On Writing and New Year’s Goals: Conquering Our Inner Demons


Happy 2012, all!  Like A.J., I usually begin my year with a new set of goals and plans.  I bring high hopes and great ambitions to every new year, and I was glad to have the chance to list my goals for 2012 in response to A.J.’s Friday post.  Chances are, if he hadn’t written a Resolutions/Goals post, I would have.

But I have to admit that my thinking about this coming year in particular is somewhat different than it has been on New Year’s Days past.  2012 will mark the launch of the Thieftaker series and the “career” of D.B. Jackson.  With the single exception of my very first year as a published author (Children of Amarid was released in May, 1997) this is the most important year of my professional life.  And as this year dawns, I find myself thinking less about specific goals and more about matters of comportment and temperament, about my long-term emotional health and the ways in which I deal with both successes and setbacks.

For me, it’s quite easy to say “I’m going to write two short stories this month,” and then sit down and do it.  It’s a good deal more difficult to say, for instance, “I am too sensitive to criticism of my work.  I need to develop a thicker skin,” and then put that level of change to work.  But that’s what I’m going to try to do in this post and in the year to come.  Who’s with me?

Let’s start right there:  I really am too thin-skinned, even now, after so many years in the business.  I understand that nothing I write will ever be perfect, particularly not in its first draft.  I seek out critiques of my books and stories, because as a professional I understand that such feedback is vital to the creative success of whatever I write.  But criticism hurts.  There, I said it.  It hurts when people tell me what is wrong with my work, and though I know that like the needle prick of an inoculation, this pain is good for me, that doesn’t mean I like it.  That’s natural, I know.  The problem comes when I allow one critique or another to send me into an emotional tailspin, to knock me out of my writing routine for two or three days, or more.  I can tell myself to grow up, to get over it, but really that misses the point too.  I have blithely written in this space that you all should take rejection and criticism not as a sign of failure, but rather as a stage in an artistic negotiation.  The creative process is long and difficult, and you need to commit to it for the long haul.  This is what I tell you.  The truth is, I have a terribly difficult time taking my own advice to heart.  What is the answer?  I honestly don’t know.  But I believe it boils down to a deeper issue:  I need to have greater faith in my abilities, my talent (though I hate that word), my voice.  I need to believe — truly, in the very depths of my soul — that while an individual story or book of mine may have flaws that need fixing, those imperfections do not constitute an indictment of my standing as a writer.

Related to this is something that a surprising number of professionals deal with every day.  Some call it a writer’s version of impostor syndrome:  the feeling that no matter how many books and stories we publish, we remain merely one step away from being revealed as frauds.  I deal with this constantly, and I think it lies at the root of nearly all my professional insecurities.  I am convinced that any day now the entire publishing world is going to wake up to the fact that I’m actually just a hack.  A delegation of publishing professionals, perhaps the senior editors of every sf/fantasy imprint in the country, will show up at my door dressed (as I picture it) in uniforms that bear a striking resemblance to those worn by John, Paul, George and Ringo for the jacket photos of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and after stripping the ISBN numbers from every one of my books, will demand that I return every penny that I’ve earned from writing over the years.  All kidding aside, the insecurities are real, and if I accomplish nothing this year except to conquer them, I’ll consider 2012 an unqualified success.

Publishing is, as we have told you all again and again, a very difficult way to make a living.  I won’t bother enumerating all the things that make it so — suffice it to say that the MW archives are filled with articles that do just that.  I believe, though, that I tend to make it harder on myself than I need to.  I allow good news — a decent review or improved numbers from my publisher’s royalty or marketing department — to make me ridiculously happy.  “Well, what’s wrong with that?” you might ask.  In truth, if my emotional extremism was limited to this, it wouldn’t be a problem.  But the yang to my good news yin is that I allow every setback to weigh on me too heavily.  Just as criticism of a manuscript can ruin my mood for days, so too can a bad review or a disappointing royalty statement.  Somewhere along the line, early, early, early in my career, I convinced myself that my professional trajectory would forever point upward.  I was naive and hopelessly optimistic and dead wrong.  This is a roller coaster ride, and the only way to survive is to learn to temper excitement and stave off despair.  Bad reviews will inevitably follow good ones, and will always be followed by more positive ones.  Publishing is like the weather in New England:   Don’t like it?  Wait ten minutes and it’ll change.  I should know this.  I DO know it.  I just forget it all the time.

