On Fear

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.

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§ 22 Responses to On Fear

  • DarcKnyt says:

    Oh, Charlotte of like mind. Freedom and independence are, in fact, the pinnacle of what we as humans can achieve.

    I’ll walk beside you every step of the way. You don’t have to trust me or believe what I say but I know you can do this. Will you be the next Amanda Hocking? I don’t know. There is as much chance you will as you won’t. Will you have the success of Joe Konrath and earn six figures a year? I don’t know, but you have the same chance anyone else does.

    And when you put that book out there, don’t make the mistake of waiting to see what happens. No. Write the next book, and put IT out there too. Then the next. And if you steadily plug away and toss in some plugs here on your blog, on your writer’s website (you should have CharlotteEnglish.com, you know, as I should have FatDumbGuy.com), post some short stories and put them out for publication, and keep.on.writing.

    Keep writing. That is the best way to make it in self-epublishing, and you will find your readers. You will.

    You will.

    Here, take my hand. Let’s walk this road together, shall we?

    It’s not as scary as it seems. Not at all. You can do it. I will help you.

    C’mon.

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Darc. Thanks for those comments. Personally I don’t have enormous dreams like six-figure incomes.. I just want a moderate living. If I actually get to that point I may find my dreams rapidly expanding – it’s human nature, I suppose, to be always reaching for more – but for now that’s my goal.

      You’re perfectly right that the essential thing is to write like a demon… forever. That part’s not so much the problem, as good obsessive writing habits have developed over the last five or six years. It’s putting it out there that’s the difficult part.

      Thank you for the encouragement & the vote of confidence. It does help 🙂

      EDIT: I almost skipped over a really important piece of advice in that comment, about not waiting to see what happens. How very, very true. I’ll bear this in mind when I get to that point: as far as possible it’s got to be best to put it out in the world and then more or less ignore it, for the most part, while I work on the next thing. Thanks for the insights!

  • mapelba says:

    First, Darc, stop calling yourself dumb. How am I supposed to take any of your arguments seriously if you undermine yourself?

    Anyway, just wanted to say that.

    And that I have written 8 novels and a pile of short stories. Well, I call only three of those novels finished, but they’re all being worked on.

    Most of the questions you pose here, of course you know, can only be answered by you.

    I would self-publish because of the independence and control.
    I wouldn’t self-publish because if I can’t take the rejection in a query letter, how is rejection going to feel coming from readers? I read a post somewhere (can’t recall which blog at this point) about querying is good–at the very least–for teaching you about rejection and how no one owes you acceptance. I understand the phrase gatekeeper, but honestly, if an agent doesn’t like my work, why does that mean they’re trying to keep me out of anywhere? I believe when an agent rejects my work they really just don’t like it. Or they didn’t read it all. They are busy. They do not owe me anything.

    But self-publishing has many possibilities. It is alluring. My self-pub efforts are restricted to my fiction blog (though I’ve heard I should have one of those–can’t win!). And I know Darc says write the next book…this is true no matter how you publish. Write the next book and the one after that. But releasing one book after another could be something akin to good money after bad.

    But you never know.

    The one thing–the most important thing–the thing that must be done or all other arguments are moot: write the novel.

    Finish the novel! Pondering how to publish something that isn’t even finished is a bigger waste of your time than querying agents–because hey, just as self-publishing may work, so an agent may fall in love your book. So. Finish the novel!

    And when you finish the novel, query a few agents (because that effort isn’t going to end your other options) and research your self-publishing options–since some of those options are bound to change before you know it.

    Go write.

    • Charlotte says:

      Seconded on the dumb thing. Blatantly untrue, apart from anything.

      About the issue of rejection. Perhaps I ought to explain a few more background details.

      This is the first full-length novel I’ve written, but it’s by no means my first major adventure in writing. I’ve been writing short fiction, articles, play scripts and assorted others very regularly for about the last six years. For the last 2-3 I’ve sent out lots of short fiction to oodles of magazines. I’ve had a lot of rejections. I don’t enjoy them; they can upset me; but I’ve kept writing. I’ve had acceptances, too. It’s not that I’m unsure or worried about how to publish, or that I am kicking over the traces because no one will ever publish my work; on the contrary I’ve made a firm decision for reasons which seem practical and sensible to me based on what I actually want to achieve. It’s not about trying to duck rejection.

