This weekend, I was in my sister’s wedding. And like most sacrificial lambs (that is maid-of-honor), I had my hair and make-up done in addition to donning “the dress”. Start with the hair. After sitting for one hour in a salon chair, I end up looking like a sweet fifties doo wop girl, curls on the side, everything properly pinned up. I don’t do sweet. I hate it. Then the make-up. My twenty-something “artist” decides that I need to go heroine chic. I don’t find this out until he done with his creation and I see the black rings around my eyes. So, to sum up, heroine chic thirty-six-year-old woman with Barbie hair. Lovely. Did I complain? NO. I kindly thanked them, paid their exorbitant fees and fixed the mess myself. Why? I was afraid. Afraid I would hurt their feelings. Never mind that I paid them. Fear sucked $200 out of my pocket and had me looking the fool.
Fear is like that. Even when you know it’s got you by the nose, you look the other way, let it take control, and suffer for it. With writing, I KNOW that fear has had its tentacles in me more than once.
Fear of failure is a biggie for writers. The Mac Daddy of stumbling blocks. Fear can make a young writer sit on a manuscript for years, fiddling with this and that, tearing the book apart, building it up, insisting that it isn’t done… all under the guise of seeking perfection (or as close as one can get), when really it is the fear that she will have to put her baby out into the world and find out: is she good enough?
I should know. I was that writer.
I started writing my first book in 2000. 500k words, four plot revisions, three long hiatuses from it, and in 2007, I was STILL not done. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot during that time. I consider this stage in my writing development the equivalent of getting a Bachelors degree. But I had to be honest with myself as well. I was also stalling. Big time! I was afraid that if I finished, I’d have to go and find an agent, and what if no one wanted me? What if after all these years, and effort, it wasn't good enough?
Realizing that I was afraid, admitting it to myself, forced me to suck it up and get the story done. It would never be perfect. I had to realize that. Nothing ever will for a writer who takes their craft seriously. But I couldn’t be afraid.
So I did it. I finished up and sent it out to agents, never realizing that fear still had a hold. This time in the shape of: what if it doesn’t sell? That fear pushed me into rash decisions, tied my stomach up in knots, and left me frozen, unable to write anything else. And guess what? My book wasn’t selling. That great fear had come true. I remember clearly, lying in my bed, blinking up at the ceiling while maudlin thoughts ran unchecked through my head. Then I realized that what I feared, I brought closer to me. Epiphanies work that way. Because here is the thing –I HAD failed, and it wasn’t the end of the world. I was still here. I let my fear go in that instant. Suddenly, not selling really didn’t hurt that badly (no, seriously, it’s true!). I was a writer, not a one trick pony. If one book didn’t sell, I could write another. Failure had set me free.
So I wrote another book. I wrote it in five months. And not once was I afraid. Nor was I afraid when I went searching for another agent. Fear had left me.
This is, of course, 100 per cent easier said than done. But it can be done. And the majority of us writers DO live in fear of failure.
So, to those of you who do, acknowledge your fear, swim around in those fears, name them, slide through them. And like oil to water, let them then roll off of you, let them go. Put yourself out there, whether it be with a risky storyline that you're dying to try, or –if you're like me- simply finish that WIP, put your hat in hand and step onto that long road to publication. You’ll be happy you did.