I could go on, but this is already too long.  I do want to say, though, that I did not write this post in the hopes of hearing praise of my work or assurances that I am not, in fact, a hack.  Really.  I’m convincing myself of that on my own, and will continue to do so throughout the coming year.  Rather, my point was to show that even those of us who have enjoyed some success in the field continue to grapple with issues of self-confidence; we are still learning to control our fears, to find the balance between realistic ambition and (to borrow a phrase from Alan Greenspan) irrational exuberance.  I’ve set myself tasks for this year — I have books to write, manuscripts to sell.  But I also have deeper goals that demand my constant attention.  They may prove more difficult to achieve, but the payoff will be far greater than anything else I’ll do this year.

What about you?  What holds you back in your creative work?  How will you try to overcome these hindrances in 2012?

David B. Coe

30 comments to On Writing and New Year’s Goals: Conquering Our Inner Demons

  • Mikaela

    My biggest problem is my lack of self-confidence. I like the stories I write, but I always have a niggling doubt that other will. But this year I will submit a short story to the anthology Scott Oden is putting together. Have I written zombies before? Nope. Historical fiction? Nope. But it is a challenge, and I have an idea that I like :). So I’ll give it a try.

  • Lady Ash

    The broad-shouldered behemoth of an inner demon I carry around is Perfectionism. Nothing I write is ever good enough for someone else to see unless it is something I dashed off in like a half-hour and thus it’s obviously just trash and letting someone see the trash is no big deal because it comes with a disclaimer of its trashhood.

    Yet when I submit things and they come back: “Well, it just wasn’t what we were looking for”; “Decent story, but just not for us”; etc. I take that as: “See you sent it out to early, it wasn’t good enough. You idiot.” Then I won’t submit that story, or anything else, for a month or more. A vicious cycle and maybe part of the reason I’m not published yet.

  • David,
    I might just say “sing it, sister!” and leave it at that, but you know I won’t 🙂 You and I have talked enough for you to know I feel this as accutely as you do, that every year as a writer is, for me, a roller coaster of elation and despair which can turn (especially when nudged by a review, by surging or crashing sales numbers etc) in a moment. Contrary to my earluier assumptions, it doesn’t go away either. Like you, I thought publishing was all about getting your foot in the door and then drifting up in the hot air balloon of your talent. Little did I know that my balloon would often be deemed the wrong shape, was full of holes, or had drifted into what seemed to be an antiaircraft artillery range… But I will add this: being thin-skinned is not so bad, in writing or in life. Yes, it can be excruciatingly painful, but there’s truth to the old adgae that feeling pain lets you know you’re alive. Writers have to be alive. They have to expose themselves to the whips and scorns of time because the emotional highs and lows are central to what we do and who we are. Without exposing our inner selves, without risking the pain of rejection, we calcify and lose the capacity to be truly good at what we do. That might not be the same as successful, of course, but I think most of us strive to be good first, and successful second. I know you do. So yeah, it’s going to hurt. But don’t strap on the armor just yet, my fiend. Some pain is worth it.

  • OakandAsh

    “Yes, it can be excruciatingly painful, but there’s truth to the old adage that feeling pain lets you know you’re alive.
    Some pain is worth it.”

    I have been mostly lurking on MW for the past year, quietly absorbing the wisdom everyone – the contributing writers and those who comment-generously share. This may be the most valuable thing I have read, from a purely personal standpoint.
    Thank you David for bringing the topic to light and thank you AJ for the inspiration.

  • Mikaela, it sounds as though you’re working on the self-confidence, and that’s half the battle right there. Submitting to the anthology is a great idea. Best of luck!

    Lady Ash, that cycle sounds particularly nasty, and your diagnosis makes a great deal of sense. But — and I say this knowing that it’s going to sound like pap — making that diagnosis is a huge first step toward finding the cure. If you recognize the problem, you can break out of the cycle. Nothing — NOTHING — is ever going to be perfect. Not my book or story, not Stephen King’s, not Cormac McCarthy’s, not yours. Striving for perfection as an ideal might sound like a good idea, but even that can become debilitating. Write the best story you can and send it out, understanding that rejection is part of the business. Keep at it!

