Monday 15 March 2021

Can I REALLY be a real writer? FOMO is slowing me down • by Natascha Biebow

I have been telling stories since I was small. 

I told stories to anyone who would listen, especially the dogs!

As a kid, we used to go on long car journeys to the south of Brazil, and I’d babble on, creating all kinds of shenanigans for my fictional characters. My grandmother lived in England, so I’d send her recorded tapes with songs and stories in the mail (in times way before the internet was invented). 


A creative writing assignment in school? On it. 


This is a whole 'collection' of short stories written in school,
loving saved for me by my mother.

A short story about a cup and a saucer - who is more important?

 Poetry competition for the school newsletter? Yes! 


I used to write poetry even. Not now!


I loved to write, but I never imagined I’d actually be a published writer when I grew up.


Like many writers I know, there is no shortage of stories we could invent or tell. But when it comes to wondering if we’ll ever get them put inside a book that will land in the hands of other readers, children, often DOUBT sets in. Even if we are published, we doubt we can do it again . . . and even another time.


I’ve been pondering this.


I can draft a story no problem. In fact, I have drawers full of stories (metaphorically speaking, of course – they are all filed on my computer, a folder for each one, many drafts in each folder . . . ). My agent and I send out the most polished ones. And we wait.


But, here’s where the problem begins. WAITING. The silence while publishing grinds its wheels starts to conjure up DOUBT again. Will anyone ever say ‘yes’?


And then there are all those other writers who are doing so well – I hear and see the noise at events and on social media – successes celebrated, reviews, awards, new books launched . . . all seemingly much faster than I can get my next one finished and signed up. I’m thrilled for my fellow writers, I really am, but still, DOUBT is a mean spiral of negative thoughts that escalates, question after question:


Should I be doing something I’m not?

Am I missing out?

Why is it not happening?

Should I be submitting there instead or to this or that competition?

Should I be writing something else?

Should I spend more time marketing my book or writing a new one or . . .?

But I already have so many stories, should I be  . . . ?

What if . . . what if . . . what if . . .?

Maybe I should dig out that novel, but I’m halfway through this picture book and that idea and . . .  What to work on? What do those editors want anyway?

PLUS I really need to earn an actual living, so I’d probably better focus on doing that.


THEN I start to make excuses for not writing:


I don’t have enough time.

I’m busy homeschooling and juggling so much right now, I really don't have the headspace for writing a great book at the moment.

I’ll just clean the house and then I’ll write if there’s time.

I can’t write that book right now.

Someone else has probably done that already.

If I don’t send that story out on submission, it can’t get rejected.

I just got a rejection, maybe I should take a little break.

I don’t know how that story ends . . .

Maybe I was only ever meant to write one book?!

Maybe I’ll just bake some cookies and think about my story instead.

I’ll never earn enough from my writing.


Oh my goodness. STOP! BREATHE!


FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is taking over my head (and my heart).


I need a new story.


I need to remember to start THINKING and ACTING like a writer:


First, I need to remember – everyone has their own journey and this is mine. I will never be a series fiction writer churning out books quickly. I will be a book-every-so-often-that-is-inspired-and-cooked-over-time kind of author.


I start by breathing and being grateful that I am this kind of writer.


Sometimes, it can take a bit of time to figure out where you fit and to be OK with this, not trying to pigeon-hole yourself to be like others. FOMO doesn’t serve me well, I’ve realized. The slot for someone else won’t fit me comfortably. THERE IS SPACE FOR EVERYONE.


Next, I make two columns:











- how long editors take to consider submissions
- rejections (it might be the wrong manuscript at the wrong time; it’s not necessarily always about me or the story.)
- how much publishers will pay for a book and/or put in for marketing spend
- what other authors are doing
- the current state of the marketplace and trends
- what kind of writing I write









- bum on seat – commit to writing on a regular basis and stop making excuses for why I don’t have enough time to write. I need to put it in my diary. I need to plan ahead for the time I will write so that I’m not wasting time ‘preparing’.

- take webinars and courses to keep learning and improving my craft. There are some great free and low-cost webinars that can help me learn from other authors, illustrators and publishing professionals. I’ve been enjoying the great interviews on the weekly Kid-Lit Distancing socials

- be active in a writing community like SCBWI to find support, learn new skills, and make connections that will stand me in good stead when my next book comes out
- get critiques of my work – join a critique group or pay a literary consultant for their expert objective eye
- read lots of mentor texts - aloud

- keep an eye and an ear on what is going on in the market, but limit social media so it doesn’t become a distraction 

- spend time with children who are my audience and observe

- be brave and be prepared to re-think and re-visualize books that have been rejected; re-write! and reconnect with my vision
-  reach out to librarians and teachers to make new connections to promote my published book

- stop waiting for an editor to say yes and write more books so I have some on the back-burner while others are on submission

- research my new book ideas and reach out to experts

- look out for 1-1 or competition opportunities


Most importantly, I realize I can take control of the ‘no’ – either the rejection letter or the nearly, not quite feedback from editors – and choose how I will react. Will I let DOUBT set in with its breathless questions bringing on inertia and excuses, or will I look at my list of actions I can take and get stuck in and make a start?


LOOK! The list of things I can do is soooooo much longer than the other list, though arguably, the weight isn’t quite equal in that ultimately, we are all waiting for an editor to say ‘yes’ to that project we are passionate about.


It’s like any problem: it needs chunking down



















Then, perhaps, the process of being a ‘real’ writer begins to look more achievable.

Plus, I am a storyteller, after all, so I’m going to weave a story around this. Once there was a girl who dreamt of becoming a writer with lots and lots of books when she grew up. But . . .  there were many obstacles in the way. Does it have a happy ending? Only the author can write THAT story.  



Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at



Jane Clarke said...

Very useful tips, I certainly recognise that maelstrom of thoughts! Thanks Natascha

Becca McCallum said...

It is comforting to know that even published authors have these doubts! Stuff is certainly easier to cope with broken down into chunks - I've written tons since I started writing 'only' 200 words per night, which is better than the nothing I was doing before because I was too scared of the blank page to start writing.

Unknown said...

This is just so helpful! That 'what if?' section really strikes a chord!