As some of you may know, I have a new short story out. It’s called “Cassie’s Story,” and it appears in the new online issue of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. (IGMS is edited by Edmund Schubert, who guest blogged here on magicalwords.net a couple of weeks ago. Also, coincidently, there’s a story in this same issue by Alethea Kontis, who was one of our earliest guest bloggers.) I’ve written a bit about the story on my own blogs and there should be a piece on Ed’s blog about it in the next week or two. That’s beside the point really. This isn’t a post about my story, per se.
Ever since the story went up on Tuesday, I’ve been having anxiety dreams about it. In the first one, I dreamt that Kirkus Reviews had done a piece on the issue and had praised all the other stories to the heavens, but had totally trashed mine. I mean savaged it. They called it the worst piece of crap they’d ever seen and said that they couldn’t believe a publication with Scott Card’s name on it had published such tripe. Woke up from that one feeling like I’d been run over by a truck.
Last night I dreamt about it again. This time in my dream all the stories had numbers next to them that indicated the number of times visitors to the IGMS site had clicked on the links to read them. Everybody’s story had a couple of hundred hits. Except mine, of course. Mine had, like, three. Waking up from that one was no picnic either.
I meet so many writers who are just starting out who have stories or novels that they like and feel are good, but who can’t bring themselves to send anything out. They fear rejection, as all of us do. They think that the story or book is really, really close, and that one more editorial pass ought to do the trick. Problem is, that editorial pass leads to the discovery of something that needs changing and then before you know it they’re rewriting the beginning, which forces them to rework the middle, which makes the ending a bit disjointed, and well, that means the piece needs some more work….
And so the story remains on their hard drive or in a drawer — some place no one else can see it.
I’ve published nine books and a few short stories. I’ve been a professional writer for more than a decade. And I’m having anxiety dreams about my newest piece of short fiction. I can tell you without hesitation that the feelings of insecurity never go away. I always think that the next thing I publish will be my last, that finally the world will wake up and realize I have no business being a professional. Writing is a scary business. Not only is it a tenuous career path, not only is the work lonely and hard, but it’s also just plain frightening to pour my heart and soul into a piece and then put it out there for the world to see. Because every unkind word about my work strikes at the very core of my existence. A bad review, be it in Publisher’s Weekly or on Amazon.com, does more than denigrate my art. It confirms for me every doubt that I harbor already.
But here’s the thing. I write because I believe I have something to say. I write because I believe that other people will enjoy reading my stories. So in spite of the bad dreams, the insecurity, the fear, the absolute certainty that someone is going to hate what I’ve written, I send stuff out anyway. And if I can do it, so can you. I’m not particularly brave. I’m just arrogant. I’ve learned to say, “I don’t give a crap if Kirkus hates this. (And they’ve hated more of my books than they’ve liked.) And I don’t care if readers pan it on Amazon. (I’ve gotten plenty of bad Amazon reviews.) I’m going to put this out there because I think it deserves to be read.”
No one is going to buy that story in your drawer unless you send it out into the world to be read and, yes, judged. Yeah, rejections hurt. So what? Believe me when I tell you that the joy of one sale is enough to offset the pain of twenty rejections. The fear never really goes away, but neither does that sense of accomplishment. You write because you love it; you write because you think you have something to say. Faith has said that you’re not really a writer until you finish something: a story, a novel, something. I’ll add to that: you’re not an author until you’ve published. And you’re not going to publish until you put your words on the line and say, “Read this! Judge it! I think it’s worthy, and damnit, so should you!” So stop polishing and reworking, and take a chance.