    A.J., thanks for this. Your point about pain is well taken, though I also think that the line between feeling alive and feeling battered and thus unable to function artistically, is a tenuous one. Rejection and criticism (not the good kind that comes from Beta readers, but the annoying kind that comes from reviewers) can make us stronger, more determined. It can feed the creative fire. But as soon as it becomes something that hinders output instead of spurring it, it ceases to be of value. So I’ll skip the all-body kevlar for now, but I might still strap on some chain mail and hoist a shield, just to guard myself from the worst of it. And I love it when you call me “my fiend,” but I thought we agreed to keep the pet names private for now….

    Oak, many thanks for delurking and joining our discussion. Nice to see you again. Glad you found the post helpful; and yes, A.J.’s comment was both eloquent and inspiring.

  • David> God, I know how you feel. I wonder if your background in academia contributes to “impostor syndrome.” I certainly have it in both writing and professoring, and in editing, which I think I’m starting to do more seriously. My current thing that is holding me back is this: what if I work hard, and submit something, and it gets rejected? Then it’s done. How in the world do I start over from that. If I don’t submit it, it’s still a world of possibilities of yes. Now, I know that’s stupid, and I’m getting over it (hence my goal of submitting to agents this year, and by Feb 1.), but it is still hard. I think it is related to the “impostor syndrome.” I felt like a total impostor at Con Carolinas on panels, despite the fact that I was (and am) an editor at a press. It never goes away, I think, but I learned to ignore it. And to remember that a lot of people feel that way.

    AJ> Can I just be a little snarky for just a moment? Thanks. 🙂 I do get the “pain lets me know I’m alive” and that’s why I drive spikes into my body every day… wait… no, I don’t. Pain is inevitable. (As Wesley from the Princess Bride said: life is pain, anyone who tells you different is selling something.) And the best thing one can do with pain is learn from it and use it in positive ways, as you say. That does not, however, make pain an inherently good thing. In fact, if it is okay with the universe (I know it’s not), I’d like to try a little experiement. How about, in 2012, I try to figure out if *pleasure* lets me know I’m alive. If the experiment goes correctly, I’ll get a ton of pleasure (we’ll go with things that feel good emotionally at the forefront: good things happening in my life, etc.) and, in a year, I’ll let you know if i feel as alive as I did when I felt pain.

    I wonder if “struggle” is a better word. Or even “failure.” I’ve learned most when I’ve struggled or failed. (I’ve learned from success, too–in fact, I’ve learned from success that struggle is often worth it.) Of course, that’s just playing a sematnic game, as struggle and failure are also often painful. I’m rejecting, I think, the glorification of pain as good. Sometimes, really, the answer “this will make you stronger” deserves a slap in the face, not a “thanks.” Sometimes the pain really is only suffering and shouldn’t happen. Granted, that’s probably NOT the pain we get in this business, but the “it will make you better,” may need to be delayed for the “I’m so sorry–” and “it’s okay to grieve.” (Yes, even grieve short stories or novels not selling, not getting the royalties, not getting the promotion or the new job, etc…)

  • Emily, I certainly felt the impostor thing as an academic, but it felt somewhat familiar even then. I wonder if it’s not simply inherent to those of us who harbor insecurities. It’s just that professions like writing and academia, which demand that we be “out there” all the time, make it that much more acute. Does that make any sense? I agree with your comment about pain, and please, please, please sign me up for the “2012 Year of Pleasure” Tour. Sounds like something I need desperately….

  • Vyton

    Great post, David. My SO wants to frame it and hang on the wall at my desk. And, A J, was the Prince of Denmark voicing the very real feelings of his author about writing as well as about life? Pea Fairie, I think Wesley has a very Zen approach going there. Pain is inevitable, but how you deal with it determines whether or not you suffer. Easy to say. I have also been holding onto the potential.

  • Cindy

    This isn’t just something that writers need to come to terms with. It is a fact of life for all creative enterprises. My friend’s daughter is successful television actress in LA. She has been in TV movies and shows, been a regular in “True Blood”, etc. This actress could tell you that you never know if you will get another job.

    So I don’t have an answer either. That’s what makes it so scary for me to send out submissions. I have to force myself to do it.

  • I was going to pass on commenting this time, but as I was refilling my coffee cup, it occurred to me that we writers are a strange breed, indeed. So many of us willingly admit to a lack of self-confidence, and yet, we are also the epitome of confidence. We create worlds and people and make them real. Who but the Ghods do that? We take our innermost fears and beliefs and put them on paper for all the world to see. Who but the bravest are willing to share so much?

