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


Good morning, Dear Readers. My name is J.H. and I am a worry-aholic.

I worry about the stupidest things imaginable. I also worry about things that could actually happen: what if my books never get published? What if something bad happens to the house or the cats and we can’t afford to have it fixed? What if my last job was as good as it gets, success-wise? 

Both the inane worries and the ones that are somewhat based on reality have something in common: they are completely non-productive. They are at odds with the carefree, happy-go-lucky side of my personality.

When I was a full-time freelancer in the late ’90s, January and February were notoriously slow months for assignments. Every year. Without fail. However, as soon as I was past those two months, I did really well. Well enough to more than make up for the 60-day lull. I knew this, and still, every year, I fretted and worried that my business was failing and my career was coming to an end. The only thing that stopped my nagging anxiety was taking a vacation at that time each year. I came home well-rested and the work followed soon after.

In 2013, there’s been a bit of a shift. While not exactly hectic, it’s certainly been steady…I have eight assignments due in a matter of weeks, and it’s only February 12th. I actually had to turn down work while I was on my vacation, but still…I worry. What if it slows down after this? What if it’s a slow year? What if something bad happens to the house or the cats and we can’t afford to have it fixed? It’s enough to drive one mad.

I come by this honestly…my mother is a championship worrier, and I’ve learned from her example. I’m the only one who can stop this tendency in myself, but other than writing out my worries so I can see how kooky and pointless they are, I haven’t the faintest clue how.

In Curacao, I met a local celebrity who was quite the character. He told me I came from a stressful place and that I needed to let everything go. “You are going to die,” he said, “but not today.” Because he was so eccentric, it would have been easy to write off everything he told me as the ramblings of a nut, but there was a ring of truth in what he said. Last year was one of the most stressful periods of my adult life, and I’ve felt more anxious as I’ve gotten older, not less. I definitely don’t want to end up being that annoying woman in the personal care home, fretting about the end of the world. Time to stop worrying before it kills me.

What do you worry about? How do you quiet the nagging voice in your mind that warns of failure?

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  1. Elle

    Come sit by me. We can worry together. I think you read my mind on this post.

    I can lie in bed and worry about my parents getting sick, the basement flooding, dying alone, having enough money if I lose my job and health insurance, and not leaving a mark on the world with my writing. And I worry about this all in the same night.

    I don’t have a fool-proof plan for curbing my worries but I’m learning a mantra that sometimes works. Let it go. Just let it go. I don’t always believe it but every time I say it and it works, it gets easier to do the next time. If my worry is something I can control, I make a plan for it. But I usually can’t, so I need to let it go.

    It’s hard work learning how to reduce your stress. Being brutally honest with yourself about yourself, about your abilities and limits, is not comfortable at first. The good news is, the more you do it, the easier it gets. We’re all only human.

    You’ve already started. You know you worry unnecessarily in January and February and you are working to quash those fears. That’s half the battle. The other half is believing it will all be okay. For that part, I suggest you follow my example and fake it till you make it 🙂

    Look at me, sounding all wise. I need to follow my own advice more.


  2. Story Teller

    Hi Elle,

    Thanks so much for your insightful comment. Maybe it’s a condition of all writers that we “think too much”. I’ve certainly been accused of that. Writers are also conditioned to constantly think of possible worst case scenarios. This is great for writing, but not so much for real life.

    Your mantra sounds great. I did find a couple of websites that had helpful tips that sound similar, such as identifying which worries you have control over and making a plan for them, and giving yourself a limited amount of time each day to worry.

    Sometimes I think the media has a vested interest in keeping us worrying. Take the housing market – I am confident that my house is a sound investment that will help pave my way to an island (some mixed metaphors there), but every time I turn around, I hear gloom and doom predictions about how our market is going to crash. Then I talk to someone in the housing industry here who tells me how well it’s doing, how we’re breaking records already and it’s only February. I have no idea why the gloom and doom messaging prevails, but I’ve decided not to worry about it. 🙂

  3. lisa

    As a publicist, I love to worry about whether or not anyone will cover the story I’m pitching. Is it a good enough story idea? Is it a slow news day? Am I being too assertive in the follow-up? Not assertive enough?
    I try to quell these fears with lots of coffee and red wine. I think they’re both helping set endorphins free into my worrying brain.
    You, my friend, are following your passion. Of course that’s scary. It’s also incredibly exciting! I can’t wait until I get the chance to go to the bookstore and pick up a copy of one of your books.
    While worrying sucks, regret is worse in my opinion. In ten years, will you look back on this decision with regret? Nope! Kudos to you for taking a big risk. Most people don’t have the guts.
    Those who take great risks achieve great things.

  4. Story Teller

    Hey Lisa,

    Thanks for your comment. I must admit it shocked the heck out of me. YOU worry? You’re my guru of calm. You always seem to take life as it comes, with such an easygoing manner. And now you’re telling me you’re human?

    You are also my role model when it comes to risk-taking. I’ve looked on in awe at all the bold moves you’ve made, and they’ve all paid off. I’ve been paying attention, and I only hope my ventures do half as well.

    You’re right…regret is MUCH worse than worry. It will all work out the way it’s supposed to…one way or another.

  5. Elle

    Lisa is also right about the wine. Don’t forget that chocolate helps too 🙂

  6. Sherry

    Holli – for peace of mind and less worrying in your life, read Peace in Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh – it will bring you back to the present moment which is really all that we have

  7. Story Teller

    Thanks for the suggestion, Sherry. I’m not into “self-help” books so much, but I’ll look into it.


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