Monday, June 14, 2010

What Are You Afraid Of?

Hi everyone,

I just attended a great workshop this last weekend. A lot of what the speaker talked about was facing your fears in the publishing industry. At the same time, a friend of mine just sold, (Yay!) but was just beginning to feel the stab of terror that goes through you when it first sinks in that you are going to be published. It got the wheels turning in my head.

The truth is, published authors are afraid, more often than not. We live in a constant state of "What if?" and in our minds, the answer to that question is seldom good.

I wanted to explore some of those fears to see if we can shine a light into the dark corners of the publishing closet no one ever wants to speak about. Maybe we will discover the monsters there are really just an old pair of boots and a long forgotten teddy bear.

Fear: Now that I've sold, people are going to read this. What if it's not good enough?

This is a very real fear. Unfortunately, it is one that will haunt an author the rest of her career, because it doesn't go away with the next book. "Well, they loved that one, but now everyone is going to think this one is crap." And on and on it goes. Once a book is in print, it is fixed, and it is out there. You can't control how people are going to react to it. Some people will love it, others will hate it, and you have to live with the pressures of both reactions.

If we dig into this one a little, what we're really worried about are the people who don't like it. Why are we afraid someone won't like our book? I think the old, the book is a part of us, and therefore they don't like us, thing is a little too simple. I think this goes deeper than that. I've felt this fear. I admit it. For me, the deepest darkest pit of this fear is a fear of failure. You sink your heart and soul into writing, and to have others have a negative reaction to it feels like I've failed to do what I set out to do. That stings. Once the sting fades, it compounds.

What if a lot of people are having this reaction to the book? What if they start talking about it? What if that negative buzz undermines my editor or agent's faith in my work? What if they drop me? How will I start over if they do? And then we're a neurotic puddle of self woe crying on the phone to our critique partner about how our career is over.

Let's take a look at that fear for a moment. The terrifying thought, "My career is over." It seems like all publishing fear roads end at that one place. What a horrible place. Why?

For me, it's fearing that I'll lose something when I've invested so much of my time, and myself into it. People will say, "but you can always write." Yes, I can, but I will forever do so thinking that I couldn't really hack it. When I was toward the end of the long wait to get published, I nearly gave up. The only thing that kept me in the game was this mule-like stubbornness that insisted I would not throw away an eight year investment of my time and effort without it paying off. I knew the only way it would truly be over is if I quit.

When I think about the "My career is over," fear, I think about what it would mean to lose part of my self identity as an author. I aspired to become this. If it goes away, what then am I? Nothing?

That's terrifying.

But it isn't the truth. If we can conquer this fear, we can conquer all the lesser ones. So let's tackle it.

If this goes away, what then am I?

Well, I'm alive for one. I am kicking, I am breathing, and I'm pretty sure absolutely no part of the publishing process has the physical power to actually end my life, save winning the Rita, which would give me a heart attack.

I'm a strong woman who has had to face the potential loss of something far more precious than a publishing career. Some things in life just far outweigh all of this, and it's good to keep it all in perspective. This fear can never crush me, because I've faced worse, and I'm still sane and standing.

I'm still a creative woman with something to give, and so long as have the ability to improve and the will to fight, I have the ability to open new doors of opportunity for myself in any field I choose, including this one. My publishing career will never be over so long as I don't give up. Never surrender.

I'm happy. The flowers are blooming, I have enough to eat. I have a great family and good friends. So long as my belly is full and my feet are dry, I'll consider myself one of the very very lucky in life, and I'll appreciate it to the end of my days.

So armed with the knowledge that even if the publishing path takes me to that dark dead end. I've got the heart, the grit, and the resiliency to turn around and take another fork in the road. I'll try and try again, because in the end, I'm a writer. It's who I am, and what I do.

So I'll do it.

Fear won't stop me. It will touch me, but it won't defeat me.

That's a choice, and I'm making it.

How about you? What do you fear? How do you face it?

Let's turn this into a little non-professional therapy session. I've got a feeling we all need it sometimes.



Anne Elizabeth Baldwin said...

{bite lips}

I'm most afraid of not living up to expectations. It seems like folks who read my writing expect me to do wonderfully. Well, it's a tough market, and the short stories that come easily don't get anywhere near the attention of novels. For me, stories from just under 300 words to around 9000 words finish relatively easily most of the time. Anything longer is really tough. Stories of that length ought to be able to get me into magazines, but I don't know if they can get me any farther.

If they can't... how many expectations will I have failed to meet? {half-smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin said...

P.S. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with this fear. {odd smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

Casey said...

Great post, Jess, and you're so right. So often, I hear non-writers or those who aspire to be published say something like, "you've got it made, you're published." But none of us have it made, and nothing is guaranteed and after this contract, will there be another one? For me, that's a fear. But like you said, we keep chugging away. That's all we can do. I've seen this industry take its ups and downs and weird, sideways swings, and I've stuck with it for 45 books, re-inventing myself when necessary. If I did it before, I can always do it again. That's what I tell myself when the fears creep in. Of course, that doesn't always help!

Jess Granger said...

I know! I also have a hard time with my perception of expectations. I've tried to get to the point where I'm accountable to my own expectations. Did I please myself?

I should feel proud if I did.

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin said...

It's hard to think in terms of only pleasing myself when I know that folks expect something from me that I'm not sure I can do. {small smile}

Dad says I need to concentrate on closer goals that are more manageable. {pause} I'm trying. Hopefully I'll get the hang of that before too much longer. {lop-sided smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

Sharon said...

I am not a writer, but I am a mom and like all moms I worry if I am doing right by my kids. I want them to grow up to be happy, healthy people. If they do, then I have succeeded. If they don't, then I will take the blame. I will think "If I had done X differently, then they wouldn't have done Y".