My husband is something of a worry-wart. He is afraid of nonstick pans because he thinks they release chemicals into food. He is also afraid of breathing in chemicals, which is why he wears a respirator mask when he cleans the toilet. He’s afraid of germs, getting in trouble, eating day-old food, and he once said he was afraid I might get abducted at the library.
He’s also afraid of anything and everything getting stolen. When we were driving cross-country, he brought his deconstructed 3-D printer (which comprised wires and pieces of metal and plexiglass) into the hotel room each night because he was afraid someone would steal it out of the car. “Babe,” I told him, “no one wants that. It looks like a bunch of crap. No one will even know what it is.” (Later I had to apologize for saying his 3-D printer looked like a bunch of crap.)
I’m not saying all of Paul’s concerns are unfounded, but in my opinion he spends a little too much time worrying.
And in my work as a manuscript consultant (for more info, see here), I have noticed that some authors let themselves get bogged down with unnecessary worries, which takes time away from the actual writing. In this case, I’m not talking about the fears that plague most creative-type people from time to time: Will I fail? Is this any good? What if I lose my ability to be creative? Those worries are harder to banish. But take a look at the concerns below – these are unfounded fears you can forget about… and use that worry-wart energy instead towards your writing.
What Not to Worry About When Writing A Novel
- Someone might steal my idea!
Quit your worrying. Like I told Paul about his printer, no one wants your idea (they have their own!), and besides, they wouldn’t know what to do with it if they did steal it. Even if someone does write a book with a similar premise to yours, they won’t do it in the same way. The Twilight books and the Sookie Stackhouse series are both about mortal girls falling in love with handsome vampires, but they are drastically different books. Your book is going to be yours, and you don’t need to worry. Just write.
- I need to get my work copyrighted!
This is something Paul was worried about before I set him straight. No, you do not need to get your work copyrighted, and in fact, this is often seen by agents as both amateur and pompous. As soon as you write (or type or tweet) words they are automatically copyrighted to you and fully protected under U.S. copyright law. Here’s what author Victoria Strauss has to say on the website Writer Beware:
Many authors have an unreasonable fear of theft by agents and publishers–but good agents and publishers won’t risk their reputations this way, and in any case it’s easier just to work with you than go to all the trouble of stealing your work and pretending it belongs to someone else. As for bad agents and publishers…they aren’t interested in your work at all, only in your money.
- Is it okay to use real place names? Should I make up fake business names for a real city?
When writing fiction, it can be easy to get tripped up on minutia such as this. For example:
I’ve set my novel in New Orleans, and I have a scene at St. Joe’s Bar. But what if they sue me for using their name? Should I make up a fake name, like St. Joesphine’s? What if someone who lives in New Orleans reads my book and says, “hey, St. Joesphine’s isn’t a real place! This author doesn’t know s*&t about New Orleans and I’m boycotting this book!” OR, what if I use St. Joe’s as the name of the bar, but I get something wrong – like my character orders something they don’t serve there? Maybe I need to get online and look at drink menus for different bars. Maybe I need to fly to New Orleans and spend two weeks drinking in bars as research…
See how this can throw you off track? Well, quit your worrying. It’s fine to use the names of real places. Unless you’re saying something terrible about the establishment (that’s called libel) or making something dreadful happen there (like a murder) then no one is going to sue you. In fact, chances are no one is going to sue you no matter what you write. No offense, but unless your book becomes a best-seller, the owner will probably never find out (nor care if they do) that you used the name of his/her business, and in general, businesses appreciate publicity. Maybe, one day down the line, you could even do a book reading there as cross-publicity. And as far as getting things “wrong,” if it’s something little, like your character ordering a type of beer that St. Joe’s doesn’t carry, no one is going to notice/care. If you’re worried you might make a bigger mistake, then maybe you should make up a name. You’ll have more wiggle room that way, and you don’t have to waste time researching a drink menu.
So yes, it’s totally fine to make up fake names, even in real cities. When people read fiction, they expect that things are going to be made up. If they are reading your scene set at St. Joesphine’s, it’s true they might wonder if this is a real place in New Orleans, but they’re not going to discredit your book if they find out it’s not. So use the real name or pick a fake one and move on to the actual writing of your book.
- I just realized there’s already a published book with the same premise as mine!
See worry number one. Just because it’s the same premise doesn’t mean the author has done it in the same way as you. It doesn’t hurt to read the similar book so you don’t go in the exact same direction, but chances are your book is totally different.
Now, when it gets to the stage of submitting your novel to editors, your agent may not want to submit your manuscript to the editor of the book with the same premise as yours (often editors don’t want to have “competing” projects that are too similar), but that’s something for your agent to worry about. Your only worry should be writing the book and writing it as best you can.
- I have a letter/email/newspaper article in my novel. Should I use italics? A different font? Different indenting or spacing?
It doesn’t matter. Do whatever you want for now. If your book gets picked up by a publisher, your editor will decide about all of that later. This is not your concern. Quit your worrying and write.
- This first draft isn’t as good as [insert best-selling/prize-winning book here]. Should I give up?
Well of course your first draft is crappy. It’s a first draft! That’s why first drafts are (rarely) published (thank goodness). Let the manuscript sit for a while then come back to it and start revising. Don’t worry, your book will get there. Give it some time and some tough love.
Now that I’ve said all of this, I will admit that there are some things you should worry about. (How to make money while you’re working on your novel, how to properly query an agent, etc.). But the six concerns listed above only waste your energy and resources. The key is to cast aside those irrational worries so you have more time to focus on what’s really important: your writing.