The Fear Never Goes Away, So Face It


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 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, 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.


9 comments to The Fear Never Goes Away, So Face It

  • “I can tell you without hesitation that the feelings of insecurity never go away. ”

    I can second that. I finished reading “Kushiel’s Mercy” this weekend, and it was so very, very satisfying that now I feel like I’m Sisyphus, and my own writing is that boulder. How can I possibly write anything as good as that? And why should I bother trying?

    I’ll get over it. But at the moment, it’s awful dark around here šŸ˜€

  • Kenneth Mark Hoover

    One thing I often tell new writers is they must have the courage to fail if they ever want to be successful.

    Rejection is part of the process. It sucks, I agree, but that’s the business…red in tooth and claw as it were.

  • David, you may have just saved my sanity. I’m finishing a new book and all weekend all I could think was that I was a lousy writer and that I sucked beyond the telling of it. Thanks for reminding me that it isn’t just me.

    I so owe you a drink. Are you going to WorldCon this year?

  • >>Iā€™m not particularly brave. Iā€™m just arrogant.

    OMG. This is so true of me, too. It must be part of a writer’s psyche. Thanks David. I feel better already.

  • Thanks for the comments, all. For those of you reading these comments, every one of the authors who have commented above is published. Insecurity is universal.

    Mark: Yeah, if you want to write you can’t fear failure or rejection or criticism. You simply have to believe in your work.

    Misty and Faith: I’m there too with the WIP. I still like it, but the doubts are starting to creep in. Because I’m nearing that 2/3 mark that always trips me up.

    Which is where you are, right, Bev? That’s the toughest part for me. But on to more important matters: Yes, I’ll be at WorldCon, and you certainly can buy me a drink! šŸ™‚

  • Steph

    This was a great post for me since I just finished the reworking and reworking and reworking stage, and have finally started sending my project out. I’m feeling nervous about it, though it’s rewarding to actually be doing something and not just thinking about it. But I find myself wondering where the cut off is. Especially for the first novel, it needs to be the best it can be, right? So how do you know when to finally stop and get it out there?

    I’m glad to know everyone’s felt this way at some point. Maybe there’s hope for me yet šŸ™‚ Thanks to you guys for sharing your experiences.

  • I just finished getting rejected from a short story I sent in, my first real rejection. Bit of a pain, but I know that many better writers than I have faced worse so, I guess it’s like taking off a bandaid, you just have to rip it off and put up with a little pain, if you sit there and try to slowly lever it off it hurts more.

  • David,

    I don’t think the doubt will ever go away, you’re too human for it to be otherwise. But I gave up trying to figure out reviewers and critics a long time ago. Writing reviews is child’s play, any moron can do it. Creating something? That’s an entirely different story (if you’ll pardon a dreadful pun).

    And half the time they can’t even agree with each other. Stories that I publish in IGMS will get a bad review on one website, only to end up on some other website as one of that reviewer’s favorites of the year.

    And sometimes reviewers come in with their own baggage. The story I sold to OSC for the first issue of IGMS (back when the Big Man was still editing it himself) got a savage review. But then I found out shortly after that the reviewer had a personal problem with OSC and this guy apparently savaged everything connected with him.

    That was the day that I decided the two most important opinions were my own and that of the editor/publisher who was writing the checks. If I was happy with my work and the people in a position to pay me for that work were happy, that was all that really mattered. Easier said than done? Sure.

    Do good reviews make me smile and bad reviews give me stomach cramps? Of course; I’m a flawed human, too. Do the reviewers stop me from working or make me work differently, trying to please them? Never. They can all kiss my ass.

  • Steph: Yes, of course you want it to be as good as it can be. But there is also such thing as overworking a novel — there’s a balance between polishing off the rough edges and taking out so much of the spontaneity that it no longer has that passion that drove you to write it in the first place. At some point you have to send it out — it’s a leap of faith that each of us takes. Editors expect clean, not perfect.

    Natalie: It hurts every time, even after you’ve had lots of rejections. But as I said, the feeling you get from the sale is more than enough to offset those little blows to the ego.

    Edmund: Thanks for the great comment and the support. I’m not really too worried about the critics — I mean aside from the anxiety dreams and the palpitations and the ulcer….. As you say, I pleased the editor with my story (that being you) and I pleased myself with it. Nothing else is as important. Thanks again.