Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


IWSG: What, me–worry? (Or, when your dreams seem like insanity.)

As many of you know by now, I’ve decided to take the next three years off to focus on fiction. By remortgaging my house and putting my successful freelance career on hold, I’ll finally be able to chase my dream of being a full-time novelist.

When I first came up with this plan, I figured a lot of the people closest to me would think I was crazy, or at least would strongly urge me against it. Happily, the opposite was true–everyone, from young friends to older, cheered me on without hesitation.

“Life is short.” I heard it over and over again, which is appropriate, because that sentiment–and the untimely loss of a dear friend to breast cancer this spring–has a lot to do with me throwing caution to the wind next March.

Here on the blog, people were supportive as well. I’ve been overwhelmed by your kindness and encouragement. So I stopped thinking people would find this idea insane and instead expected a ringing endorsement–or at least a muttered, “Good for you.”

At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I attended a workshop on rejection and resilience, figuring I’d need all the help I could get for the years ahead. The instructor asked us to share what brought us to the workshop, along with our worst rejection story. When I burbled out my plans, excited and enthusiastic, she looked like I’d slapped her. Her face fell. The room was silent.


Something similar happened that day at lunch, when I confided my plans to a very nice literary agent–only he was more vocal about his feelings.

“Oh no! That’s like quitting your day job,” he said. “In good conscience, I can’t encourage you to do that.”

Too late.

When I got up from the table, the instructor from the workshop was waiting. With a soft, wavering voice, she confessed she was very afraid for me. She seemed relieved when I told her about my previous success and the contracts I have in progress, etc. But her fear clung to me like a pesky dryer sheet.

This woman was a poet laureate. The agent was from a well-established NYC literary agency. These are people who know. They’ve lived the life. They understand the risks.

I was supremely confident when I responded to their concerns. But as soon as the conference was over, I wanted to sneak up to my hotel room and hide under the bed. What if they’re right? What if I fail? What if, in year two, I’m looking at the want ads and scouting out beige cubicles? What if, what if, what if.

After I stopped panicking, I realized something. Those well-meaning, kind people may know the industry. They have their own experiences to share, and those experiences are extremely valuable.

But they don’t know me.

They don’t know my work ethic, my determination, my well laid-out plans and my multi-pronged approach. They don’t know about the wealth of knowledge that surrounds me, knowledge from writers like you–people who have already succeeded in this crazy industry.

Can a bit of talent and a lot of hard work, research, assistance, persistence and know-how guarantee my plans will be a success?

No…but it’s certainly worth a shot.

Has someone ever made you doubt (however briefly) your writing dreams? If so, how did you overcome it? I apologize for STILL being behind on returning comments and visiting blogs, due to the conference and other commitments. I promise to catch up this week.

PS – This month’s podcast is all about NaNoWriMo survival tips–some of you might find it handy. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo and would like to add me as a buddy, I’m KickboxingWriter.

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Chris Chelser

    Thumbs up! Sometimes you have to risk all to win all, or even just win part of what you’re after. I applaud your courage and persistence!

    When writers talk about rejection, it’s often assumed they’re talking about having manuscripts or book ideas rejected. It hurts because it can feel like a personal rejection.

    But having your book rejected in a letter, however harsh, doesn’t hurt as much – mentally and physically – as having your peers throw mud and actual rocks at your head (without missing). Or when you hear someone praise an artwork, only to reject it outright when they learn YOU are the artist.

    Funny thing is that after years of such experiences, I’d have grown a thick skin when it comes to rejection, right? Nope. While I just shrugged when my first story submission was rejected and another submission was accepted, I’m still terrified. The “sorry this isn’t what we’re looking for”-letters don’t scare me off, but the memory of those rocks does.

    So the point you made in this post hit home: other people may know the industry and the statistics, but they don’t know you. You’re smart and you’ve got this worked out. Now all you need to do is go for it! 🙂

  2. CD Gallant-King

    It’s all about priorities and expectations. If you know what you expect to get out of this and have plans and contingencies, then of course have at it. If you are willing to accept the risk then risk it! Some people aren’t willing, but that’s on them, not you.

