What Are You Afraid Of?

People fear a lot of things. I’m not talking the “eeck, it is a spider!” kind of fear. I’m referring to the soul-killing, do-anything-to-avoid-an-action kind of phobia that can stand in the way of our success. Writers, entertainers, and artists are particularly susceptible because so much of our work includes our hearts and souls laid out for others’ approval or rejection. I always think of Anna Nalick’s song in terms of my writing.

2 am and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to

So what fear keeps you from using your true voice and putting your words out in exactly the way you think they should be? Here are a few phobias that keep some writers from doing their best.

1. Fear of rejection by the industry people

Finding an agent or publishers seems like a herculean task at times. Reality check: You will be rejected. You may blow it off at first with a “oh well, everyone is rejected some. No one ever gets selected their first time out.” However, at some point, it will hurt and you will doubt your ability, your writing, and quite possibly some of your life choices. Take to heart in the fact that we all go through that. Listen to some of the established writers and you hear about how much they toiled and doubted. Yet they still persevered. My personal favorite is the story about how Dr. Seuss received hundreds of “not us” letters because editors thought children would not like poetry.

Beating the odds is part of the game. Don’t let your fear stop you from trying.

When this fear grips my heart, I react in two different ways. First, after a slew of rejections, I look at the writing and try to get help analyzing it, usually at conferences. The publishers may see something horrible that I need to fix, but that is part of the process of learning to write stories well. Second, I mope for a day (24-hour limit on self-pity) and then get out the next query.

In addition, the publishing world is changing. If you feel like your work is the best it can be, consider self-publishing as an alternative. However, be prepared for the massive amount of marketing it will take to get your book in front of the readers.

2. Fear of rejection by readers

Is your writing really good enough? Hopefully you discover that before it is out in front of the masses. I think this fear is more common in the self-published world. In traditional publications, someone (editors or agents) have filtered the dross from the gold and so you know your writing is decent enough. Yes, we still worry about bad reviews but they are a part of life. In self-publishing, no one has filtered your work. Your material may be fabulous or it may have glaring, plot-killing errors that none of your pre-print readers mentioned. The readers gladly point them out in numerous potentially negative reviews.

So in the vernacular, “grow some balls” and just write anyway.

I answer this fear by saying that you’re in an industry that requires you to have a dragon-tough hide and a certain amount of self-confidence. Write the best you can. Edit for the finest polish and get on with it. Positive experiences help conquer this fear and the only way to do that is to keep working. Misgivings about your talent kill creativity so stop doubting yourself.

3. Fear of failing to finish your work

Chances are, you will have some short story or a novel that you started and are struggling to finish. Maybe it’s writer’s block in general or you might simply not know how to end it. Because you can’t finish one piece, all your other work comes to a screaming halt as well.

So don’t finish it. It’s not homework and the story police aren’t going to show up at your door.

If you’re stuck, go on to something else for a while and come back to the first story or novel. Back up a few pages or even a chapter because you probably went in a direction your character or your muse didn’t like. However, the point here is that if you fail to continue because you are afraid you won’t finish the material, then maybe you are in the wrong field. Authors complete their stories eventually, if nothing else, to see how it ends.

4. Fear of what your mother would say?

Have you ever heard people say, “I love Steven King’s (or other author’s) writing, but I really wonder about the man’s life. He must be pretty weird…” It also is sometimes stated as “what do your parents think about you writing this stuff?” Some readers fail to distinguish between the author’s work and their lives. Yes, the two touch and sometimes overlap, but writing about vampires doesn’t mean you want to drink blood.

This particular fear may affect those, like me, who deal in ominous images or more sexual plot lines. When I first started, I held back on the imagery or the depth of darkness that I wanted to explore in my fiction. My parents are some of my most avid fans, reading most of my work. So I worried about what they would think if I wrote something about sexual perversion, murderous intent, or simply pure evil.

You must conquer this phobia on your own. To help you get over it, memorize these lines.

Everyone has darkness inside them. Writers simply put it on the page.

Fully understand and accept this concept. Even the nicest person on the planet has some thoughts they would never share. The next time you hear something like the statements above, reply with these phrases to make others understand that what you write isn’t what you are.