    Yes, we quail at the thought that no one will like what we’ve written; that someone will laugh at our naked selves; that we’ve made a few errors in transferring our souls to paper. We become giddy when someone reads what we’ve written and smiles, or sits back to think about what we’ve said. Or sends us a check.

    We do what so many others are incapable of, or unwilling to do. And I’m not talking about writing – that part is easy. I’m talking about what is tucked in between the words, behind the story, under the scenery, inside the characters. We share our innermost selves and we shove it the door for others to pass judgement on. When we get a rejection or bad review (or even a critique, sometimes) it *hurts.* We try to tell ourselves to remember that those comments are aimed toward the story, the writing style, our ability to connect noun to verb, and that they are NOT directed toward the author.
    We lie to ourselves. If those comments didn’t hurt we’d be the hacks David spoke of. Sgt Pepper’s Imposter Patrol would show up on our doorsteps.

    I’m okay with the emotional roller coaster of being a writer because it means I have invested a good part of myself into the tale. I think, when the roller coaster stops, so will I.

  • Vyton, thanks. I should probably print it out and put it above my desk, too. Thanks for the comments.

    Cindy, I agree completely. My brother is a professional artist — a painter — and he deals with these issues all the time, despite his enormous talent and the success he’s enjoyed. We all force ourselves to put stuff out there — and it really does get easier to take the chance each time, even if the pain of rejection remains a risk.

    Lyn, thank you for commenting. What a wonderful, inspiring response; I agree with every word. I’m grateful to you for your insights; I admire your passion for and commitment to this craft.

  • Unicorn

    Thanks for the post, David. This year, I want to squash the voice in my head that keeps saying, “What do you think you’re doing? Trying to write something publishable? Are you out of your mind? You’re fourteen. Real writers have been published for longer than you’ve been alive! What do you know about anything? Wait ten years. Wait twenty. Then, perhaps, you can call yourself a writer.”
    The trouble is, I know that it’s got a point. Half of me wants to take its advice and live another twenty years before trying to submit anything. The other half keeps dreaming, keeps my fingers on the keyboard and my head in other worlds.
    Can I write something publishable, right now? No. And how about later? I have no idea. I guess I’ll just have to keep on going. So this year, I’ll try my best to write more than ever before, and to write better, to finish those drafts, to write that short story.
    Thanks again.

  • Razziecat

    Knowing that professional, published authors have the same fears that I do makes me think maybe I really do have a chance to become one of them. It takes courage to admit those fears. And Unicorn, I have 40 years on you and I just want to say: GO FOR IT. I can still remember being 14. I think that was the age when I realized how much I loved writing.

    And here’s a funny thing. I’ve worked at my day job for 33 years. I’ve handled work that many other people in the office were afraid to do because they thought they couldn’t handle the pressure and get the details right. I always felt like I was bluffing my way through, that eventually everyone would realize I wasn’t very good at it. Recently I realized: I’m good at my job. I’ve spent a long time here, I’ve paid my dues, I know what I’m doing. It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I can say “damn, I’m good!” So come on, everybody…Say it with me now…:)

  • Unicorn, I’m glad this post helped. I think that you’re right to take a realistic view of your writing future. You have plenty of time, and will find it easier to write publishable material and interest agents and editors in you and your work as you get a bit older. On the other hand, judging by the thoughtfulness of your comments and the ease with which you write them, I would say that if any 14 year-old can get a story or book published it’s you. So keep at it and don’t assume that you can’t do it sooner than others have. I can say with complete confidence that you’re much further along than I was at your age. Glad you’re a part of the MW community.

    Razz, thanks for this. Great comment. I had a moment the other day like the one you describe — a brief one, no doubt, but I felt that same clarity, that same sense of “You know, I really am pretty good at this.” It’s those brief glimpses that make the longer times of self-doubt a little easier to take.

  • Julia

    David, thanks for such an insightful and self-revealing post. Like Peafarie, I have found my own sense of imposter syndrome powerfully augmented by academia. For the most part, my response to anxiety has been to actively cultivate friendships and professional relationships with people who I like — and who I feel like me, as a person, regardless of my work.

    Peafarie, I so identify with your statement: “If I don’t submit it, it’s still a world of possibilities of yes.” I’ve learned that my nervousness about a project ratchets up as soon as I start thinking about sending it in. I guess I’ve just been identifying this as a common feeling, something that happens to me at a specific point in my process, that isn’t about the work itself. I make a plan for what I will do if my submission results in a rejection, and then I send it out. This cycle has been really aided by my partner’s generosity in listening to my angst and, often, lovingly pointing out that this is really the “same old.”