    Everyone loves to give advice and have opinions on everything (including me, see above paragrah). Some people will tell you not to follow your dreams because they couldn’t or wouldn’t follow their own. Some people will tell you to run out and join the circus because they’re terrible people. Either way, that’s on THEM, not on you. Take any advice with heaping buckets of salt and do what feels right to you.

    Three years from now you only have to answer to yourself.

    IWSG November

  3. Mason Canyon

    You’re right, these people don’t know you so don’t let their negative talk have any impact on your decision. You’re not giving up your day job, you’re going after it with a zeal they will probably never know. We humans do tend to focus on the one (or two) negative influences while needing much more positive replies to keep us on track. So glad you’re not doing that. Way to go!

    Thoughts in Progress
    and MC Book Tours

  4. Hunter Shea

    I know exactly what you’re going through. Writing is a very tough business, and it’s easy to let doubt creep in – especially when you’re getting it from those who know it inside out. But that shouldn’t deter you at all. Stay positive and most of all, have fun. There will be days when you wake up in a cold sweat thinking, what have I done? That’s normal. Hell, I had that happen with my day job. Live your dream. Live it every day.

  5. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor

    Don’t let others sow seeds of doubts in your plans. It sounds like you’ve thought things through thoroughly, have a strategy and know the risks and, more importantly, the rewards of putting your plan in action. Stay the course! It is so worth taking a shot at it.

  6. susan scott

    You’ll do good and well Holli of this I have no doubt! Faith is hard won, it is after all the flip side of doubt. But have faith in yourself and reach for the stars 🙂 🙂 🙂

  7. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    They may have seen others fail, but that doesn’t mean you will. It’s not impossible, just difficult. And I have a feeling difficult just makes you work even harder!

  8. Phyl

    My path is different from yours, but my fear of rejection is not. And I get it from the never-been published/ never completed a novel — I’m too expensive/no one will want me/how can I take myself seriously? and those going the traditional route — I’m too cheap/ don’t I value what I do?/ I’m making it hard for others to eke out a living.
    Riding the donkey and carrying it are impossible and making everyone happy is an exhausting exercise in fruitless behavior.
    None of the people that worry for you know YOU. And none of those people know that the seeds of doubt they sow can either ruin you OR increase your resolve.
    I, too, have a crazy dream/plan. I’m setting my sights to it after my move, early 2017. I tell everyone in the place I am leaving, because I want to practice my pitch over and over until I can explain every part flawlessly.
    Daily, I am inspired by you and writers like you — trad and indie and small press and freelance and all the ways to eke out a living in this crazy time and this crazy business.
    Keep on keeping on; you have worked too hard for your success not to enjoy it!

  9. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I. Love. This – “After I stopped panicking, I realized something. Those well-meaning, kind people may know the industry. They have their own experiences to share, and those experiences are extremely valuable. But they don’t know me.”

    I wish I’d had this attitude way back when people were discouraging me. I was more stubborn than anything usual and positive. 🙂

  10. Nikki

    I’m so proud of you! I have no doubt you will be very successful and happy. =) Life really is too short to live with regrets and “what ifs”. Things that I am really passionate about and really want to do in life, I reach a point where I have to go for it or I will always be left wondering… what if. I’m always here if you need an encouraging word, or a listening ear! And you know I LOVE being asked questions, especially in regards to books so feel free to lean on me anytime you need to. I’m very happy for you and I can’t wait to see what wonderful tales you are going to be able to spin as a full-time novelist. Truly.

  11. Anna

    The brass ring can only be grabbed if you have your hand out. You’ll do it, because you tried and because you’ll never give up. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  12. Patricia Lynne

    Honestly, you won’t know if you can do it unless you try. Don’t let someone talk you out of it. It’s risky, yeah, but anything worth doing isn’t safe. It’s a risk and you chance failure, but that makes success all the more sweet when it happens. Good luck!

  13. Roland Yeomans

    This way you will know that you gave it your all and believed in yourself — no matter which way it goes, you will be more at peace about it than if you had only gone half-measures. Best of fortune!

  14. C. Lee McKenzie

    It’s risky, but then so’s life in general. I always ask myself.”What’s the worse that could happen?”

