- by Pat Rice
I have a new book coming out in a few weeks. I’ve had a new book out almost twice a year for twenty-five years. You’d think I’d be used to the fear by now—will it sink like a stone, never to be seen again? Be returned by the truckload so my publisher runs screaming from the room at the sound of my name? Will I have to go from store to store, begging sellers to promote it? Will—heaven forbid—reviewers trash it all over the internet? Must I sit at autographings smiling stiffly while everyone turns up their noses and walks past me?
A few weeks ago, Barbara Bretton wrote a thought-provoking essay about being terrified of writing—terrified that she couldn’t finish the book, couldn’t find the words, couldn’t give people the book they expected. That blog hit a lot of true notes for other writers. Our insecurities are manifest, magnified by an industry designed to undermine our confidence at every turn.
To many, writing sounds like the ultimate escapism, a chance to sit home, sipping tea, wearing one’s jammies, while spilling exquisite words across the screen. The truth is, writing is a nightmare world inside one’s head where every fear is multiplied by our imaginations and every joy is muted by new concerns.
The words we put on the page are pieces carved from our soul. Beginning writers start out terrified that people will hate their words, that they’ll make idiots of themselves, that contest judges will give them all zeroes, or that editors will read their work with hysterical laughter. They foolishly think that once they’ve won the contest, once a reviewer declares the words immortal, once an editor buys the book, that everything will be fine.
It’s anything but, as Barbara’s essay reveals. Part of the problem is our own creativity. We run into a problem with a scene in the book, our editor gives us a harsh revision letter, a reviewer gives us a bad grade, and suddenly, we’re imagining the worst possible scenarios. What if I never write again? What if no one will ever publish another book of mine? What if I have to buy the book back? Who will feed the kids?!!!! It doesn’t matter if we don’t have kids to feed, we still hit panic mode simply because we can see—and may have even lived—all the bad outcomes.
Even when things are going good, panic is just a step away. Hit the New York Times list at 35 with this book? Then the next one has to be so much better that it will hit the top 12. If it doesn’t, does that mean we’re already washed up? Do we have to put twice as many sex/violence/action scenes in the next book? What if our next book doesn’t have any sex/violence/action? Should we throw it out and write another just like the one that hit 35?
Where do we get off this ride on Space Mountain? I’ve never liked roller coasters, so why in heck am I in this business? And that’s when I remember—it’s all in my head. I can turn off the nightmare. All I have to do is remember that once the book leaves my head, it’s really no longer mine. I have done everything I know how to make it the kind of book I want to read. If consumers don’t want to read what I like to write, I have a problem, but it’s not one this book can fix. Once that book has my editor’s approval, it’s up to the art department’s cover and the publisher’s back copy and the booksellers’ placement to take it to the next step. Sure, I can blog about it, send out emails and bookmarks, do autographings, but the part that’s me, the words, are done. I am no longer responsible for the success of this book.
But it’s time to freak out about the one still in the computer….