Killing Fear

Trepidation is in all of us as a defense mechanism, but you are stronger than it is. Overcome your fright and write the topics you want in your own voice. Ignore the whisperings of doubt and put everything in you on the page. Then your work will leap from good to awesome.

Do you have other fears that keep you from producing quality work? If so, leave a comment below to let me know and I’ll be glad to discuss it.

Voodoo Exhibit statues

Voodoo Lwa, but not evil spirits. Still, they could give me nighmares.

Voodoo Iwa

Some of the more fearful exhibits at the Voodou Exhibit at the Field Museum of Chicago

First Blunt Truth About Writing

Last week, a college-age person put a note on a chat forum that featured a wide range of writers. He requested that someone volunteer to act as a mentor in helping him finish his novel and getting it traditionally published. The individual knew in his heart that it was a great story and he had put part of his soul in it. He went on to say that he now knows that writers work as a community and he needed and desired help to make the next steps in his career.

I waited a day or so to see if anyone else would respond because my own answers were less than flattering. What happened?

Silence.

And more waiting.

The silence was so profound that you could hear the distant chirping of crickets in cyberspace.

I get frustrated because I rarely get feedback from agents on my queries. Simply saying “it’s not right for me” doesn’t help me understand what was wrong. So I figured this writer, like me, deserved an answer. I wrote my less than flattering opinion as nicely as possible. Happily, several experienced people responding with the general equivalent of “yep, that is the way it is,” and “tell it like it is, girl!” I have not heard back from the college student to know if he believed me or even wanted to discuss the issue further. His non-reply was disappointing. What the kid (yep, at my age college students are kids) failed to realize was that I had stepped up to a mentoring role he asked about.

I told him the blunt truth.

We all want an older, wiser expert to take us by the hand and guide us through the pitfalls of creating and publishing books. Personally, I would choose Patricia Briggs or Charlaine Harris because they really rock in the urban fantasy world.

Guess what? It does not work that way.

Let us break it down by the kinds of people who might consider being a mentor to a beginning novelist.

The Theoretical Authors have finished but unpublished manuscripts sitting inĀ  desk drawers at home. They should not give advice because they have not “leveled up” in the game of traditional book production. Whatever they are doing to reach the Elysian Fields of the big publishing houses has not worked yet. Most authors never get their first, second, or often third book accepted by an agent or publisher because these manuscripts are not good enough yet. These early works act as the training grounds for creating a story that is exceptional enough to see a bookstore shelf. Read about the struggles of some of your favorite authors and you will see this is true.

The Debut Authors have one or maybe two books on the market. They will not step up to help because they are busy promoting their paperbacks or working on the next manuscript because chances are, their first published book will not be a breakout novel. Plus, publishers like having a second book to quickly follow the first, particularly in a series.

The Veteran Authors are the Gods of Literature. We wish we were them and gather at conferences to hear pearls of wisdom flowing from their lips. Individuals with a breakout novel will not volunteer either because they are running hard with promotions, book signings, and conventions. They also must continue to write the next great hit. However, it is more than just being too busy. To be honest, dozens of newbie writers want the established folks to help them. After all, success is sometimes related to whom you know. However, helping one may result in a new flood of requests so it is easier for the bestselling author to simply say no to everyone.

Finally, the main reason why no one will serve as a mentor comes from the answer to this question: what is in it for me?

Nothing.

As altruistic as most folks want to be, time is money.

More importantly, we writers viciously guard our creative time from any and all intrusions. This includes spouses, pets that want to go outside ten times in an hour, day job demands, self-promotion, or even sleeping. No matter how long an author sits at their desk every day, it never seems like enough. So taking time out of our schedules to do everything we can to promote your new work, particularly without anything serving as payment back, simply is not good business.

So where should young writers go for help? The answer is easy but potentially expensive: conferences, workshops, writers’ retreats, and critique groups. The review clubs provide one-on-one feedback, while most of these others include how-to-write information, how-to-query secrets, and interactions with experts in the industry. Invest in these opportunities to get the tools and knowledge you need for your own career path.

It is not easy, but nothing worth doing well is ever easy.

Find out about more blunt truths in the next blog