Here’s the thing I need you to understand about fear: you will never slay that dragon once and for all.
Somewhere down the road, you will find triggers. Someone will say something, or some awful thing will happen, and all your old fears – the fears you learned to beat with careful questions and analysis – will leap back for your throat with the ferocity of a Hammer Films werewolf.
That’s why it’s so important to be in the habit of answering fears. Your tools need to be automatically ready, an instinctive response – and that will only happen with practice.
Just an Example
As you know, I’m an indie author, and very proud to be. I’m pleased with the way my career has gone so far, and I’m REALLY happy with my books and stories. I’m building an amazing universe true to my imagination and my vision, and I’ve had to fight for every inch. That’s worth something.
That doesn’t mean I entered into this feeling confident in any way at all.
When I made the choice to self-publish, I knew I’d be giving up a lot of the things I thought I needed. After nearly five hundred rejections, most of them personalized, I knew my ideas were too weird to be mainstream; at least, that’s what the literary agents kept telling me.
(The last agent I tried told me he couldn’t represent me because The Sundered was too strange, but then he asked me to send him the full manuscript anyway because he had to know how it ended. Yeah, make sense of that one.)
So I took the path less traveled by. And guess what? I’m incredibly glad I did. But I still carried ENORMOUS fears, and quite a few of them were valid.
- If I decided to head toward self-publishing, I’d never make enough money to live off my work (which is income).
- If I decided to head toward self-publishing, it might mean I couldn’t write well enough to get an agent (which is quality of work, a reflection of my own self-worth).
- If I decided to head toward self-publishing, I’d never see my books in Barnes and Noble; it felt like the whole world would believe I just wasn’t good enough (which is validation).
I’ve been doing this for four years, and I’ve beat those fears down pretty well. But recently, I hit a trigger, and they all flooded right back up. Here is where I show you the importance of the tips I’m teaching you — in action.
It’s quite simple: recently, I went to a local independent bookstore and asked them if I could arrange for them to carry my books, or possibly host a signing.
Now, I wasn’t fully expecting them to say “yes.” Most stores are leery of anything they fear might not sell, but I also knew if I could get them to just look at my books, they’d see I didn’t write crap, and we could dialogue.
We didn’t even get that far.
The employee first lied to me. He claimed that price was the problem, since the store needed to make money, and he couldn’t buy books from Amazon at a discount. That’s baloney. I, as the author, can provide a 51% discount. But as soon as I offered that, the truth came out.
He informed me that only if a “real” publishing house was interested would I ever have a chance at that store.
He did this with a smile.
And he wouldn’t stop. He kept going on and on about how once a “real” publishing house wanted me, then maybe they could take a look. He did this with people watching, some of them very embarrassed, some of them actually smirking.
And I had to smile back, and laugh at his really bad jokes, and shake his hand, and walk away – because punching him wouldn’t have done any good.
And what do you think this did to all those old fears about legitimacy and validation?
Kaboom. There was heart-shrapnel everywhere.
You Must Be Prepared
Remember the exercise from last week? The one where you answered two questions, defining your specific but flexible goal and what you expected to get from it? I had to do that big-time.
The reason I would like to see my books in a store is because I want to reach readers. I want to give readers the same kind of experience I have when I read amazing stories. I love taking readers to other worlds, helping them leave this one for a while, giving them hope and playing a merry tune on their heartstrings.
And I’ve done that. Accomplishing that goal validates me as a writer. Readers have told me exactly how they felt; that’s the effect, and that’s a victory.
But if I focused only on one means to reaching readers – i.e., being in bookstores – then in my eyes, I would have failed.
Can you see how tricky this is? How focusing on the wrong means to the effect you want can throw you off? It’s subtle, isn’t it?
The Reality of Fear
Here’s the thing, fellow writer: no matter how reasonable or rational you are, stuff is going to happen that screws you up.
The real irony is this: I attended an event with three traditionally published authors at this venue just last week (which, by the way, was a real treat). Sam Sykes, Victoria Schwab, and Rae Carson are all amazing authors, and all of them have sold a bazillion more copies than I will; there’s a TV series in the works and awards and more. And more power to them! All three of them have worked their asses off, and they all deserve it.
The weird thing was they all had the same kind of fears and awful experiences I did.
- Their books didn’t make enough money to satisfy somebody in the publishing industry, and had lost contracts (which is income).
- Their characters and plots were considered not deep enough — or, conversely, too deep and anti-stereotypical to be “realistic” (which is quality of work).
- They were all told this wasn’t a real job by people who loved them and meant well (which is validation).
Writers, this is important.
I think Victoria Schwab said it best: If you love anything more than writing, do that instead.
That isn’t meant to discourage you. It’s mean to warn you and get you ready for the storms ahead.
Writing is worth it. At least, it is to me; I’m not quitting. Don’t you quit, either. But you must practice your tools to fight fear now, while the sun still shines, or you’ll be fumbling to find them in the dark.
Here’s your reminder to practice.
- Take your fear. Dissect it until you see what your goal really is. Remember, “I haven’t won a Hugo” is too precise, but “I’m not good enough” is uselessly vague.
- Take your fear of failure and ask yourself what you actually expect from that success (validation, connection with readers, etc.) What’s your real goal? What’s the effect?
Or, to make it even simpler:
- What is your specific but flexible goal?
- And what effect do you expect to get from reaching it?
Once you know the answers to these things, you can approach your goal in new ways—ways without walls, ways without expiration dates. You can do this.
I do it every day, even ones where my heart gets blown to bits. I know you can do this.
This will help you fight your fear.
I believe you can do this.
Reach out to me in the comments, or send me a private email. Let’s practice wielding your weapons now while the sun still shines.