I want to say that I have the thickest skin of anyone I know, especially about my writing. I want to say that if my novel is an utter and complete failure, I will still consider it a success because someone somewhere finished it. I want to say that as long as I’m published, I’m happy.
But that would be an infinite lie.
As my self-imposed publishing deadline looms closer and closer every day, I find the fear in the back of my mind growing. What was once a small timid skipped beat of my heart while thinking about being a real published author is turning into a slow compression of my lungs when I try to breathe. In essence, I’m scared as all hell.
“What if my story genuinely sucks? What if I missed something? What if the plot twist isn’t twisty enough? Is ‘twisty’ even a word? What if I don’t sell a single copy? What if the negative reviews outweigh the positive reviews? What if there are no positive reviews? What if my characters aren’t lovable enough? What if the plot is too standard? Too much dialogue? Not enough descriptions? How will I face my friends and family if this turns out to be a failed venture? “
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD
The fear turns into self-doubt almost instantaneously. I’ve read my own words dozens of times that it starts to numb my brain, leaving me wondering if I even have any creative edge whatsoever. Everything starts to sound the same: “I used the word ‘haunting’ seven chapters ago & I’m using it again now. Would a real writer do that?” Truth is, they probably do. Does that matter to me? Not in the slightest. We’re our own worst critics and I’m living proof of that.
I gave the first four chapters of my novel-in-progress to one my of beta-readers, a close friend of mine, who happened to love every word and begged me for more. While that should relieve me, it has only created more fear: “Maybe she’s just being nice. She is my friend, after all. She has a heart of gold and wouldn’t want to hurt me. Maybe it really is crap, but she can’t bring herself to tell me.” She has assured me that’s not the case, but it hasn’t stopped me from wondering though…
“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
—Robert A. Heinlein
And of course, there’s the fear of what my friends and colleagues will think when they hear of and/or read my novel. “She writes romances? Like that’s supposed to be an accomplishment? Such smut. She doesn’t have the talent to write ‘real’ literature. What a waste.” I hear their imaginary voices in my head, destroying my work, slaughtering my pride. They don’t know the work it takes to write a novel. They don’t know how many times I’ve started over, how many scenes I’ve rewritten and rewritten, how many nights I’ve lost sleep over figuring out the right way to bring a reader into an imaginary life that I’ve created that doesn’t actually exist. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my entire life, but I’m sure that won’t stop someone, whether they know me or not, from downplaying the great accomplishment of finishing and publishing my work. Yes, even if it is just a romance novel.
“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.”
—William Zinsser, WD
But there’s a tiny part of me, the little 12-year old girl who used to curl up in the corner of her room with a Christopher Pike novel, getting lost in a distant world to escape the hardships in front of her. She’s still there, thinking about life as an author, dreaming about everyone who would read her stories at any given time all over the world. She’s crossing her fingers, hoping for the best. “What if they love it, though?” she says. “What if it turns out to be a crazy success? What if it gets picked up for a movie on Lifetime or something? What if you get to do book tours and conventions? What if ?” Yes. What if?
So here I stand, ready to take on the third-ish draft of my debut novel (I’m not counting the two other times I’ve rewritten the first 6 chapters, which would make this my fifth draft), armed with my red pen, Post-It notes, and pocket full of fears. I’m so close, I can taste it. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and while I don’t know what lies on the other side, turning back now isn’t an option. Because the 12-year old girl deep inside is giving me the ‘thumbs up’ to keep going. For her. For everyone with an impossible dream.