Dealing With The “What-Ifs”

Do you ever look at your work and think, “What if I think this is really good, but it’s actually really terrible?”

Do you ever wonder what will happen if you finally get a complete, polished manuscript and you submit it to a publisher and they send back a pile of ash that used to be said manuscript with a note that says “Don’t write”?

What if you never get published? What if no one ever takes you seriously as a writer?

Remember back in April when I wrote a post about dealing with doubt? Some of the advice in the latter part of the post advised that, when the what ifs come around, to talk through them. That wasn’t the main focus of the post, however, so I’ve decided to address it specifically.

A lot of writer’s angst, I think, is getting caught up in the what-ifs. Actually a lot of anxiety and nervousness and just life in general is, for many, getting caught up in the what-ifs, and my advice could be useful for those, too, but I’m going to be using writing examples here. I’ve found for myself the solution to getting past those what-ifs to be simple:

Take the what-ifs seriously.

What-ifs exist in this odd plane of our minds where we know, more often than not, that the what-if is stupid and it’s not even going to be a thing. But then, we still fear the what-if. But we know the fear is irrational. But we fear it anyway. The thing is, we’re taking the what-if seriously without taking it seriously. And then we feel stupid for worrying about it but we can’t help it because we really are worried about it, and the stupid is coming in from refusing to actually worry about it. It therefore seems logical to me to consciously take the what-if seriously, and talk through it.

“What if I never get published?”

Well, okay, self. What do you mean? You know that it’s actually impossible for us to never be published, right, because of self-publishing? Did you mean, what if no publishing house ever accepts our manuscript?

“Yes. What if every publisher ever says our stuff is crap?”

Well, barring the fact that I’m pretty certain it’s not even going to be possible for us to submit to every publisher ever and it would be silly to try, that just means that we need to sit down with our manuscript and re-consider a thing or two. Why has literally every publisher rejected our manuscript? Probably at least one or two gave us some reasons about the book itself. We can take that to our agent and writing group and whonot and decide if we need to change the MS and how. And if we ultimately are never taken on by a publishing house – there’s still other avenues, which we will then consider more seriously.

“Wait, our agent? But…but what if we never GET an agent?”

I guess not getting a publisher no longer matters because we’re certainly not going to submit work without an agent. We already know that’s just a bad, bad, bad idea for us.

“That doesn’t make me feel better.”

Right, fine. So what if we never get an agent. Well, that just means we’re saved time on submitting to publishers and just consider alternate publishing avenues sooner.

“Okay but what if NO ONE reads our book?”

People are already reading our book, Rii.

“You know what I mean! What if no one we don’t know reads our book?”

-shrug- Then no stranger reads our book. Probably because we didn’t do anything to advertise it and no one knows it exists. Which is why we want to use a publisher in the first place.

“But what if we HAVE advertised really, really hard?”

Psh, what? By desperately trying to calmly work into every conversation that we wrote a book and maybe you should read it and recommend it to people, please? Or posting on this blog about it? You know we don’t actually know a thing about advertising and stuff. Anyway if no one buys it or reads it, never ever, at least we can still have a published copy on our own bookshelf and that would be pretty sweet.

“WHAT IF…what if this blog doesn’t help get the word out that I wrote a book?”

Does it really matter? You still write on this blog, things you want people to hear, things you hope will be helpful to them. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that one of the main reasons for this blog to write something that might make someone somewhere think?

“…yeah. But what if it doesn’t-”

It already has.

“But what if in the future it doesn’t-”

It already has. Now.  We’ve already accomplished a major goal with this blog. Yes, it’s an ongoing goal…but if for whatever reason we fail to continue to accomplish it, and the goal ends, we DID accomplish it to some degree.

“What if all my hopes and dreams of becoming a writer are irrevocably crushed forever?”

Good news! You are currently pregnant, and plan on having like three or four more kids at a later date. If you never, ever, ever become a writer, you will have like five minions who have no choice but to let you read to them and make up stories at them. No choice whatsoever. The best part is that they’ll probably actually like it. So you can still be a storyteller.

“What if they don’t like my stories?”

I already said they won’t have a choice in the matter but to listen to you. At least until they’re teenagers and they figure out how to not listen to you.

“Wouldn’t that make me a bad mom to force them to listen to me?”

Well…I guess you have a point there. But we always have our husband. And he’ll always listen to us. He already loves listening to us, even if we really are telling him craptastic stories.


I know we want to be an author. Badly. More than a lot of other things, it’s like third on the list of things we want really, really badly. But if it never, ever happens, we’ll always be a beloved storyteller to, at the very least, our husband.

“That doesn’t sound so terrible.”


Talk through your fears, to the very end. What is, seriously, the worst that could happen? Do you end up at you being dead? Okay. That would be really sad and unfortunate. People would miss you and you wouldn’t really be able to do anything anymore. But unless you caused your own death (which you should never, ever do 😦 ), when you’re dead, you’ll probably have new things to worry about and your previous problems will seem distant and maybe less important. I’m not sure, I’ve never been dead, but I imagine that’s how it’ll be. Of course, you could always cease to exist, too, but I don’t believe that’s what’s going to happen. Say the end result is that you’re all alone and nobody likes you. Well, you either need to get yourself some new anybodies around you or else maybe you should strive to be a better person. Or better yet, both.

What if, you wonder, no body ever in the entire world will like me?

I’ll bet you that someone likes you. Right now. Right now, there is someone who likes you.

What if there isn’t?

Well, then, I’ll like you. I do tend to really like people. Well, unless they’re politicians or complete or utter morons. Possibly if they’re bigoted idiots who won’t even consider the idea that maybe their bias against something is wrong. But I do tend to be much more lenient with friends. Unless you’re a politician, in which case you’ve made a terrible life choice and I probably don’t want to be your friend.

The point is when you seriously consider a “what-if” and the consequences, rather than let it float around as a semi-known fear, the actual happening of the what-if event is less scary.  And if you really do feel like everybody hates you and nobody loves you and you guess you’ll go eat worms, I’d prefer to keep my email for writing and blog related things but you have my permission to drop me a line. (It can be found under the ‘about’ page.)

And remember, aspiring writers – you can’t get any more not published than you are now, so don’t be afraid to try. And hey, what if…just what if…you DO get published, and you DO get read? Think that one through 🙂

(“What if I put some of my writing on my blog and my followers don’t like it?”
Hm…Tell you, What-If person, we’ll compromise. I’ll put a sample of my writing on an Easter egg page. That way, I can claim to have put up a sample of my writing on my blog but where no one will ever read it!)

About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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