One day, I will publish a novel.  I’ve written a novel (that’s progress), but it isn’t the one I want to publish – not yet. In 2001, an agent named Rose asked me to write an essay on why I was afraid to write a novel.

Afraid? “I’m not afraid to write a novel,” I said. “I just haven’t gotten around to it.” Well, there goes that excuse…

“Write the essay,” she urged, promising me that if I wrote a novel in the next twelve months, she would edit it at no charge and help me get it published. I wrote the essay. I dawdled on the novel. I discovered NaNoWriMo and wrote the novel, but promptly stuffed it into a drawer and avoided all contact with Rose until after the twelve months were up. What’s wrong with this picture??

Here’s the essay – maybe you can relate?

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

I Can Do This, If I Can Just… Pick… Up… This… Pen…

As I sit here picking fuzz balls from the carpet, it hits me. I want to write a novel. And I know I can do it with a little discipline and perseverence; as my mother would say, “Just put one foot in front of the other, and keep moving.” Or writing, in this case. So what is it that’s holding me back, driving me to pick the fuzz balls out of the carpet?


Fear that I’ll write it, and it will be awful. Embarassingly awful. So awful that I will have wasted my time, my energy, and my hopes on something that’s not even fit to burn. I’ll have killed hundreds of poor defenseless trees and suffered public humiliation in the process, and for what? To bore my readers to tears?

Fear that I’ll write it, and it will be an overnight bestseller. It’ll be such a raging success that I’ll have to spend half my time on the road, promoting and signing the damned thing. The “business” of writing will take over, leaving me no time or energy to write. My ever-supportive family will hate it, but they’ll put up with it (the better to write their own multimillion-dollar tell-all Mommy Dearest-type expose in years to come). No doubt success will go to my head, and I’ll forget that no matter how smart, skilled, or talented you are, you’re only better at some things than some people.

Fear that I’ll write it, and it will be the kind of novel I want it to be–one that will make my family and friends proud of me. A novel that will earn critical acclaim and entertain millions. A novel that will spark conversations at the water cooler, all beginning with “Hey, have you read that great new book…” And then they’ll figure if I did it once, I can easily do it again. At that point, I’ll be struck with the most horrendous case of writer’s block imaginable, and that’ll be the end of a brilliant start. The one-trick pony, unable to repeat the trick. And then my family and friends won’t be proud of me anymore, they’ll just be disappointed and try to encourage me by telling me what a good writer I am, but we’ll all know better, won’t we?

Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?

Who said phobias were rational?


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at For more information on her children's books, please visit
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9 thoughts on “Novelist”

  1. “I’ll forget that no matter how smart, skilled, or talented you are, you’re only better at some things than some people.”

    Oh, I can so relate to it. This is my phobia, too.

    “Success will make me proud and vain. Vanity is the root of all evil and only the beginning of the fall from grace.”

    Can we stop calling them phobia, and just call them what they are, excuses.

    You’re picking up steam…. Go Holly!
    Rasheed Hooda recently posted…U is for UniverseMy Profile

  2. But wouldn’t you have been terribly sad to get old if you hadn’t take a few chances, Holly? The first book I sold was actually the third novel I wrote. And the 4th novel I wrote was rewritten five times before I actually had the guts to finally submit it a couple of weeks ago. I’m suffering from a lot of anxiety right now while it’s being evaluated.

    Mostly I fear ridicule from the awesome editor who gets the first look at any manuscript I write. Every time I submit, I just know she’s going to shoot me back an email that says, “This is crap! Shred it.” This most recent submission could be the one…
    Patricia Stoltey recently posted…The Rest of the Story About Five Posts per WeekMy Profile

    1. Isn’t that funny? I confided in a coworker, years ago, that even after 20 years as a tech writer, I had trouble hitting the Send button when sending out that first review draft. WHY? I don’t mind the red pen at all. I appreciate good, constructive criticism. I feel RELIEF when the corrections come in. I think my real fear is that there’s something wrong or missing and no one will actually notice. 🙂 At least not until it’s too late. And yet – rarely has there been a critical error or omission. Nothing earth-shattering. The worst one I can remember is the one where I explained how to replace a 5.5″ diskette drive. (And if the error’s not immediately apparent to you in that, you’ll see what I mean – that one HAUNTS me, and yet, no one ever even NOTICED.) 🙂
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Make Something of Lasting ValueMy Profile

  3. So you’re normal. Writing brings out ALL the fears.

    If you don’t write, people can’t criticize. If you don’t publish, people can’t ask, “How’s the book doing?” and you won’t have to tell them, “Not particularly well.”

    I wrote my fears down. I do it all the time. I corral them and get them out of my head. And then I write.

    Fears always come back (so far), but I’ve gotten a bit more efficient at handling them.

    To be a writer you have to have skin as thick as a rhinoceros’ hide – and as thin as the nictitating membrane on a crocodile’s eye – SIMULTANEOUSLY.

    Classify under ‘Absurd,’ as quickly as possible (it can take days at times), and get back to work.

    Knock on wood, so far that’s how it’s worked for me for a very long time.

    Fear of obscurity I haven’t yet conquered – but the first steps have been taken.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…From PLAN to PUBLISHED, writers make events HAPPENMy Profile

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