April 16, 2011 § 22 Comments
I am afraid of driving.
I don’t know where this fear came from, because there was a time (in my early teens) when go-karting was about my favourite activity in the world (second only to Laser Quest). Nonetheless, by the time I grew old enough to start driving lessons I’d come to view driving as the stuff of nightmares.
It took me about a year to learn, having lessons most weeks. I can honestly say that was about the most gruelling experience of my adult life. Why exactly did I do it? Nobody was forcing me; I could have refused. I did it because being able to drive is vital in this modern world if one wishes to have anything approaching a free and independent life. And those two words – freedom and independence – are my guiding lights in just about everything I do.
When I took the test I was shaking so badly I could hardly grip the steering wheel. But I passed. I was euphoric for a full week afterwards. That’s important, by the way, because I’m an absurdly anxious sort of person and I too often skip over my victories in favour of worrying about the possibility of failure on my next project. But passing my driving test was different. It felt like conquering the world. I still dislike driving, but hey. I can do it when I need to.
So, skipping ahead a few years. You know the worst part about having dreams? The possibility of failing at them. In theory you can’t lose anything by failing to catch a dream, but you can; you lose the dream, you lose all chance of success. You have to pick yourself up and go find a new dream, and that’s not easy. That means that chasing dreams is scary. Many people won’t even try.
I have a couple of lifelong dreams. The pertinent one is: to write a novel. In fact, lots of novels. I’d like readers and everything. And that I have viewed as a virtual impossibility, because before I can do that I have to first write an entire novel and secondly – and here is the tricky part – get someone to publish it. We all know how that goes. The prospect of spending a year writing a novel only to then spend months (or years) of my life chasing after agents is daunting, to say the least. Then digital self-publishing cropped up and here I am, two-thirds of the way through a novel and going strong.
There’s only one problem. Self-publishing is scary as hell.
I know that the ‘gatekeepers’ as they’re often called are merely people. To have a few of those take a risk on my book wouldn’t really mean that much; it’s no guarantee that readers would like it. But at least it’s a vote of confidence. Maybe I could feel that it must be worth something.
I won’t get that with self-publishing. I’ll put everything I’ve got onto the page, then send it out into the world. It could tank. It seriously could, and I could be left with nothing but a pile of bad reviews; not even the dubious comfort of knowing that an agent liked it, once.
Why do it, then? Because of the potential advantages. No wasting my life trying to get an agent… and then a publisher. I can retain complete control over my work. There is no danger of the book(s) going out of print if they don’t make a killing in their first few months. There are problems with this approach, too, but I think the advantages will be worth it.
If I can find the courage.
I’m pretty sure that publishing my first novel is going to be scarier than learning to drive. We’re talking here about something I not only think would be sensible to do but that I desperately want to do. And what’s more, this project represents that elusive freedom and independence that I so badly want as well. Running my life by my own rules, according to my own timetable, not dependent on anybody’s approval or interference: I can think of nothing that would suit me better.
Am I crazy? I’m very young, as these things go: all the time I hear that one must spend, probably, decades writing eighteen novels before there’s any real chance of producing one that’s worth reading. I’m pretty sure I’ll never feel complete confidence in my own work, but at some point I must take the plunge and put something out into the world.
Then wait, and see how it goes.
All of this means putting oneself through the proverbial wringer of crippling fear and self-doubt – worse, in that respect, even than releasing a book via a publisher. But while failure can sometimes seem certain, there’s always the chance – a real chance – that it’ll work out well. All one can do is find the courage to try. I’ve done it before: let’s hope I can do it again.
So, fear. It doesn’t own me, and it doesn’t own you. We’re all capable of more than we think we are.