    Like David, I’d also like to sign up for the “staying alive through pleasure” plan. 🙂

  • What’s holding me back? Hmm…fear.

    Okay, the longer version of that goes something like this – when I hit a snag in a plot, in a dialogue, etc the sneaking suspicion that my inevitable failure has finally caught up to me creeps in. if I push past it, it goes away and the work gets done. If I don’t I either go blank, push the work away and promise to work on it “later” or I second guess everything I’m doing and end up with a blank page or a half finished work.

    I think I have to keep practicing what I learned in grad school – success is good, get it if you can. But sometimes the best you can do is to fail well, that is with integrity and effort. If I fail because I gave up and didn’t finish then I just failed. If I failed because my best effort didn’t work, then I failed well. I can build on that to do better next time.

  • Julia, thanks for the kind comment. Academia is a tough gig — tougher than most people know. I think you’ve got the right idea re. building professional relationships. So much of what my colleagues and I here at MW get out of this site is that same sense of professional camaraderie. And yes, thank goodness for SOs who are supportive and understanding.

    Sarah said, “But sometimes the best you can do is to fail well, that is with integrity and effort.” This. This, this, this. Thanks, Sarah. Brilliant.

  • Pea_faerie hit it – I still feel like such an imposter. Up until the day my book actually came out, I couldn’t help worrying that I’d only been published because my agent and my editor are friends. The logical portion of my psyche knows that’s ridiculous, but it’s drowned out by the emotional side. That’s what holds me back, the part of me that believes all the negative hype I pile on myself. My family and friends can tell me I’m great, but in the end, I have to tell myself. And I have to mean it, because I can tell when I’m lying.


  • Oh, confidence. Um. Well, a few months ago I mentioned to Stuart about how I sometimes throw myself off a cliff into a natural canyon pool … 😀

    I’ve battled with low self-esteem my entire life. I’m not sure what I can say except that I’ve learned, for the most part, to deal with criticism and rejection in two parts: One, to vent my anger/frustration/upset. (Usually privately, thankfully.) For me, this can a furious workout at the gym or a good cry. The workout is something I’m trying to push myself toward more often, but can’t always be done *scowls at sprained ankle*. I also came to terms with the fact that however mature I can try to be, I can and do cry easily. And I should not be ashamed of that.

    Two, if it’s something that can be fixed (at least in the pre-publication stage) I then take a deep breath and ask, “Okay, what can I do to fix this?” And then I feel okay again. I won’t change things to the point where I compromise myself, but I like trying to make things work. (Maybe Two doesn’t entirely apply post-publication, though.)

    The only other thing that helps is that I’ve committed myself to being an optimist. Which doesn’t mean that I can’t be negative, just that generally my attitude trends to half-full. 🙂

  • Tim True

    So there are others out there who feel as if they will be found out as frauds? For the first ten years of my marriage I had a recurring nightmare, if you want to call it that. I dreamed that I would wake up, wake my wife up, look her in the eye, and say, “Honey, we’ve got to stop pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. Let’s get married.” By this time we had four kids and had been happily married for a long time. But there’s that subconscious fear that it’s not–that I’m not–for real.

    As for your question about making time for creative productivity, David, that’s just it. I ain’t got much spare time. Maybe when seminary’s done and the kids are off to college . . .

  • Alan Kellogg

    In my case it’s staying focused. Fortunately I have a nudge I see every Tuesday, and she should get me back on track.

  • sagablessed

    What holds me back? Wow. Such a question could be asked at the end of one’s life on the Fields of Idavol. I would say three things: fear that my work is not good enough. To know others have the same fear is small consolation, yet at the same time a great comfort.
    2)Procrastination. I am a great procrastinator. I let my mind be distracted by either external stimuli, or the minutia of what I am writing. I also get sidetracked by ideas for other books that need to be written. Like Arthurian legend taken from POV of the Lady of the Lake…save ‘she’ is a transexual fey. Or a boy who discovers he is the last Scion of Anwnn. Or a lesbian vampire who helps the Merlin in modern San Diego, or or or….*sigh* All contribute to the feeling of, “Oh, [fart], I need to get my current WIP done!!” It is something that adds to my feeling of incompetence about meeting a deadline. Which adds to the fear of ‘I am not good enough’.
    But when I put my nose to the grindstone and do the work, everything seems to just fall into place. Characters, dialogs, settings, and just bloody doing it.
    But I feel my first serious WIP is my testing ground. If I can finish this, then I have what it takes, no matter what others may say. To know published and yet-unpublished authors have or have had the same fears as I makes the business seem more human. And that makes me more human, and thus able to utilize what gifts I have been given.
    So thank you all for sharing. (And pardon my rambling a bit. I haz a new puppy, who gets me up at all hours. Oy vey! Especially when the holiday fireworks and noises were around. He is a brat, but as all pet owners know, they are our animal children, lol.)

