The Worry Monster Sinks its Teeth into the Very Unsuspecting Writer

Right smack in the middle of my debut journey, I began to worry. I can’t even tell you why, but I did. The worry seemed to fold over and over on itself like a thick blanket that got bigger every day. It became heavy to carry. And what were these concerns based on? Beats me. It was like I stood on solid ice but refused to believe it was frozen. Waiting to fall through. I began worrying about things that my head knew were not worrisome, but my heart refused to believe. And it was powerful and seemingly unshakeable.

At the time, I have to tell you, I was really confused by this person that I had become. Because, from the time I was able to walk, I have been a fighter. A scrapper. A disheveled kid who often had snarls the size of golfballs. Either bullied or ignored and, oddly enough, in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Teachers had no expectations of me. I mean none.

But, like a good book character, I had big dreams. And a fair amount of grit. I was much smarter than my teachers gave me credit for. I was observant, and I was a planner. I wanted more, and I swore I’d find a way to have it someday.

I don’t share this to garner sympathy. Honestly, I don’t. Because, in some very crucial ways, I was a beyond-fortunate child. I share this because it made this “new me” so much more of a puzzle. I was disgusted with myself, as it felt like I had been braver as an eight-year-old. As a soon-to-be-published author, I had become such an insufferable wuss. Worrying about success?! Honestly, I’m surprised that my pre-published writing friends didn’t chip in to have me…you know… disappeared.

Looking back on it, though, I think I understand. At the beginning of my writing journey, I chased publication as if I had nothing to lose; that’s because I didn’t. However, by the time the Worry Monster bared his teeth, I had more to lose than I’d thought possible:

I had a budding career as a children’s author, which would give me the opportunity to get out and talk to kids about writing and how it does get better and about making the choice to build a happy life no matter what hand you’re dealt; this means a great deal to me, as I know what it’s like to feel like the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit. I also know that the very things that make you feel so different as a kid can become your greatest gifts as an adult.

My editor of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS is far better than any idea of an editor I’d ever dreamed of. I have the fantastic Agent Erin who is helping me build a long-term career. And agent mates and writing colleagues that I cherish. I mean really cherish. Who make that kid in me feel like I am a part of something special. Finally.

Now this…is an awful lot to lose. I mean, I’ve always been a big dreamer, but all of this was more than I ever dared dream for, I think. Could that same eight year old grow up to become an author? I don’t think any of my early teachers would have taken that bet.

This Worry Monster sunk its teeth into me in late March. By August, I was just so weary. This is when I attended the fantastic Blueberry Fields Retreat in Maine where I spoke with Executive Editor, Mary Lee Donovan, from Candlewick. I had gotten to know her well at the SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat months earlier, so I already knew that I liked and respected her immensely. She complimented me on being, “a confident, successful woman—sure of herself, etc.”

My response came from my own mouth yet was a complete surprise to me. I replied, “But, I’m really not.” Immediately after those words fell from my lips, my scrappy eight-year-old self stomped her foot inside my head and asked me, “What the hell are you doing?”  I felt the shift within me. That’s right, I thought. What the hell am I doing anyway? 

Why did the shift occur then? Mary Lee is a talented, down-to-earth, giant in the industry. I respect and trust her opinion. But she’s not my novel’s editor, so I had no worries of disappointing her. I also learned some things when she discussed an editor’s expectations as part of her presentation. It made me consider what conclusions my own editor could be drawing re: my nervousness—and the messages I could unintentionally be sending her.

Okay. That was it. I came home, having had enough of this “not-improved me” and ready to claim all that I had accomplished. To focus on the things I had–the things I already held in my hands. I would not think about losing them. I refused to worry. I took action.

I’ve come to know that *action* is the Worry Monster’s kryptonite. In fact, anything worth having in life requires action to thrive, doesn’t it? So, decide on your own plan of action(s) to slay your Worry Monster (or any of its nasty cousins). Decide in a focused, stubborn, I-got-this-thing kind of way.

Get worked up. Scramble a little. Send out queries. Get feedback. Take chances. You’ll stand taller and your craft will benefit. There’s a lot of power in knowing that you are actively trying. Besides, the hurdles you are jumping now will make excellent, “How I made it” stories later. 😉 Believe it!

I am at peace these days, but it took me a while to get here. The worry monster makes its occasional appearances but never stays anymore. Never will again. Meanwhile, my scrappy eight-year-old self is never far away, reminding me what I’m capable of.

And I’m happy to have her back.


Filed under Colleagues, Controversy, Editor, Happiness, Publishers and Editors, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

21 responses to “The Worry Monster Sinks its Teeth into the Very Unsuspecting Writer

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    Lynda, I love the notion of finding my inner 8-year-old, though, for me, the Worry Monster might have started looming earlier. I might have to find myself my inner 3-year-old. Your images are great, too, worry as a blanket folding and growing (and smothering). Action as Kryptonite. Both are so graphic and vivid.


    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Thanks, Cynthia! This cracks me up–your inner 3-year old. I don’t remember being three, really. But…erm…I’ve heard stories…


  2. I picture eight-year-old you standing beside all the greats–for some reason, Scout Finch came to mind first–and I applaud you all loudly.

