03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Fighting The Fear Of Failure: Approaching Deadlines

Sometimes I am jerked awake by the same type of nightmare I used to have in college. I used to dream that I had to take a final exam for a class I'd forgotten to attend all semester. I now have the same sort of fear about writing - or more precisely, finishing - my next book.

I often lay awake with clammy hands and dry mouth thinking about all the words I've yet to write, all the Microsoft Word documents I've left half-blank, and all the chapters I've written that are still littered with incomplete thoughts and sentences. I'll get back to that part later, I think. But "later" will be here very soon. Later is coming.

Three months from now I'll need to turn my book into my publisher. Three months may seem like a long time - but to me - hearing "three more months" fills me with panic. My book, Parentless Parents: How the Deaths of Our Mothers and Fathers Impact the Way We Parent Our Own Children, must be delivered to my publisher on April 1. But that deadline seems almost incomprehensible. The holidays were filled with endless distractions and my nine-year-old son, Jake, has already stayed home from school with a cold, further cutting into the time I set aside to write. Could work-stopping snow days be too far behind?

For some writers, gathering information and checking facts is scary. It seems too big. Too daunting. Not to me. I've been a television news producer since I graduated college - first at ABC, then NBC, and most recently, CNN. I know who to call on every story and am able to reach out to anyone without trepidation. My attitude is never, "Why would this very-important-person talk to me?" It's, "When can we schedule a time for this very-important-person-to-talk-to-me?"

Research is my happy place. I could hide in research forever. My irrational fear is that I could very easily open my eyes one morning and realize I've forgotten to pull all those loose facts I've gathered into a coherent narrative. I could wake up and realize I've forgotten to write the book.

While most of us will welcome the eventual thaw that will follow these next few winter months, I'll be dreading it. I welcome the burrowing impact of winter. I welcome snow and ice and anything that will keep me inside my house (without guilt) so that I may hibernate and finish this book.

Joe Nocera, a writer for the New York Times, spelled out this need to buckle down and write in his Saturday, October 31, 2009 column that announced his leave of absence from the paper. He said he's taking a break from the paper until he finishes his book, also due, coincidentally, this spring. He writes, "There comes a time in the life of every book writer when he or she has to stop procrastinating and write the darn book." Nocera ends his column by adding, "See you in the spring."

While I haven't been procrastinating, I readily admit I have been making myself a little too busy with research. So, like Joe, I'll see you more often in the spring... after I write my darn book.


Allison Gilbert is currently writing her third non-fiction book, Parentless Parents: How the Deaths of Our Mothers and Fathers Impact the Way We Parent Our Own Children. You can join the "Parentless Parents" community on Facebook.

Parentless Parents will be published by Hyperion and is a follow-up to her critically acclaimed book, Always Too Soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents. Parentless Parents will explore how the way we parent is shaped by the loss of our own mothers and fathers; how marriages are impacted when one spouse is parentless and the other is not; and offer strategies for keeping the memory of our parents alive for our children.

In Always Too Soon, Ms. Gilbert interviewed celebrities and others about losing their parents. She spoke with, among others, Rosanne Cash, Geraldine Ferraro, Ice-T, Yogi Berra, Mariel Hemingway, and New York Times best-selling authors, Hope Edelman and Barbara Ehrenreich. Always Too Soon sparked the formation of the Parentless Parents organization, a national network of support groups for mothers and fathers who have lost their own parents. You can find out more about Ms. Gilbert by visiting her website at