Excitement and Fear (and Dots) in Drafting

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few days, the relationship between excitement and fear (I’ll get to the dots) when drafting books.

I’d been excitedly planning out the Archived sequel when edits for Vicious came in, and I put the first on hold for a couple weeks to nail the second.

But a strange thing happened when I came back to it.

I’d always been afraid of the Archived sequel–it’s very scary for many reasons, none of which I can talk about–but for the first time, my fear of writing the book outweighed my excitement. It smothered it. Those few weeks away from the project were enough time for the excited chirpings to quiet and the whispers of fear and self-doubt to grow. I hadn’t lost my love of the project, but it had gotten buried, and I knew I had to unearth it.

But I didn’t know how.

I tried picturing my characters, and while I was excited to see them again, the promise of their company wasn’t bright enough to dispel my fear of facing the plot.

I tried free-writing scenes, but those dark little voices crept in, telling me a book was so, so much more than a collection of scenes, and I ended up feeling more lost.

I tried rereading what I’d already written, hoping that when the words ended I would just start typing, but it didn’t work. In fact, the words on the page, while I loved them, daunted me more than anything else because I felt detached (I don’t know if this happens to you, where you read something you’ve written and it doesn’t seem as though *you* could have written it at all).

In the end, what saved me (or helped, anyway, I wouldn’t say I’m through the fire swamp by any means) were my DOTS.

Allow me to explain. I’ve mentioned this before, but when asked if I’m a plotter or a pantser (whether I plan vigorously or just let the muse drive the car), I say I’m neither.

I’m a connect-the-dots-er.

When I sit down to write a book, the first thing I do is figure out the dots, the key scenes moments that are going to make my book my book. The ones that NEED to be there. These dots aren’t just for structural integrity. They are the scenes in the book that EXCITE me, before I write, and while I’m writing, and, I’m learning, when I scare myself out of writing, they are the scenes that will help draw me back.

The problem was that the dots had changed. I’d reworked the plot of the book, and had yet to re-establish/re-discovery my dots.

So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m figuring out my dots. Every time I find one, it’s like a flicker of light, scattering one of the many shadows of self-doubt that have had time to creep in (I picture those Miyazaki shadow bunnies, nesting everywhere). It’s a process, unearthing the dots, finding some unusable, others intact, creating new ones, but I’m finding my way back into this book.


I asked Twitter which part of drafting a new book was most exciting, and which part was most terrifying. Overall, writers were most excited by the novelty and potential of the world and characters, and were most frightened by the possibility that they weren’t good enough to tell the story.

I’ve been known to say again and again that as a writer your excitement must always be stronger your fear, but sometimes it’s a close race, and sometimes, you fall behind. I hope that if you ever do, you can find your way back in, and if you need a path, I recommend you try the dots.


8 thoughts on “Excitement and Fear (and Dots) in Drafting

  1. Leigh Caroline says:

    I know that feeling, so, so well. I’m having a similar problem with a WIP, where originally, it was supposed to be just a simple translation of a script I’d written into a novel. Yet midway through, I was picking up on all sorts of clues that something MORE wanted to happen, so I replotted the entire second half. Only to get about 5 more short chapters in, and get thrown out of the story entirely. Something is wrong with my Dots, and so I’m taking a break from working on it to get the perspective to line the dots back up again. I’ll finish it, KT and Em won’t let me NOT finish it (They want to know what happens too badly, lol!!), but I have to get the perspective of distance again. ❤ I love how each writer has things that are individual, but there are some truths that are universal.

  2. You speak my language. Thank you, V. xo

  3. Victoria, I found this so encouraging as I have been feeling this EXACT same way this past week. I felt like I was having a panic attack. Because even though I’ve clearly done this before, the pressure and weight of being able to do it again was crippling. It was only after i convinced myself that i didnt have to write the new book for anyone but myself that i felt a little calmer. I can screw it up if its just for me. But when my agent and editor factor in, i felt the pressure.
    So Anyway, it’s good to know I’m not alone. I like the dots method. Thanks!!! And good luck 🙂

  4. Perfect timing. I’ve been having trouble jumping back into my WIP after a week of craziness and no matter what I do I haven’t been able to be in the right place to make the words do what I’d like. I think I’ll have to step back and have a look to see where I need to go. 🙂

  5. Sara Walker says:

    I love this! You’re so right. The excitement has to be there. It has to the book to completion and through revision after revision and through the query process and then more revisions. Excitement is essential.

  6. Love this. I started planning my WIP, then I got a revision letter from my agent and started those… and now I’m afraid to go back to the WIP! I needed this inspiration, thanks! xo

  7. […] Big Name Authors, feel insecure sometimes, and wonder if they’ll do their projects justice. Victoria Schwab had a lovely post on the doubts, and how sometimes she deals with them. Her dots method is similar to what I’ve […]

  8. I connect the dots too. I learned how to write novel’s by reading Robert J Ray’s Weekend Novelist which tells you to write the 6 or 7 key scenes. Essentially they are the first scene and the last scene, end of Act I, midpoint, end of Act 2, and then a Catharsis scene which is not quite the last. That was 15 or so years ago and I never followed all of his advice again, but I did stick to those key scenes, and I do find it helps me to create a scaffold for the whole work.

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