      I wrote this post because I realise that, however sensible and practical my reasons seem to me, it’s damn scary to do it all alone. That’s where I’m having the trouble: sheer terror. I can get the writing done; can I do the rest? We’ll see.

      About querying. When I think back over the last couple of years and try to total up the numbers of hours I’ve spent researching magazines, writing cover letters and simply processing submissions over and over, I’m horrified to think of how much time I’ve essentially wasted on that for very little return. If I’d spent that time writing more fiction I could have finished a novel before now. I’m not keen on doing it all again with agents. In my opinion, for the purposes I have in mind, this is a waste of time. Right now I’d rather quit submitting to magazines and finish my current novel. After that, I plan to forget about wasting time trying to get some third party to agree to take total control of my work in return for a pittance and spend the time writing the next book instead.

      Thanks for the comments.

      • mapelba says:

        Thanks for the reply. Knowing more about your publishing/writing life certainly puts a different light on things. Of course, fair enough if you consider that time writing queries, etc, wasted, but I tend not to look at these things that way. It was all part of your learning process, and you’d probably think differently about publication and your writing if you hadn’t gone through it.

        Are things only worthwhile if you get what you wanted?

      • Charlotte says:

        This is about the benefits of hindsight, I suppose. You’re right that no experience is actually wasted; everything is useful somewhere, somehow. That’s a healthy attitude to take when one has pursued something that hasn’t worked out the way one hoped. From that perspective, all the time I’ve spent submitting to magazines wasn’t entirely wasted, it just had a quite different benefit to the one I’d hoped for. The sensible thing to do at this point is to try to learn from that and take a different approach in the future.

  • opheliajasmin says:

    fortune favours the brave!

  • First, on the driving thing: living on the west coast of the US, it’s always jarring to remember that for most of the world driving isn’t a necessity. There’s just so much space between everything here, that you’re virtually pinned down without it. Shame.

    Second, though, the necessity of writing for years is always such a dark hurdle – so, you must spend a decade, at least, writing the garbage out of your system, finding your voice, and then you may find out, oops, you’re not very good. Sorry! The question I always ask myself is, would I do it anyway? If I was bad? If no one ever read any of it?

    Usually the answer’s yes…

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Byron. I’ve never been to the US but I do have a settled impression of it as composed of spaces the size of the UK connected up at the edges, with a few houses in between. I guess it would be difficult to be afraid of driving under those circumstances, unless one is, as you say, content to spend all of one’s life pinned down in the middle of an open space the size of Scotland.

      I like that ‘usually’. Usually I agree: I’ve been writing stuff since well before it even occurred to me to think about publishing and I’m sure I’ll still do it whatever happens. This conviction only wavers on days when I’ve run out of chocolate.

      Thanks for visiting! By the way congrats on being (what’s the stupid term) ‘freshly pressed’. It’s nice to see something on that page that’s actually amusing.

  • Kathleen says:

    Charlotte,

    I, too, am an absurdly anxious person, and when I’m not worrying that I’m just not good enough to transport people into a new world and a new way of looking at things, I’m worrying that I’m not enough of a natural salesperson to do the work necessary to get a novel, self-published or otherwise, into readers’ hands–beyond those of my friends and family, of course.

    And how funny that you, like me, usually forgo the victory dance in favor of worrying over the next challenge.

    My son (at least, I think he’s my son; sometimes I’m not so sure) is completely different. He LAUNCHES himself into every new challenge. Fear and anxiety have no place in his life. When he wins, the victory dance lasts for hours, at the very least. I’d like to grow up to be more like him.

    But for those of us who do battle with fear, the key is to just keep on battling, as you did with getting your driver’s license. Keep on, despite all the terrible thoughts and shaking hands. Buy the gallon jug of Pepto Bismal (stomach remedy, if you don’t have it there), and just keep moving. Eventually we get our victories, along with all of the rejection. And then, Charlotte, when you do publish that novel, I expect a length victory dance to appear on your blog! We’ll all be so excited with you.

    How far along are you on your novel, anyway?

    Hugs,
    Kathleen

    • Charlotte says:

      Hello Kathleen,

      Your first paragraph nicely expresses the simple fact that… there are infinite numbers of things to worry about. Always. I don’t know about you, but when one problem goes away I can always find three more to worry about, instantly, without even having to think about it. Sad.

