In Which Award-Winning Author Han Nolan (Inadvertently) Calls Me a Scaredy Cat

At last month’s Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference,  Han Nolan spoke about taking risks. She was nervous (self-proclaimed), funny, charming and honest. She led us through the emotional bumps and bruises that she’d encountered in the first weeks after the release of her debut novel.  We gasped as she read excerpts from snarky reviews, and cringed as she took us through her raw moments of self-doubt.

But writers must take risks, Han said.

Han knows talented writers who have never finished a manuscript—they keep polishing those same five chapters over and over again. It’s safer that way, because if a manuscript isn’t finished, then that’s the reason why it’s not published yet. Right?

I mentally patted my risk-taking self on the back. After all, I’ve proven that I can finish an entire manuscript.

Han went on to say that even if a writer manages to finish a manuscript, showing it to other people is risky. Other people may not like your story.

I nodded sagely. My critique group has seen my writing highs and lows (the really low lows) and I can’t imagine finishing a project without their input. Woe is the writer who writes in isolation.

Han also said that revising is risky, telling us about how she had to go back and dig deeper with a main character in one of her novels.

When my manuscript didn’t sell, I rewrote the. Entire. Novel.  Talk about a risky revision. I’m right there with you, Han! You and I—risk takers. That’s right, sister!

Then Han talked about people who sell first novels, and never finish another one.


She said that it can be hard once you sell that first novel, because now there are Expectations.


She said that SOME people are afraid—AFRAID!—to work on the next book once the first one has sold.


She said that writer’s block is “too much ambition at the wrong time.”

Good grief. Han Nolen, whom I had never met before, was speaking directly to me.

I’ve had my next novel in my mental queue since before my debut novel sold, but I’ve never found the time to actually work on it.  I had excuses galore—the day job, family, the list goes on.

But the real reason? I was afraid. I am afraid.

What if I can’t write another publishable novel? I was doing exactly what Han said those “other writers” do—by not even starting, I wouldn’t finish. And by not finishing, I wouldn’t have to say that my next novel didn’t sell.

The night before the conference, I told friend and fellow author, Anne Marie Pace, that I’d been having a hard time finding the time to write.  She said to write just 15 minutes per day. If I can write longer than that, great. If not, then 15 minutes will suffice.

So I’ve dusted off my Super Risk-Taker Cape and am signing off to get my 15 minutes in before bedtime. Anyone else want to join?


Filed under Writing

15 responses to “In Which Award-Winning Author Han Nolan (Inadvertently) Calls Me a Scaredy Cat

  1. Mike Jung

    I’m in. This will be my first 15 minutes of the day, but better late than never, right? 🙂


  2. I’m cheering for you Natalie! We all have our fear hurtles that hit at us different times, as you have pointed out well in this. Getting the next one written isn’t my difficulty, but I know so many people who share that with you. But I also know you are a brave, strong person, and you WILL get it done. So don’t let me interrupt your 15 minutes–and I hope it soon turns into hours of productive writing!


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      Thanks, Jeannie! The thing that really blindsided me was that I really had no idea that fear was the thing holding me back until I heard Han speak. Last night I ended up writing for 30 minutes, and today almost an hour. So far, so good!


  3. I should take my own advice.

    Great post, Natalie!


  4. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    YEAH, Natalie!! And, I find that if you commit to writing for 15 minutes, it usually goes well beyond that–the first fifteen are the hardest! Good luck to you in your next project!!!


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      You’re so right, Lynda. Anne Marie said that a friend of hers ended up completing a draft of a novel in 3 months, as she almost always had more than 15 minutes to write. Some days I really only have 15 clear-thinking minutes at the end of the day or in the mornings before the kids wake up, but 15 minutes is such a doable goal. Thanks so much for your encouragement. 🙂


  5. J. Anderson Coats

    I stick a post-it to the top of my screen: “It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck.” When I start to get can’t-do-this wound around my axle, I read that until I feel like grinding another few sentences out.


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      J., while I haven’t put these words on a sticky note yet, I *did* think of this message today when I wanted to go back and tinker with a paragraph that had no immediate solution. Thanks for the kick in the pants!


  6. Cynthia Levinson

    This is so, so true, Natalie. First of all, I can’t imagine how you write ANYTHING, given the job, the children, the semi-annual trans-Atlantic moves, the blog, the other job (which you’re doing for me!). But, you did, and you continue to. Secondly, “too much ambition at the wrong time” is brilliant. If I could write just a tenth the amount of time I spend fantasizing about how great what I’m not writing will be once I write it, I might get the next one done. Or, at least, started.

    This is really sage advice. And, J., I’m going to take your advice, too, and pin your phrase on my computer.


    • Natalie Dias Lorenzi

      Cynthia, I thought that quote of Han’s was brilliant, as well. Sometimes ambition can mean dreams of a perfectly-crafted story, and other times it can mean a ten-page goal when I’ve only got 5 minutes left to write. Either way, I find that the muse doesn’t like Grand Expectations of any kind. 😛


  7. I’ve always been able to get going on the next project, but I have had that experience of nodding and smiling until the moment when I got whapped up the side of the head with the advice I need at just the right time.


  8. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Moments like that really seem like they were meant to be, don’t they? Or maybe these messages come our way and we don’t always hear them until we’re ready. Thanks for stopping by, Kristin!


  9. Pingback: Sophomore Book: Risk, Fear and Simian Interference | EMU's Debuts

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