I do want to overcome them, though, and your tips are a great starting point.

      Dorky or not, I think your marriage analogy sums things up perfectly. My main issue, currently, is staying committed to one project. Sometimes I go off on a side tangent to write a different story, and sometimes I just put down the manuscript for too long and end up hating it when I pick it up again… in both cases, if I just committed to working on a single project every day, I’d probably be able to push through. Of course, that’s where the perfectionist inner editor comes in to stop me – it’s hard to write every day when you don’t always love what you’re writing! But like you mentioned, it’s much easier to edit what you have than create what you don’t. I’m hoping that, by keeping that in mind, I’ll be able to push through a first draft of my current project without stopping too often to edit.

      Anyways, I would be honored to have you read my debut someday. Here’s hoping that happens sooner rather than later! Thank you again for taking the time to give such insightful advice – I really appreciate it and your support.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That miserable inner editor! I came up with idea for my debut novel when I was your age, but it took almost a decade to put it on paper because my perfectionistic impulses savaged it after a few pages. May you find courage sooner than I did to tell the Editor that she can be as viciously critical as she likes…when the draft is complete and it’s time for revision.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a story that sounds all too familiar. The Editor has been viciously vigilant these last few months, but I’m determined to make a stand against her! Only time will tell how the battle goes, but I have high hopes for victory. Your encouragement is always extremely helpful, of course. 🙂

        Ironically, I’m almost looking forward to the revision stage, even though I’ve barely started writing. Hopefully that can carry me through this project till the very end!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Gah I loved this post so much! I can totally understand all of these. Especially the whole blank page thing. That can be so so intimidating, but yeah! There’s something so satisfying to see those pages filled up and see how far you’ve come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahhh I’m so glad you liked it! 🙂 And you’re so right — there’s nothing I love more than the feeling of holding a huuuuge stack of papers full of my hard work, haha. I’ve only had that experience with math homework so far (boring, I know), but I’m hoping by the end of the year, I’ll have a manuscript printed!

      Like

  6. This is such a good post! I’ve started so many stories and just completely stopped them because I get stuck, or I don’t think they’re good enough. I feel a lot more motivated now to write for myself

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! ❤ I totally feel you on that one. I've gone through so many turbulent cycles of loving and hating my WIP that if it were my significant other, I would have broken up with it by now. 😂 But I'm telling myself I just need to keep pushing through, and it's working (for the most part). Glad I could motivate you! Can't wait to follow your projects going forward 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I totally agree with you — I’ve definitely felt the pressure from outside influences before, but it’s so much more fun to write what I love, so I’m going to try to focus on that more going forward. 🙂 Plus, it’s clearly not a good idea to try and follow writing trends anyways… they’ll be obsolete before the book is even published, after all!

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  7. HAVE YOU DESCRIBED MY FEELINGS EVERY SINGLE TIME I TRY ADN WRITE A NOVEL! LIKE LITERALLY THESE ARE ALL MY PERSONAL WORRIES. Honestly though, we will all be waiting to read your book (FYI I started yours), we will all support your career as an author, and if you want to connect even more make a little section on your blog about your book so we can know where to go to find out more about it once you get closer to release date! No idea is exactly original but you can honestly make it original without being too weird or cliche (sorry i didn’t spell that correct) You just have to put your little twist on it. On the topic of hidden meanings I personally think that you can add the bulk of that on your first of third editing of your book to make sure that it is the way you want it while you are familiarizing yourself with it. All in all though we are going to support you and can’t wait for the day that it’s officially out! Lovely post and have a great day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your support and your kind words!! It means a ton!! I’m glad you could relate to this post, and I can’t wait to share my novel with you someday ❤

      I think you’re right about the hidden meanings thing – it probably is something that is better added after several drafts, when you have a clearer idea of where you want your story to go! I need to focus on getting the first draft out first though… and that’s proving difficult. But oh well, I’ll keep pushing through!

      Also, I think your idea of adding a separate section on my blog for my writing projects is a great idea! I was thinking about doing something like that, but since I don’t have any writing projects that are anywhere near completion, I thought it might be better to wait. I’ll probably set it up in the next few weeks or so as I continue to make progress.

      I hope you have a great day as well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. *passes you a cuppa and some cookies* honestly, I think my first page jitters left years ago. I’m 18 but I’ve been writing stories since I was 11, then I branched out into poetry and then lyrics. The self doubt for me is more crippling than that blinking cursor, when I write I’m writing what I’d love to read. I’ve actually been out of practice with writing original stories, since I switched to fanfic when I was taking my GCSE’s as my brain wasn’t being fried at trying to keep up with a complex world I’d crafted. Instead I got to develop my writing, I learned how to flesh out my characters better, how to pace myself and the story.