    It’s frighteningly easy to forget that action can be all it takes. It’s far too easy to fall into a bad no-action routine (brief pause in applause to sheepishly raise hand).

    Action! I remember action! Thank you.


  3. L.B. Schulman

    Lynda, I am glad you have reclaimed your inner child. It was so interesting reading about how different you were as a child than you are now, and how your teachers probably wouldn’t believe how far you’ve come (paraphrasing.) It truly is such a powerful message for kids and I bet you will change lives with school visits. You are right that when you are pre-published, you have little to lose (besides self-esteem–as if that’s something inconsequential, ha ha) but as a debut novelist, it feels like we have even more at stake, since we don’t have good reviews yet or a loyal readership and our work is about to go public is a major way. So it makes perfect sense to me that many of us EMU’S DEBUTS are fighting our own anxieties. The key is to fight them down, as you have done.


    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hey, Lisa! No, my teachers would never believe it–especially my fourth grade teacher who used to share her theories on my future quite often. Thanks so much for your kind comments about my going into schools. That has been the dream all along. If I can help kids–perhaps change their perspective about their own potential/possibilities for life, that will be everything!

      Re: nervousness. Yes, there is so mach at stake now for all of us–but far more to gain. Not just for us debuters but for the larger world of kid readers. What a ride!


  4. Thanks, Lynda, for your inspiration. I’m fighting the worry monster as my second book is coming out…already late for the publication date I was given…and I’ve been asked to do school visits. I taught for 35 years. Why on earth am I panicked about the visits? I just think we get into this business and find new challenges once the big hurdle of publication is jumped. We are required to continue stretching and growing in all kinds of ways. I keep telling myself, “I can do it.” I also try and remember to focus on being grateful for all the accomplishments that have come my way. You sound like you know all this and have much to be grateful for. Wishing you continued success and luck in losing the worry monster.


    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hey, Carol. As a former teacher, I too was nervous about getting into schools. I have begun the process, however, it is really is like that “once you ride a bike thing.” I could be nervous on the drive, but once I’m there, I just love it—hate to leave, actually.

      As a seasoned teacher, no doubt you will have the same experiences. I have been concentrating on creating an author visit package that moves along, though. After all, we have to be informative but also entertaining!!! I’m trying to create programs where the kids think, “Oh, I’m sorry she’s gone” rather than their neighbor waking them up to say, “It’s okay. She’s finally gone–on to more interesting things. Like math facts.”


      • Lynda, that’s exactly why I’m nervous! I’ve been to enough assemblies/presentations to know I don’t want to be one of the boring ones. But I’m not sure how to guarantee that. And I can’t help wanting them to get something out of my visit….not just have fun, so I know I’ll be working in the teaching lessons. Hopefully, I’ll have something to offer and my time there will be valuable. And I won’t be charging until I’m sure I’m worth a price.


      • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

        Oh, I’m sure that you will have quite a bit to offer! I, too, worry about that though. I’ve been doing some freebie visits in friends’ classrooms to “practice” my presentations. I do want to be on my game when the whistle blows!


  5. ‘I’ve come to know that *action* is the Worry Monster’s kryptonite’ This is going on a post it for me! I am pre-published and the WM does creep in and visit now and again, but I can see he is keeping his all-out attack for post-publication. Hearing how others learn to defeat him is great. By the way, so cool to hear how awesome your agent and editor are!


    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Thanks, Joanna! I always consider, “This is going on a Post-it Note” to be among the highest compliments that one can receive on this blog.

      Never mind that WM! If you’re writing and have the kind of attitude to describe yourself as “pre-published” rather than “unpublished” then I have no doubts you will defeat it. I still believe that people who are able to put themselves out there like writers, artists, etc. are a very brave bunch indeed.

      Thanks for stopping by, Joanna! Good luck on your journey!


  6. Mary Pierce

    As a pre-published hopeful who grapples with not only the Worry Monster, but the scary not knowing what to expect when publication does happen, your posts are a lifeline in an ocean of uncertainly. This is EXACTLY what I need. Thank you so much for your willingness to share your process with the rest of us.

    Outstanding post!!


    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Thanks so much, Mary, for stopping by! You’re right–the not knowing is the scariest part. I am so gald that we here at Emus can be of some help. 😉


  7. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Lynda, having had the privilege of meeting you in person, I *never* would have guessed that you’ve ever been anything but confident. You’re so incredibly personable and funny, and that will come through from the moment you walk into any school door for visits or workshops. The fact that you’ve come this far despite being discouraged by teachers, of all people, speaks volumes about who you are.


  8. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Oh, Natalie. Your comment is so sweet. I don’t know if it was the 8-year-old or the forty-year-old that leaned in and read it three times, but she is very grateful. 😉

    I have considered meeting and knowing you a *privilege* as well. And I look forward to our paths crossing again–in real life, that is!


  9. Gwendolyn McIntyre

    Great column, Lynda.

    Packing the worry monsters bags and showing the door is the only solution.

    Gotta run. My eight-year-old self is up a tree… again.


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