It’s Halloween week, and as this is the season for all things spooky, I thought it might be fun to look at things that scare me. I’m not talking about big hairy spiders (like the Huntsman Spider in Australia that was in the bathroom one night when I got up to pee — it was sitting on top of the door and when I shut the door, it fell off and landed on my hand. I jumped up and back — simultaneously — about six feet, screamed like a little girl, and never, ever used the toilet again) or axe murderers (I have no colorful stories about them, though I think that if one fell on my hand as I closed a bathroom door, I’d freak out a little) or Dick Cheney. No, I’m talking about writer stuff that scares me professionally. Maybe some of these fears will sound familiar to you, too.
1. What if I run out of ideas? Most of the time I don’t worry about this one. I have lots of ideas, enough to keep me writing for the next five years or so. But beyond that, who knows? I do wonder what I would do with myself if my creative well ran dry — no more ideas, no more stories, no more books. It’s not something on which I like to dwell.
2. What if my books stop selling and I can’t get publishers to give me new contracts? This is the big one; the fear that keeps me up at night. It is for many writers. Because the truth is, there are no guarantees in this business. Most of us go through down times in our careers, when trying to sell books to publishers is as frustrating as panning for gold. You’ve read it here before: writers are only as successful as our most recent book — if one book tanks the next sale will be harder, and chances are our advances will go down. If a second book tanks, well, in today’s market that can be enough to kill a career.
3. What if I’m halfway through my newest work-in-progress and the narrative dies on me, leaving me with no way to tie things together? This one used to terrify me. Not anymore. It’s not that I’ve grown out of the problem or that it doesn’t happen to me anymore. Just the opposite. It happens with every book. I’m used to it. Eventually, I find the narrative thread again, get past the sticking point, and finish the book. The secrets, at least for me, are a) trusting my idea, and b) listening to my characters. More often than not, my original idea turns out to be sound. And if it turns out that I need to change something to make the book flow once more, my characters will let me know.
4. What if my editor and/or agent hates my manuscript? I worry about this with every book, though it has yet to happen. Now, to be clear, I have never once had my editor or agent say “David, this is perfect, don’t change a single word.” (Boy that would be nice.) They always have constructive criticisms and suggestions for how I might improve the manuscript. But they have never said, “Wow, this just sucks. Scrap it and start again.” Which, of course, doesn’t mean I won’t worry about this again when I hand in the current WIP.
5. What if reviewers hate the finished product? I worry about this one far less. Inevitably some reviewers will hate it; some will love it. When I was first starting out, I took every bad review to heart, even if the good reviews outnumbered the bad by three or four or ten to one. Now, not so much. I know when I’ve written a good book; I won’t allow a book to go to press if I don’t think it represents my best work. That is the measure I have to use in assessing my writing. Because pleasing every critic is impossible.
6. What if my next royalty statement sucks? This is another of those fears that strikes close to home for most writers. Because nearly every one of us has known the disappointment of a lousy royalty statement. I work hard to promote my books, and I have tried to accept that there is only so much I can do to have an impact on my overall sales. There is always one more blog post that I could write, or one more signing I could do, or one more bookstore I could visit. I can drive myself crazy trying to do everything possible, and I can spend so much time on promotion that I stop writing, stop seeing my family, stop sleeping and eating. Eventually, I have to say, “Enough. I’ve done what I can.” It’s hard, though. And I still sweat every new statement.
7. What if my newest story/book is rejected? Relax. It will be rejected. Seriously. And yes, that really is supposed to make you feel better. Rejection is part of the business. I have published more than a dozen novels and lots of short stories, and I still face rejection all the time. Sure it hurts. But the thing to remember is that rejection is not a verdict on your talent as a writer. It is not even a verdict on the quality of your story. Rejection means that one particular editor, on one particular day, did not feel like buying your particular story/book. That’s all. Yes, lots of rejections of the same piece may mean that it needs revision. But even that is not a verdict. Rejection, in the end, is a negotiation. The story/book is not working for this person, which may mean that it needs to be reworked. It does NOT mean that your story sucks. And it does not mean that you should stick it in a drawer and forget about it.
8. What if I am never published, despite all my hard work and my deep passion for writing? This is not my own, because I have been incredibly lucky. I know, though, that for so many aspiring writers, this is the big one (as opposed to number 2). I want to give you assurances that your break will come. I want to promise you that your hard work and talent will be rewarded eventually. But there are no guarantees in this business. I’m sorry for that. Truly I am. Please, please, PLEASE know that we here at MW are pulling for all of you and hoping that your big breaks are just around the corner. That’s why we maintain the site. Until then, BICHOK. Keep at it.
9. What if someone were to tell me tomorrow that I can no longer write for a living? For me, this would be the worst. It’s also never going to happen. Not because my sales are so amazing that I’ll always have publishing houses beating down my door, begging me to sign contracts. Far from it. Rather, it won’t happen because I refuse to give up. If I can’t sell one manuscript, I’ll write another. If I can’t sell to a big publishing house, I’ll go to a small publisher. If that doesn’t work, I’ll self-publish. Writing is hard, it can be scary, there are so many challenges that we face in today’s market. But I love what I do and I will not give it up.
So what do you fear? What is it about writing that scares you the most. Oh, and happy Halloween!David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com