      It’s possible that this tendency of ours has its upsides – after all, we are certainly focused on the challenges. As long as we can get round the anxiety and get the necessary jobs done, I think it can translate into greater drive. It’s just a shame about the intense, relentless stress part. No matter how much I try to talk myself out of it (and I do know, rationally, that it’s an absurd and damaging habit), I can never stop doing it altogether.

      How curious that your son is so completely different. It suggests that some of the broader personality traits are intrinsic from birth, though not necessarily passed on genetically. I am told I was always shy and timid, even as a small child. I can believe it. If only it were possible to learn the trick of not worrying, simply by observation.

      I’m putting ‘lengthy victory dance’ on my agenda for when I finish the draft. I’d better, because knowing me the instant I finish the draft I’ll instantly start worrying about the edit. I’ll write this entry in big, red letters and plan the cake party in advance (there’ll be photos).

      The novel is about two-thirds done. I promoted it to priority one recently, so I’m now doing 10-15k on it per week. I really want that draft done so I can feel like I’ve accomplished the bulk of my goal.

      Thanks so much for the detailed comments and kind words. I hope your own novel is progressing well, and I’ll echo what you said – victory dance should be on the agenda for you too!

  • Beautiful, Charlotte. Courage is a gorgeous thing.

  • Pam Parker says:

    I used to fear so many things — including rejection — but, and I’ve blogged about this before — there’s nothing quite like a dose of cancer to put other fears in a very different perspective. You can and will complete your novel and see it through to publication. Don’t stop believing that. That’s not to say it will be easy, but try not to fear the process, enjoy it.

    • Charlotte says:

      That’s an interesting point of view. Too true that most of these worries are trivial, in the scheme of things (a phrase I hate, but nonetheless). I can honestly say I do enjoy the writing, even if aspects of it are scary. Once I get into just producing words, I get carried away and stop thinking of the end product or its intended fate. Otherwise I’d probably have driven myself mad and given it up by now. I ought to try to translate that attitude out into the rest of the process too, and feel that way even when I’m not writing.

      Thanks for the encouragement, Pam.

  • DarcsFalcon says:

    Sure it’s scary! Putting your work out there for others to see is always daunting.

    Driving can be too. The thought of strapping yourself into a 2-ton rocket and trying to be in control of it can be pretty frightening!

    Life is scary. Every day, you never know from the moment you get up to the moment you fall asleep, what might hit you, might happen to a loved one.

    Go for your dream sweet Charlotte. You might succeed, you might fail. You won’t know unless and until you try, right? And it’s worth it. I know this too – even if it fails and the dream dies, you will find other dreams. 🙂

    • Charlotte says:

      That’s nicely put: a 2-ton rocket is exactly what it feels like. Add all the other 2-ton rockets careening around and it’s pretty terrifying. I always feel like everyone else is completely unconcerned by it, but that’s probably not true.

      Thanks for the encouraging comments 🙂 No doubt it’s better to try, whatever happens, than leave oneself wondering forever what might have come of it!

  • I feel exactly the same way as I sit here looking at my completed novel that sits upon my desk.

    Also, I have a recurring dream about a tornado. It seems always to come into my subconscious after a bit of conflict in my life. It petrifies me and awes me simultaneously.

    So maybe that’s how we’ll feel as we embark on the wild world of publishing, no matter which way we end up going.

    🙂

    • Charlotte says:

      Will it feel like stepping willingly into the middle of a tornado? Possible! I could blab on about rainbows and sunshine but that would be far too cliche for words, so I’ll just say… let’s hope it’s an invigorating ride, no matter what happens!

      I think it’s pretty apt to refer to publishing as ‘the wilds’.

  • Hi Charlotte –

    Fear can over-whelm the best of us (been there, done that) and consume our lives if we let us. Your fears of writing a novel and many novels one day, are admirable and filled with anxiety ridden concerns about being published. It’s also very doable.

    You must have faith in yourself and believe this is your desitiny (see my new blog: “Daydreaming to facilitate life and beyond!”). If you have vision then you shall see.

    I like your writing style and the manner in which you present yourself in the blog above. Nicely done! Happy Saturday to you. 🙂

    • Charlotte says:

      Hello Charlie,

      Thank you for the comments. I suspect that feeling consumed by fear is something that happens to many people; the trick is, as you say, to avoid being entirely swallowed by it. Certainly it’s imperative to make sure it never stops you from doing something worthwhile.

      Thanks so much for visiting. I’ll be checking out your blog soon. Happy weekend!

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