    My money’s on you for making writing a very successful career.

  15. Chrys Fey

    “But they don’t know me.” That’s just what I was thinking! You are so resilient and determined. You’ve had tremendous successful because you persevered and never gave up. You will make it. I know it. So, no, I am not worried for you. 🙂

  16. Crystal Collier

    Dealing with some of that now. *sigh* But, we will prevail, eh? Here’s my take on it: what’s the worst that can happen? Imagine that. If it’s doable, then why wouldn’t you try?

  17. Denise

    I am not a writer, but that doesn’t mean I have not had water poured on my firey dreams of success. At the age of 40 I decided to go to grad school and get my MBA. The Dean at the local university tried to discourage me. I didn’t listen of course. I had a very successful 20 year career, put all my son’s through college, and enjoy a fulfilling retirement. We never know what awaits us so we need to do what makes us happy for the time we are here.

  18. L. Diane Wolfe

    Most people who do that don’t have a solid plan. There is a chance you’ll fail. But it’s like any business venture. You have to invest before you reap.

  19. Ryan Carty

    Nope, no one has ever made me doubt my dreams (today).

  20. Lisa

    We are not in an easy business, but then life itself isn’t always easy either, is it? So why not take the chance, if you can, and see what you can do? When I made the decision to write full time I was a teacher. My husband’s comment was, “As a teacher we know where you’ll be in five years. As a writer, who knows?” It was awesome to hear him support me that way.

  21. Birgit

    I have a question for you..”If you did not take this chance and it is 5 years later, would you feel regret in not trying?” Many people can give advice and usually there is much fear involved but you have to feel right about your decision. Even if something does not turn out as planned, would you regret? Regret is one of the worst things to feel. Remember to believe in you and that is what counts. If everyone played things straight, the world would be a boring place and great inventions, ideas, people would not exist.

  22. Meka James

    I’m glad you didn’t let those seeds of doubt take root. They don’t know you or your plan. Is it a scary thing you are doing? Yes, but life is about taking risks sometimes. You didn’t just wake up one day and decide to do this, you thought it through and made a plan.

    • JH

      Thanks, Meka. You’re so right. I definitely spent a lot of time agonizing over it before I took the plunge. And if I hadn’t, the bank saying no the first time certainly would have made me re-evaluate.

  23. Lee Lowery

    Don’t quit your day job? Yes, I’ve been told that, and yet – doing exactly that in a few short months. And if I have to look at want ads in a few years, at least I won’t die feeling like I didn’t pursue my real passion. If you’ve made a plan to follow your dreams, iIgnore the naysayers and go for it.

    • JH

      Thanks Lee! Exciting to hear from someone else who’s taking the plunge. I’d love to know how you arrived at this decision and how you’re making it work.

      Glad you stopped by! Welcome to my blog. 🙂

  24. Liesbet

    You only live once! My new, but long established motto is “Don’t dream. Do!” You are doing it and that is an amazing turn of events and you will not regret it. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, right? With your talent, if you are determined enough, and it sure seems like you are, you will make it. It won’t be easy and you will have doubts, but believing in yourself will get you far. Proud of you and your decision. Life is short, do what feels right! Your successful freelance career will be there, if needed.

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Liesbet. That is an awesome pep talk! I love your motto too–it’s a good one.

  25. Shannon Lawrence

    It sounds like you’ve planned it all out carefully. I wish you good luck! People can’t help but reflect something like this back on themselves, and it’s their fear for their situation that they feed back to you.

    • JH

      Thanks, Shannon. I think they were both also thinking only of traditional publishing, which is notorious for moving at the speed of a physically challenged snail. It can take an editor or agent eight months just to read a query letter! Thankfully, I have my eggs in a lot of baskets–I’m not relying on just one.

  26. Michelle Wallace

    I TRULY believe that input=output…in every facet of life!
    This type of logic cannot fail.
    So the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
    You are already a fantastic writer, so that’s the least of your worries. Add planning, determination and hard work to the whole equation – how can you lose?
    Look at the lives of successful people. They’ve all taken risks somewhere along the line. 🙂
    You can do this!!

