Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The only thing we have to fear...

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.


  1. Good gawd. It's like you're reading my mind. :) I've been in that place for a very long time -- fiddling, and rewriting..and reimagining...anything to make my book better. In the end, I KNOW I just have to put my nose to the grindstone and finish the blasted thing, but all the what-if's keep dominating my thoughts. What if no one wants it when I'm finished? What if everyone is completely let down by the book as a whole? Blah blah blah. You name an insecurity, and I've experienced it at one time or another.

    Oh the games we play in our heads. It's ridiculous and a complete waste of time.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Thanks for the extra push Kristen! I'm off sick from work today and I've FINALLY started typing up all the longhand scenes for the new book. Still blogging/internet researching (read: procrastinating) every half hour as the old fears threaten to overwhelm me (what if it sucks? it sucks, doesn't it? what if it's lame?), but it's almost 4 pm and I've got 3000 words typed, about 1000 boring words scrapped, and I might actually have something I can post to KidCrit soon!

  3. Ah, so true Kristen!

    Have you ever read Frank Herbert's Dune series? I went through a sci-fi/fantasy stage when I was about 13, and read his books many times over (yes, I was a nerd!) and in the first book he introduces an order of ... well, I guess they're like nuns, but much nastier, with secret mind-weapons (it is sci-fi, folks!) - called the Bene Gesserit. But for this order, he created a Litany Against Fear, which so reminds me of what you're saying, and which I think is really cool. It goes like this:- "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

    That still sends shivers down my spine.

    And I'm so glad you conquered your fears!

  4. Jen - Well, you see, I have this crystal ball...LOL. The what ifs are definitely little gremlins with teeth, biting us in the ass at every turn! Here, have some gremlin spray*

    *The safety and validity of Gremlin Spray-o-matic has not be reviewed by the FDA. Use at own risk.

  5. Deniz -go for it! :-)

    -And longhand? WOW! I'm impressed.

  6. Rachel - Oh, that is a good quote! Gives me shivers too.

    I don't think we ever fully get over our fears. I see it much like alcoholism; we are in constant recovery. LOL. So I probably should have clarified. I got over the big FEAR, the deep seed, but little fears have a way of creeping back from time to time. Which is when I reach for my gremlin spray. (g)

    -oh, and Sci-fi is NOT nerdy. Only when you start quoting it- (g,d&r)

  7. Kristen,
    Fear is huge for me in writing. It's paralyzing, stunts creativity and totally frustrating. I fear finishing, that it sucks, that it will always suck, that there is no way I can finish and yet I keep going back for more.

    Thanks for posting about how you finished and failed and didn't let fear win.

    I must not let fear win.


  8. Heidi- It's with good reason that we writers get afraid; our books are our babies! (g) But think about it this way: your book WILL suck to someone. It's inevitable. Look up the reviews of your favorite book and you'll find someone who hated it.

    It's kind of liberating to know that there is no possible way of pleasing everyone. So please yourself! (bg)

    Okay, sermon over. :)

  9. More great advice :) Fear is an amazing thing. I can't think of a writer who hasn't felt it regularly, and yet what do we really have to lose? I know I've been happiest as a writer when I've put aside thoughts of being published or even being read and just enjoyed the journey of putting words on the page, or telling a story that I'd like to read myself.

  10. Gremlin spray! Yes, must get me a stockpile...