Monday, May 25, 2015

The Blank Page...and other Writing Paranoia

If you’re a writing, there is a good chance you’ve felt the nudge, sting, or shove of self-doubt. Maybe with a little fear sprinkled in for good measure.

I know I have! On both sides of publication, writers have a tendency to doubt their own abilities, worry about the general acceptance of our words on paper, and question our calling.

And, of course, those tiny doubts escalate into a tidal wave crashing down on us, leaving us with enough paranoia to star in a Stephen King film!

Today we are going to talk about a few of the paranoia we may face as writers.

Below is a list of some top diagnostic paranoia for writers. Don’t worry if you can’t find your particular paranoia in the list, I’m only chatting about three today. There are many more (saggy middle, overused words, etc) – enough to satisfy any constant worry-er or justify any need for chocolate.

1.       Blank First Page

Who’s been there? You’ve finished your novel, edited it until it shimmers and now it’s time for…the next story. (gasp)

 Whether you have an idea for a new book or not, the empty page can evoke one of two emotions. Sheer delight or utter panic. Starting something new, delving into a novel storyworld and characters can be exciting, but it can also bring a sense of anxiety with it.

If your first book has done really well, then you feel the added pressure of making the second book as good or better than the first (and usually under deadline). If your first book hasn’t been picked up by a publishing house, you have the added pressure of trying to ‘make it better’ and your mind spirals a frantic struggle of ‘what do publishers want? How can I improve my craft? What if I do all this work only to have it rejected again?

Hope Note: “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it”(Philippians 1:6) – God has started a story in your heart, a desire to create words with meaning, and He has the power, ability, and love enough to see the end result of what He’s started in you.

2.       Tell-Tale Signs

You know that verse in the Bible from 1 Corinthians which says “now let me show you a more excellent way”?? Well, with that idea in mind, let’s chat a little about the show vs. tell controversy in writing. ‘Telling’ in and of itself isn’t the “kiss of death” in your scene. There are times when telling must happen, but a ‘more excellent way’ shows the action through our words.

Simple examples?

Clark was angry.

Clark slammed his fist against the desk, sending the Spock bobble head into a frantic shudder.

Now, it’s pretty obvious the better choice. The second is not only more visual and descriptive, I also tossed in a little characterization for good measure. Learning to write with more active verbs and ‘action’ descriptions is the ‘better’ way, but writing a few telling lines here and there should not leave you stressed. Find the best way to describe what you need for your story. If telling? Tell. If showing? Show. :-)

Hope Note: “Now I will show you a more excellent way. Love….” I Corinthians 12: 31b-13:1a

God has given us the best example of show vs tell in all eternity. Through Christ, we see the example of perfect love – in his life, death, and resurrection. Though Jesus told people of his work, the Bible never records him telling anyone that he loves them. He talks of God (The Father) loving them, but doesn’t say it himself. Instead, he shows us. His sacrifice, patience, and grace speak more than words, and because of His love in creating this writing gift in us – he will help us ‘show’ the story He’s written on our hearts.
3.       Hole-y Plots, Batman

Besides #1, this is often my greatest paranoia! :-) Getting through a book with a full-proof plot can be a daunting task.

This is where a solid critique partner or group comes in handy! Why? They’ll ask the important questions and help you check for holes. Are all the loose ends, including important aspects of subplots, tied up at the end? Is there a point near the end where one of the main characters begins a lot of monologing (to explain situations that happened earlier) OR do you suddenly have a lot of ‘telling’ instances to make up for information not given earlier? Are the events in the novel logical?

Or if your character suddenly diverts drastically from his/her personality in choices or acts without proper motivation, that should bring a full-blown question-mark to your mind about possible plot holes.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed with the possibility of plot holes, become proactive in both your writing and editing.

Know your main characters’ motivations for what they do…and make sure you keep asking “why are they doing this? Why does this have to happen to propel the story forward?” with each and every scene.

Keep it logically consistent and relatively plausible. When we start having to ‘stretch’ our story beyond what’s fitting, then we might want to check for holes.

Use that crit partner or group! It’s vital to get some other eyes on your manuscript who can see your story from a fresh perspective.

Hope Note: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12: 1b-2a – but I’d read the whole chapter if I was you)

Writing a novel is like a marathon. It takes time, planning, pacing, endurance, energy, focus, direction, and maybe a few cheering buddies along the way. But just as God is the author and finisher of our faith, He will give us the necessary skills, awareness, and people to help us make it through the panicked moments if we are willing to listen and learn.

Don’t forget what God tells us about paranoia!

1 John 4:18a “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”

When we remember to whom we belong, who has equipped us, and how much HE loves us – his peace will not only calm our spirits, but give of wisdom to learn from others, grow in our skill, seek advice, and learn to revise well.

What are some writing paranoia you experience in your writing world?
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She enjoys sprinkling her native Appalachian culture into her fiction whenever she can. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she works with kids with special needs, searches for unique hats, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in April 2015. You can connect with Pepper on her website at, Facebook- or Twitter at


kaybee said...

Love the hat.
I have experienced all of these feelings at one point or another. Right now I have a "semi" in Genesis, which thrills my heart, but I'm worried about how I'm going to keep up the momentum if I get a contract, or even a Revise and Resubmit. And I have another WIP I'm struggling with, perhaps because I don't know the time period well enough -- or the heroine. Must give this some thought. Must DO THE WORK and not let the paranoia win. God has called me to do this until He tells me not to.
Kathy Bailey

Pepper Basham said...

Thanks, Kathy!!
And your words are EXACTLY right! God has called you - he will equip. I'm feeling the need to remind myself of that too :-)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Pepper. As I'm trying to get my MS to a point where I can actually send it to an agent, I have to not give in to the fear that it's not good enough.

I keep pressing forward, though. The one truth that God spoke to me early in my writing journey was that God has given me stories to write that no one else can write—at least not with my perspective and words. Kind of an amazing thought to me.

Pepper Basham said...

GREAT words, Jeanne!! and wonderful reminder of what God has created in us through stories!
His work in us! Wow!
So excited for you and what God's going to do with your stories!! YAY!