Losing: Important Things to Get Rid Of

Last month, we talking about collecting here on the blog. This month, it’s the opposite: losing. I found myself thinking, what are the things I regularly lose and how do I feel about that?

Like anyone else, I lose my phone and my keys. Sometimes I lose my sunglasses. I’ve lost jewelry. Most of this stuff comes back to me – eventually – sometimes with much gnashing of teeth (I once considered setting a my ring-tone to “where is my cell phone?” by Veggie Tales because I was calling it so frequently to find it).

What do I lose as a writer? Well, I lose words when I’m editing/revising. I lose track of plot threads, sometimes I lose characters (either through murder or because they don’t fit the story any more). Quite often, I lose sanity and sleep. But as I was thinking, I realized there is one thing any writer HAS to lose if she is going to become successful.


I’m not talking “afraid of spiders and snakes” fear. I’m talking gut-wrenching, “OMG I am such a failure and nobody is ever going to want to read anything I write so I might as well get a job flipping burgers” fear. The kind of fear that roots you in place, destroys your confidence and creativity and keeps you from the story you absolutely need to tell.

Conquering this fear is not a one-time shot. I think one of the most heartening, encouraging things I read (on a regular basis) are wildly successful authors, ones with multiple published titles and awards, who say they sit down to each new book thinking, “Okay, this is it. This is the one that’s going to flop. The magic is gone, I can’t do it, and everybody is going to find out I’m a fraud.”

If those best-selling authors think this, why should I be any different?

I find this encouraging because it tells me two things. One, every writer feels this way. Writers are a neurotic bunch of people. We spin worlds and characters out of moonbeams, things that are really part of our souls, put it on paper, and give it to other people. That’s an open invitation to have our hearts cut out. What if people don’t like it? What if they tell me to give it up? I’m reminded of Hagrid’s line in The Sorcerer’s Stone when he’s told he has to send Norbert away: “What if the other dragons are mean to him?”

But here’s the thing: These writers don’t let that fear overwhelm them. They stuff it back in the box where it belongs and go on to write a fantastic book.

And that means I can, too.

Someone once told me that courage is not the absence of fear, but acknowledging the fear and deciding to act anyway. Will I ever truly “lose” my writerly self-doubt? Probably not. But I can lose it over and over again – enough to get me through the next book. And each time I lose it, I know, hey, I did it once. I can do it again.

What’s the most important thing for you to “lose” in pursuit of a good story?

PS: I scheduled this blog to post at my normal time. My responses might be a bit delayed – as you are reading this, I’m ensconced in a NC hotel at Writers’ Police Academy 2014. I’ll respond as my schedule (and WiFi) permit.


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog again - one of these days.

10 thoughts on “Losing: Important Things to Get Rid Of”

  1. Great post! Fear most definitely is a huge item. Huge. We all feel it in waves and I imagine it would be just as tough (if not more difficult) to lose when you have a booming career.


  2. I have no fear while writing that first draft. Maybe that’s why I love that stage so much? It’s somewhere during revisions, after the point where I think the manuscript doesn’t need a lot of changes, but before it’s put back together into some semblance of a story, where the fear hits me. Have I destroyed my work? Was I better off with a mediocre story that had some flow to it vs. this new, rearranged thing that requires several rereads to catch all of the new inconsistencies? Will readers catch something I don’t and turn on me forever?


  3. Yes, once you’ve done it it’s “can it do it again?” Diane, I understand. I don’t really feel the fear when I do that first draft. But once I start to revise, it’s like “Oh gosh, can I really dissect this thing, put it back together and make it good?”


  4. Absolutely, Mary! I completely agree. Fear can paralyze a writer. To help me get past that, I keep a postcard beside my writing computer that I found some years ago at the Kennedy Space Center, and it says: “Failure is not an option.”


  5. Checking in from WPA (which is fabulous and it hasn’t even really started yet). When I get paralyzed, I remember Nora Roberts (at least I think it’s her): I can fix anything but a blank page. Also, “first drafts don’t have to be perfect; they have to be written.” I also stumbled across this: Writing is a profession where you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, brain surgery.


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