Hey, you. Yes, you over there, sitting slumped over your desk with your cup of coffee contemplating nothing much: what are you afraid of?
Sure, okay, right now we’re all afraid of unemployment, famine, and wondering what in hell kind of world we live in when people can take leave of their senses over … main stream media doom porn.
But that is a self-fixing problem. Either this will pass, or civilization is dead.
You know what’s not a self-fixing problem? Your writing. At least for most of us, as long as we’re alive it’s going to follow us like an inky leg shackle. And if we refuse to write, it will just manifest in our dreams, driving us insane.
Okay, so may it’s just me. I mean the insane. And perhaps the follow me around. But at any rate — will you stop digressing already? — I want to talk about writing, and in writing, your career, and your … for lack of a better term…. art, fear can be deadly. So, let’s talk. What are you afraid of?I keep hearing of people who are afraid of success. They are bizarre, odd creatures, to my mind.
Me? I’m terrified of failure. It’s what’s kept me running so hard for 30 years now. At the same time, though, it has circumscribed me, hemmed me in, stopped me being really daring in my writing, stopped me reaching for the stars.
Why? Well, because what if I fail? And keep in mind here, I’m not talking about monetary fail — well, a little. We could use money, as in who couldn’t — but real fail. What if I try for something truly big, make an effort, try to bridge the chasm, and fall down halfway through? What then?
You see, I’m a very exacting judge, particularly of myself.
But then… What if I never try?
Look, life has been hitting me like a particularly tempting pinata for the last two years. (it started end of summer 2018) and it hasn’t stopped. And while I didn’t expect it to pull a lockdown over a virus that honestly was probably the centerpiece of a Chinese psi-ops, by the time that hit my reaction was “well, why not?”
Because there were at least two family crisis, a personal health issue, and a bunch of other things worrying me before that. In fact, I’d just made a decision to write a lot, and set down a schedule, when the corona-madness hit, and I got worried sick over …. well, not the Virus (though I was in January, as I followed Chinese leaks) but the lockdown. I’ve seen interference is society by government on this scale before, and I’m telling you that you have no clue what’s coming down the pike or how bad it will get. I do. It doesn’t make me happy.
So I went into a deep spiral of stress. Stress in me inducess of extreme comfort-zone huddling. Depending on how stressed I am, and more or less in order from less to more, I read: Cozies, regency romances, Jane Austen fanfic, Disney comics.
I’ve been stuck at fanfic for the longest period in my life since Dan had a traveling job and the kids were toddlers. I also don’t want anything that has a strong taste. And I don’t want to do anything particularly daring, or go for long walks. It’s not depression, depression is different, it’s more feeling brittle and out of spoons.
Which is fine. It’s kind of like locking yourself in place, after all. “Safer at home.” Sit here, and have bland food, and huddle, and no one can hurt you.
But just like the fact that we’re running out of essentials, in your personal life, and particularly your creative life, if you huddle at home, and do nothing, then sure you’ll never fail. But you also eliminate your chance at succeeding.
And while fear keeps you running, it also keeps you stressed, and stress makes you stupid.
For the first ten years of my writing career, I felt like I was brain locked in absolute fear of being let go and never publishing again. It is not a good place to be. (Of course, being paranoid IS a perfectly rational reaction to working in hell.) But now I’m free, at least for the time being of that arbitrary ability to shut me down.
And they can’t shut you down either.
So, what are you afraid of?
Sure, you might suck. A lot of bestsellers do. But then they sleep on their mattress made of money, so they don’t care.
What if you don’t sell? Well…. What seems to be true (and I’m sort of verifying) is that in indie, the more you write, the more you sell of each book. But even if you don’t sell amazingly, do you know that you’re making no difference?
Back when I was almost entirely unknown, I got one letter from someone who said she’d read my books to her sister who was undergoing chemo therapy, and how much difference that had made to their bond, and her sister’s mood.
The book I wrote in three days, and which is not even under my own name got someone through a horrible week when their divorce became final.
And you know, every life you touch, every day your writing helps someone to get through has ripples.
As does your writing itself. Sure, your story might not be the best thing around, but if you get it out there, I guarantee at least one person will decide it’s their favorite book ever and read it, and find deep significance in it. And two or three others will decide they can do better, and become writers, which is your revenge on them.
Look, there are many acclaimed books I can’t stand. And there are books I know are objectively sucky, that I read and re-read. As a writer, your job is not to decide if your own book is good. We’re the worst judges of our own writing. Our job is to write. Let someone else decide.
Life is stressful and in many ways worrying right now. We don’t need to make it more stressful in our writing.
Throw caution to the winds and write.
For those first ten years of my writing career, I derived great comfort from a poster which I made from a pithy saying and a stock image. Tonight I found a better image, (by accident) one that cried out for those words.
So, because you and I need to come out from under the bed, and eating comforting foods, and reading pablum, and we need to go back to living, I’m making you a gift of the image and the saying.