Friday 4 January 2013

Keep Calm It's Only Novel Panic

By Emma Greenwood
Guest Blogger

Here it comes again: my regular dose of ‘novel panic’, ‘novel angst’, ‘novel just not good enough, never going to be good enough, think I'll just give up and go back to doing normal things like sweeping up peas when they fall under the table and providing clean underwear for my children’.

We all get it if we’re in for the distance. If we’re sitting on a long haul flight with Novel Air then the turbulence of doubt is familiar weather.

Novel Panic is not the rabbit in the headlights 'is this good enough?' fear of the beginning writer (though that's pretty scary).

And it's not the 'I think I'll curl up and die' reaction of the first few honest critique sessions (though that feels like you've been punched in the gut).

No, I'm talking about something entirely different. Something insidious. Something that creeps up behind you and smothers you with a musty old grey blanket. Something that comes on once you've been writing a while, had positive feedback, know you're on the right path and know, that with hard work and determination, you're going to get there eventually.

That soul-sapping ‘something’ is Novel Panic.

Novel Panic brings me out in more cold sweats than remembering the time my dad made me crawl to the edge of Beachy Head when I was eight to look down at the sea, holding me by the ankles ‘just in case’.

Unlike the Beachy Head memories (where I just tell myself my dad had some sadistic risk-transference issues and that I will never ever ever do that to my own children), Novel Panic needs a concentrated talking to.

Here's what I say to myself:

1. Hold your nerve.

Hold your nerve. Hold your nerve. Hold your nerve.

2. This is a job, remember?

Keep writing. Or reading. Or maintaining your social media platform. Did you like every part of your job when you worked in an office/toyshop/greengrocers/army barracks/cocktail bar with a bunny tail stuck on your backside? Were there days when you really really didn't want to go in? Writing is no different. You can’t pull a sicky every time you feel discouraged. Even if you put the actual writing to one side for a week, you can work on something else like reading around your genre or pimping up your blog.

3. Read what those nice people said again.

Revisit positive feedback. Keep a record of encouraging comments. If the comments were verbal, write them down. They’re precious as diamonds. When you feel like your writing is useless, get them out and read them through.

4. You’re just having a ‘turn’.

It’s only temporary. You know from experience it’ll pass. Pretty soon you and the muse will be flying off again into imaginary worlds and you'll be feeling the kick ass writer you really are.

5. Tell Mr Bad Vibe to get lost.

Novel Panic is the anti-muse, and just like you'd say thank you to the ‘nice’ muse when something brilliant drops into place in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep (You don't? That's just me?), tell Mr Negativity to ‘jolly well sod off’ when he's whispering that negative crap in your ear (or something less Famous Five if that's your bag!).

6. And lastly:

Grit your teeth; hang on like a Pit Bull; tell your children that commando is fashionable; note that peas are easier to sweep up when they’re dry and (did I say already?)


Emma Greenwood is the Green Columnist for Liberti magazine and author of work-in-progress, Seagull Eyes, a contemporary teen novel that was long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2012. Emma also writes teen-voice short stories and has been published by Mslexia and Cinnamon Press. She writes every day at the kitchen table but can type 55 wpm under the bedclothes on her iPhone because the muse invariably visits in the early hours when everyone else is asleep.


  1. A novel list to encourage - thanks, Emma!

  2. I remember Sarah Zarr at the New York SCBWI conference telling us that the mother of all obstacles is disenchantment. Holding your nerve also means keeping alive what made you passionate about what you do - when you crawl into the writer's cave, it's easy to forget that. invest in inspiration! Terrific post, Emma!

  3. Brilliant advice and beautifully written, as usual.

  4. Thanks for this advice. Very timely! Since getting an agent for my first novel a couple of months ago I've been battling novel panic off and on most weeks. It's hard not to think that I won't mess it all up now and make him realise he made a mistake. Now that I know my novel is actually going to be sent to publishing house editors it seems worse to me than when I had had no feedback at all! But I will hold my nerve...

    1. Chloe - congratulations on getting an agent! That's one huge obstacle you've just climbed. Write on!

  5. I really needed to read that this morning. Right nerve! Get a grip!

  6. Encouraging and useful advice for the time of year when you pull the WIP out from its hiding place. Thanks.

  7. One more solution - don't serve peas. Thanks Emma, lots of good advice.

  8. I think I'll print this blog out and pin it over my desk.
    Though, come to think of it, that won't help - as most of my writing happens are weird hours in bed also! (though as the Man can sleep through anything, I can sit up with the laptop).
    Perhaps I should enlarge and tape it to the ceiling, instead?

  9. Wonderful post, Emma and congrats on your long listing!

  10. And sometimes clean underwear are more easily purchased :)

    Great post and very timely indeed. Much needed on this gray, post-holiday day when it's really about time I held my nerve and just got back to work already!!

    Many thanks and Happy New Year.

  11. Yes I agree, very timely advice as it's almost time to stop reading grown-up-summer-fiction and get back into my several WIPs for the younger generation(s).


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