  • jiah

    I think there’s something that holds me back from actually writing, from getting words down on paper. And thanks to your introspective post, David, I’ve been trying to do some introspection myself.

    Around 10 years ago, when I was in my late teens, I was extremely confident about both my worldview and my writing abilities. Whatever I wrote, there were friends, family members (except for my non-rod-sparing mother) and teachers who would praise me and deem me a “budding genius”, heh! This made me overconfident on the one hand — I thought writing was something that came “naturally” to me, that I didn’t have to sit down and slog in order to write good stuff! Sheer confidence, enthusiasm and passion drove me to write reams and reams of poetry, short fiction, scripts, etc. On the other hand, it made me extremely prickly towards criticism. Each time I received a half-way negative comment, I would feel as if my whole universe was crumbling down.

    Once I went to college for my Master’s, however, my worldview and convictions were challenged and almost shattered to bits. Since the stories I wrote were so tied to my convictions, and since my aesthetics was intricately related to my politics, this was a terrible blow to me as a writer. For the last several years, I have been trying to build up my convictions anew and to re-form myself as a writer. I realized that, after several months of not writing, writing didn’t come “naturally” to me any longer. I had to learn to sit down and slog, to learn to discipline myself.

    Right now, my greatest challenge seems to be to simply put down in words the stories that are taking shape in my head. Several people here mentioned the fear of being rejected or aggressively criticized after submission. I’m in a worse state, I fear. It’s as if I’m afraid that the words I write won’t match my own expectations. I guess there’s no cure for it but to keep writing. And sharing. And writing. And it’s here that my earlier, cocky assessment of myself as someone “born to write” becomes useful. Stripped of its cockiness, I use it now as a talisman to convince myself that, yes, I will be a writer, and that the only way to be a writer is to write.

    Unicorn, I seriously envy you, as much for your ability for calm self-reflection and realistic self-assessment as for the quality of the stuff you write. After the events I mentioned, I’ve seen too many talented young writers who were called “budding geniuses” in their teens (friends, friends’ siblings, etc.) simply atrophy due to their overconfidence. When I was a teenager, I used to be angry with my mother for telling me not to publish. She always used to try and dissuade me, saying it would spoil me. I think nowadays I’m getting to understand what she meant.

  • Thank you David for your post. In 2012 my goal is to just write. I share some of the same fears you do, as well as many other writers. I’ll consider my year a success if I can just write the darn stories in my head. I procrastanate for fear of failure which ends up causing me to actually fail. I’ve had one short story published but, have not turned in anything since.

  • Unicorn

    David, Razziecat, Jiah, thank you so much for your encouraging words. Without Magical Words’s articles, my writing would be far, far worse than it is now. I’m glad to be a part of this.

  • David, I didn’t comment yesterday because I am soooo feeling this right now. Okay, I spent yesterday skating on the sharp blade of fear/depression/worry/joy/misery. Because even as you posted on Monday, Raven Cursed was coming out Tuesday. *This* morning. And I *know* there will be horrible reviews and great ones. I know the numbers will be good, but will they be good enough? And then I read this and started the tailspin, you talked about. Not because of anything you said, but just because it’s release day. And it’s terrifying. But thanks to your post I got myself together and made it through the day. I didn’t sleep last night. But I made it though. Thanks. It helps to have friends in the biz who understand, even as I am hiding with my head under the pillow.

  • At the moment, I have a couple demons I need to quell. I’ve done pretty well with keeping an open mind as far as accepting criticism. I still balk from time to time, especially things that I feel are just me and my style, but I’ve come a long way. I still have problems with form rejection, which bothers me more because I have no idea why it was rejected so I have no direction for fixing what might have been wrong, if anything. It bugs me more than it should.