    Honestly, instead of worrying about that cursor just think about what you want to write. Hell focus on the keyboard and ignore the screen at the start if that helps Alex. I used to write my stories in notebooks, I’d be writing in school, at home…any chance I got.

    Not everyone will like our writing, and that’s ok you know.I think the bigger question we writers should consider, is are we proud of this work? I’m proud of all my work…well most of it. Some of it I cringe at but it all helped me get to where I am today.

    I also love your flash fiction idea! I’ve actually posted some of my stuff on wattpad, mind it’s mostly all old but it’s still there. Oh and first drafts…honestly they are going to be messy. Sometimes I write out over 2k words for a chapter in a fanfic, and then delete it all (usually I cut it and shove in a document called deleted scenes) and start over. That’s my process of dealing with my writers block…I write out the stuff in my head which I know I don’t want, but once it’s written. It’s out and I can move onto the next thing. Loved this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a long comment! 🙂 It’s actually really interesting to hear how you progressed in your writing. I’m trying to follow a similar path for myself right now, but as you can tell from this post, it’s been a little difficult. Still, I’m keeping at it, because like you said I feel like it’s really important just to develop my skills so that one day I’ll be a really great writer. It’s just taking a while 🙂

      I think the most important thing you mentioned is that we need to focus on what we want to write, and being proud of our own work. I totally agree with you — I’ve found that I produce some of my best work when it’s genuinely what I want to write (which isn’t surprising), and I’m really trying to do that more without worrying about how the outside world will perceive it. We’ll see how the year goes!

      I’m glad you like the flash fiction idea! I’ll keep you posted on if I decide to do it or not, just in case you want to join in. Thank you again for your comment — it was actually really motivating and reassuring. I appreciate your support a ton ❤

      Like

  9. Hey Alex!
    Yeah I absolutely agree, blank pages are the worst!!
    You’ve brought up some great points here, and I can relate to pretty much everything haha. In terms of originality, you are right that there are SO many novels/TV shows/movies, etc, out there, that it is impossible (if not super hard) for an idea to be absolutely unique. However I am going to go off on a limb to say that only YOU can write your story. Someone else might take the exact same idea and write it in a completely different way (for example, they might create a cast of characters with a different set of personalities and relationship dynamics, which can really change up the story.) If you give 10 writers the same writing prompt, I bet that you’ll get 10 different stories out of it! I am always wondering “is this idea unique enough?!” but I think the idea doesn’t have to be unique, our execution of the idea WILL be unique as long as we are true to ourselves and our own story-telling style 🙂
    When I write, I also worry if people will ever want to read my novel. I think the best way to overcome that and to gain confidence in our writing is to actually show it to people 🙂
    Cheers, and happy writing!
    Sophie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sophie! I totally agree with you on the originality thing. I think that, no matter how hard we try, we’re always going to end up drawing inspiration from some other story (whether that be TV, books, etc) when we write our own — but, because we each have a unique perspective on things, the story we create will end up unique no matter what. I think my worries over being original mainly stem from my desire to one day be a published, bestselling author. I feel like I have to come up with a really, REALLY unique concept to do that, and that probably isn’t even the case — I just need to stop stressing myself out so much!

      As for the idea of showing people our writing, that’s pretty nerve-wracking just to think about, haha. But I think you’re right in that it’s the one of the only ways to build confidence. The problem is actually getting something written first! Which is why I’m trying to focus on writing more for myself — I think it’s important to keep in mind that no matter how many people might someday read our story, the most important thing is that we’re proud of it first. That will probably make showing it to other people much easier 😀

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write out such a long comment! I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors going forward!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think even ideas of best-selling authors aren’t 100% unique when you think about it. For example, when I was reading Hunger Games I was reminded of an old Japanese comic I read. And Twilight was probably not the first ever vampire romance!

        Yes I agree that when we are working on the first draft, the most important part is to write for ourselves. Stephen King once said that we should “write the first draft with the door closed, the second draft with the door open.” However after writing the first draft, it might be an affirming experience to have others comment on your work 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true! A lot of themes are common across stories, and that’s actually probably part of what makes them so interesting. Recognizing common themes that have new twists on them is always fun. 🙂

        I really like that Stephen King quote! And I agree with you — once I finally produce a first draft of something, I’m definitely going to be reaching out for feedback on it. Like you said, affirmation is everything!

        Liked by 1 person

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