    • JH

      Aww, thanks so much, Michelle. For everything. I’m sure I’ll be going back and rereading your vote of confidence when times get tough. <3

  27. Tamara Narayan

    Yeah, the odds aren’t good, but it’s better to have written and lost than to have never written at all. And someone’s got to win the writing lottery. Why not you?

    • JH

      Thanks, Tamara. I’m skeptical of that whole “odds are against you” nonsense that writers are told all the time. The odds may be against us becoming household names, but I know SO many writers who are making a living with their craft that I believe finding success as a writer is more likely than we’re led to believe. Of course, it depends on your vision of success, but to me, if I make enough to survive with a bit left over for travel and emergencies, I’ll be happy.

      And that’s more than doable. I’m sure people doubted I’d still be able to make a living as a freelance print journalist in this day and age, but I do. The good news? Our odds are much better than winning the lottery. 🙂

  28. Diane Burton

    If you believe in yourself, you are sure to be successful. Don’t let the naysayers cast doubt. Wishing you all the best.

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Diane! Good to see you again.

      Believing in myself is a process, I find. Somedays I’m better at it than others.

  29. Toi Thomas

    They don’t know you. You are amazing. It’s not like you did this on a whim. You’ve thought this out and actually have a plan. You also have a support base, which makes all the difference. Life is short. You do you and don’t worry about what others say.

    • JH

      This comment touched me so much, Toi. You’re always so kind to me. Thanks for your support!

  30. Misha

    Absolutely. I’ve had a lot of the same recently, except a LOT of people on my blog had issues with me deciding to focus on my writing. Even if the only thing I really stopped focusing on was a whole lot of negativity. :-/

    I have faith in you. And you know what? If things don’t go as we plan, we deal with it, because that’s the kind of people we are.

    • JH

      I love this so much, Misha. So true–we are that kind of people!

      It sucks that people have been so negative towards your dreams, though. I’m really sorry to hear that. Your own blog should be a place to get support, not criticism.

  31. Dianne Salerni

    You didn’t make this decision lightly. You contemplated it for a long time before taking the leap. Don’t let their fears deter you from your plans.

    Here’s my story: I was un-agented when my first book was published. So, I had no one in my corner, no one to guide me or give me advice. The publisher had an option clause in my contract, so I wrote two new books and submitted them. The top editor at my imprint called me on the phone to reject both manuscripts. She told me that the sales of my first book were so poor, she didn’t think she’d ever be able to convince a book store to stock any more of my works.

    It was the most soul-crushing thing I’d ever heard.

    How did I get over it? Well, I was querying for agents at that time and getting lots of nibbles. It still took another 2 months for me to land an agent, but at that time, the nibbles kept me going.

    • JH

      Ouch! Wow, that’s so harsh, Dianne. I’m glad you were able to bounce back. I had to let my first agent go, and haven’t found another yet. Have to admit I’m a bit wary, especially of the ones who place work with publishers who welcome direct submissions.

  32. Lisa S.

    Agreed. Those people at the conference are not YOU! With your hard work, determination, incredible talent and persistence, anything is possible. You already rank up there as one of the most successful people I know. Can’t wait to see what 2017 and beyond will bring for you. <3

    • JH

      Aww, thanks Lisa. I thought about making a joke about how you need to meet more people, but instead I’ll just accept the compliment. Thank you! <3

  33. J K Hoffman

    Wow! Super brave of you and I wish you the absolute best in your endeavor!

    Also, as an aside, I followed you here from your comment on Whatever, at scalzi.com. As a journalist, I can see why you might keep certain strongly held opinions to yourself, but as a novelist, I encourage you to let loose! For every reader, or potential reader, you may lose because of those opinions will be off-set by the addition of someone new who agrees.
    For example, I’m not normally a horror reader, but I’m about to sign up for your email list to see what you courageous year of writing produces. See? It’s already working!

    • JH

      Aw, thank you so much, J K! That’s amazing of you.

      I’m more of a psychological/supernatural suspense writer than straight-up horror, and I also write mystery and am dabbling in dark romance, so hopefully there’s something you like.

      You are welcome here! Nice to meet you.


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