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 http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net