    My biggest fear lately is what if everyone says, we like your writing, but it’s just not for us? What to do when all the people who specifically say they look for sci-fi romance says, “it’s good, but no thanks.” Tear the romance from it and send it to strictly sci-fi markets? Send it to everyone else and have them say, sorry, we don’t publish/represent that? Throw it in a corner, scream in rage, and smear poo on the walls? Self-publish? It’s a thought that takes up far too much of my thought processes and brings me down a bit, that niggling fear that I’ll run out of places to send the thing to that publish/represent that type of material.

    I’m not certain how to halt these, other than just gritting my teeth and barreling past, as I have been. I’ve always been a bit of a pessimist, and honestly, I really just need an acceptance. It would go a long way toward justification and positive reinforcement. I’m not giving up any time soon. Maybe around the middle of this year or so, when I have upwards of three full works sent out at the same time, I’ll have a better shot. We’ll see.

  • Misty, yeah. I can give myself pep talk after pep talk, but if I don’t really believe it, they don’t work at all.

    Laura, turning those feelings to action and trying to fix what needs fixing is often the best thing I can do for myself. And though it’s harder to fix stuff post publication, it’s not impossible (new editions, new formats often come with proofs that have to be edited…). As I’ve said before, EVERYTHING is a work in progress…

    Tim, I know the feeling — I often find myself wondering when Nancy is going to wake up and realize that she made a terrible mistake when she married me… As for time, we find it where we can. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Sometimes just setting aside one hour a day before the kids are up or after they’re in bed can make a huge difference in our creative lives.

    Alan, focus is good, and often aids with the procrastination issue. Read on…

    Saga, yes — the best cure for all these fears, for the tendencies toward putting things off — all of it — is simply to do the work. I find that when I think too much I get in trouble. Better just to write; that’s what I do best.

    Jiah, thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I have known that fear you describe — the sense that no matter what I write, it won’t be good enough to capture the story that’s in my head. It stopped me from writing for months at a time early in my career. And yes, the only way past it is to write, to say “screw it, I’m going to tell my story anyway.” Best of luck.

    Melissa, having a story published is great! Build on that! Use that affirmation to get past the fears and hesitation!

    Thanks for the kind words, Unicorn.

    Faith, I think that RAVEN CURSED is going to be huge, and I know it will be a terrific read. Can’t wait to see it. We do understand. All of us. And your buddies here at MW are ready to help get the word out about RC.

    Daniel, that’s one of the hardest parts about all this stuff. We can control the quality of our work, but we have no control whatsoever over the market — what it wants, what it doesn’t want, how it draws its boundaries around certain sub-genres. All you can do is write the best book possible and hope that even if it doesn’t match the market perfectly someone (an editor or agent) will recognize its potential and give you guidance on how to match your vision with what publishers want. Hope it works out for you this year!

  • My heart goes out to all of you for having the strength to voice your weaknesses and for finding ways to help each other through. Since you’ve all been so forthright, I suppose I’ll lay my fears/problem on the table.

    I stopped submitting queries for SHADOWSLAYER about half way through my agent list after I heard from a top agent that the story was too predictable and bogged down in ordinary details. The high concept also needed work as it was merely a rehash of previous tales. Instead of another major revision, I quit querying and trunked the novel.

    But the high concept comment has also slowed my revisions of SONG OF FURY because that book is not incredibly original. This has lead to doubting my creative ability and wondering if I’m cut out for writing. This is all very strange because up until that feedback, I thought I’d been progressing quite well and now I struggle with self-doubt more than ever.

    I’ve decided 2012 will be the year I push through this self-doubt, by revising Song of Fury and submitting it anyway. And I’ve been churning out ideas in an attempt to tap into stronger creativity and better high concept stories. Hoping that helps too.

    Good luck to you all in the new year. Conquer your fears, your doubts, and succeed.


  • Dave, thanks for the comment. I’m sorry to hear that you’re having a rough time. It’s important to keep in mind that “originality” — like any other quality in a manuscript — is a subjective attribute. Where one reader might see nothing new, others might see something totally fresh and exciting. Children of Amarid, my first book, was rejected by one publisher because it seemed “too familiar,” in other words, too unoriginal. Tor disagreed, and the book won me the Crawford Award. So don’t despair too much. If you feel that Song of Fury isn’t quite innovative enough, try changing something — the gender of a key character, an aspect of your magic system or worldbuilding, a plot thread. It may be that a single tweak will take the book where you hadn’t thought it could go. But do not give up. Best of luck in 2012.