Here comes The Fear again – but if it’s good enough for Ian Rankin, it’s good enough for me!

Uh oh, here it comes again – The Fear, as I always call it.

Indie band Pulp wrote a song about it on their This Is Hardcore album:

‘Here comes The Fear again, oh, oh,

‘The end is near again, oh no!’

I know how Jarvis Cocker felt.

Why? Because I’ve just sent my third finished manuscript to my agent and now have to wait and see what he thinks.

 And because it might be total rubbish and he might hate it and my publisher might hate it and everyone in the world might hate it, and then they’ll hate me and then I’ll hate myself and…SITS UP – SLAPS FACE …Deep breath…

It’s frightening isn’t it? Trying to write. Writing stuff. Showing that stuff to other people?

Do other writers feel like this? Probably. And recently I watched a documentary that made me feel a bit better about the whole cowardy custard thing. BBC’s Alan Yentob interviewed Ian Rankin, best selling author of the Rebus crime series, about his work and resurrecting Rebus after he ‘retired’ the character last year.

What a nice chap he seemed. Nice selection of jumpers and a bit in need of a haircut. And how completely un- ‘writerly’ (no burbling about his ‘muse’, not a smoking jacket in sight). So much so, he confessed that, when he starts each new book, he often has no idea how they’ll progress, end or even ‘whodunit’!

He writes a book a year, vanishing into his study, leafing through his folder of newspaper articles featuring bizarre or unusual crimes – picks one, gets the germ of an idea and, well, makes a load of notes and just starts writing, trusting it’ll all work out.

 A bit like Geoffrey Rush playing Philip Henslowe, theatre director, in my favourite scene in the film Shakespeare in Love, (starring Joseph Fiennes as Willy Shakespeare with writers block, written by Tom Stoppard.) At each juncture where crisis is looming, here is his philosophy.

Henslowe: Allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Fennyman: So what do we do?

Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Fennyman: How?

Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

This approach seems to work for Mr Rankin but, reassuringly, even he gets THE FEAR.  Yep, he calls it that too. A few months into his draft, well quite specifically apparently, around page 65, he gets the heebie-jeebies, and thinks I have no idea what to do next.

Watch him describe The Fear himself in this short clip from the BBC where he talks about his favourite Iris Murdoch quote – ‘Every book is the wreck if a perfect idea’ !


So what does he do? With the help of his very supportive wife he ploughs on and then… it passes. How? He doesn’t know. It’s a mystery.

I guess the fear never passes. Even for a self effacing, obviously skillful writer like Mr R who literally has people queuing round the block for his next release.

I felt so inspired by the sight of him, the blank look of abject terror in his eyes, I read a Rebus novel, Black and Blue. Guess what – no secret at all – it’s a cracking read. And I don’t  ‘do’ police procedurals.

Because I used to work as a police press officer I’m that annoying git that sits on the settee during Inspector Morse/CSI Coventry going, well you just contaminated your evidence and you’d never get away with that search under PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence act). But Rankin doesn’t let silly police-ey stuff get in the way of a buzzing plot, a great character and a lovely turn of phrase.

So, courage, Bev! On to the beginnings of novel number four (while I wait for the verdict on three). I’ve got a load of ideas, it’s just I have no idea yet how they’ll become an actual plot! 

But, strangely enough, it may all turn out well…

And if it’s good enough for our Ian. It’s good enough for me!

Ready, steady…er…write?…


Are you in the gang with me and Mr R? Do you believe in the mystery of the muse? 

Or are you a precision planner? 

Come on, sympathise or gloat by leaving a comment right here 🙂




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13 responses to “Here comes The Fear again – but if it’s good enough for Ian Rankin, it’s good enough for me!

  1. Great post. I’m too frightened to comment. No, really. It’s reassuring to know that someone like IR is also a big fraidy cat. I’m in the final stages of proof-reading myself. Last night everything looked horrible and boring and today it’s more or less okay. Needless to say, I was looking at the exact same pages. Writers are probably all mental, is what I’m saying.

  2. I’ve decided that fear is part of our genetic makeup as writers!! I’ve had 11 novels published, am in Wikipedia, run a highly successful blog dadadada. And most of the time, I’m writing scared out of my life that it’s crap. (Sometimes it is!). Guess wwe have to accept the fear as part of the job. Do you think brain surgeons have a moment of sheer panic as they survey their next patient?

  3. Marc Saunders

    I can only imagine how scary it must be to await the verdict on your months of hard graft! However, if this latest novel turns out to be half as good as the previous two, then I’m sure you’ll have nothing to worry about.

  4. Lesley Olney

    Must be very reassuring for you to find out even successful writers like Rankin get the jitters.
    Reminds me of a qoute I read a long time ago by Louisa May Alcott and has stayed with me ever since.
    I” am not afraid of the storm, I’m learning to sail my ship.”
    So happy sailing from a grandfather

  5. Chandra Renard

    The fear is there for all artists, I think. Your work is a part of you you’re afraid people won’t like.

  6. I’ve been reluctant to call it fear because it seems so much more complex than that! Best of luck to you – if it’s your third, you obviously know what you’re doing so have faith in your work!

  7. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Hemingway)


  8. Found you on Twitter. Please follow my fictional character at @JustClacy. I know exactly how you feel. My agent is awesome, but I fear she won’t like my latest work, too. Glad I’m not the only one that feels this way.

  9. Great post—original and applicable to most writers, at one time or another.

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