Friday, October 26, 2012

Fear – Friend or Foe?

What are you afraid of?

Personally, I’m not fond of high places or lowly creatures with eight legs. Recently, a neighbor knocked on my door and showed me a tarantula in a gallon jar—he’d found it in my front yard. Yikes!  He told me it was a baby, but it was the size of a small animal, definitely too big to step on.

Fear touches all of us in one form or another, and the topic would fill volumes were we to explore its almost endless aspects. So let’s narrow it down to writing. As writers, what do we fear most?

Many might say “rejection.” From whom? Agents? Publishers? Readers? Fellow writers? Family and friends? Ourselves?

How can we reject ourselves? We do want to be writers, right? Any of the following comments—or thoughts—qualify as self-rejection:

Nobody will buy my book. How do you know? Has anybody read it in its final form? What does your editor say? Yes, you need an editor. Find one you feel comfortable with, check out the credentials, and budget the money to pay for editing. This is an investment in yourself and your future as a writer. Make the commitment to see your project through to the end . . . and listen to the advice of your editor with an open mind. You don’t have to apply every single suggestion, but be sure you understand why it was made and how the change will affect your story—and your sales—for the good.

I’ll never find an agent. Have you looked for one? Do you think an agent is the only route to publication? Have you explored other options such as independent publishing or small publishers that don’t require agent submission?

I just got another rejection letter. Do you know how many rejection letters Stephen King and other well-known authors received before finding the right agent/publisher? Take heart—you may not have yet found the “perfect” person to push your story. Or another publishing route may be the right fit for you.

I don’t even like my own book. Hmmmm. Is this an honest appraisal or another voice of self-doubt? If it’s honest, why don’t you like it? How can you make it likeable? Or have you read, reread, self-edited, rewritten, etc., until you’re just plain tired of looking at it? Put it away for a few weeks, get involved in something else, and go back to it once you can read it again with fresh eyes.

I need somebody else to sell my book after it’s published—I’m not a marketer. Learn. The game has changed. Even big houses don’t offer major marketing campaigns for many of their writers as they once did. This has become a do-it-yourself scenario where the author promotes his/her book. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds because writers have all sorts of tools at their disposal, beginning with numerous opportunities on the Internet and extending to niche markets and beyond. How many bookstores can match the daily visitors racked up by Amazon?

I’m afraid I’ll fail. That’s a common concern of writers, but there’s another side to the coin: Are you afraid you’ll succeed? Responsibilities and expectations come with success. Readers will want more books from you; bookstores, special interest groups, and libraries may invite you to speak or do signings; and continued sales may depend on your ongoing marketing efforts. Anonymity has its advantages, and celebrity has its challenges. You have to be on your best behavior in public if your photo appears on the cover of your bestselling book because others will recognize and judge you. On the other hand, the satisfaction of authoring a great book cannot be overrated.

Depending on how you handle it, fear can be a friend or foe. How so? If it inspires you to try harder, research more, write better, learn new skills, or any number of other positives that move you ahead in your writing career, it qualifies as a friend. If, on the other hand, it paralyses you into stagnation, indecision, and/or lack of growth and productivity, it becomes a major foe—a career-stopper that can permanently stifle your dream of becoming an author.

What is your greatest fear (or fears) about writing? How do you handle it?
Linda Lane and her editing team work with writers of varying experience and in a number of genres. Their goal is to leave each writer with greater knowledge of good writing and how to make a book “work.” Her new website, Linda’s Book Nook, is scheduled to debut before the end of the year, and it will offer a variety of perks for writers and readers. Watch the Blood Red Pencil for the announcement of its grand opening. Contact Linda and her team at

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  1. Linda: I love this two-sided approach to the topic of fear. Just read that George R.R. Martin hates his books by the time he's done with them, and I think he's had his fair share of success! Many artists in multiple media feel the same way. If we can just embrace it, fear keeps us honest to the task of making our work the best it can be.

  2. I began a tradition of celebrating each rejection slip as evidence that I had put my writing out there. That overcame my fear of rejection. But I don't think I will ever get over the fear, about midway through a writing project, that my writing's not good enough. I have to fight the urge to tear it up, which we literally used to be able to do instead of just hitting the delete button, and start all over again.

  3. Nice post, Linda. It really is nice to look at both sides of our fears.

    I had to laugh about the spider. Reminded me of when one of my friends stopped her car when a big spider was crossing the road. She was afraid to drive over it in case it got caught on the underside of the car and made it's way in.

    Your mention of having to worry about conducting ourselves in public if people recognized us, reminded me of another funny incident. Not long after I started writing my humorous column for a suburban newspaper, I ran to the grocery store in my oldest jeans and t-shirt and someone in the checkout line said, "Aren't you the Maryann Miller who writes that Gravy column?" Then she gave me one of those eye-sweeps that only some women can do. I was mortified. I don't think I had a stitch of make-up on and my hair was a mess. After that, my husband always asked why I dressed up to go grocery shopping.

  4. Kathryn, it occurs to me that taking a book from original draft to press-ready copy is a bit like a major home renovation. The finished product may bear little resemblance to the original, and the process is often lengthy, messy, painful, and, for some, intimidating enough to cause them to avoid it altogether. Embracing the fear of the process in order to enjoy the rewards of the revitalized home, however, is well worth the inconvenience and the effort involved to make it happen.

    Same with a book. Befriending fear instead of relegating it to foe status can make all the difference. As you say, it "keeps us honest to the task of making our work the best it can be."

  5. Patbean, I love your celebration of each rejection slip. What a cool idea! That midway fear, perhaps, needs a celebration, too -- when you move past it and charge forward toward the end of the story.

  6. Maryann . . . a spider big enough to get caught on the underside of a car??? Oh dear! Was that a Texas-size tarantula?

    Loved the story about getting "caught" at the supermarket without hair fixed and makeup in place. Ah, the price of fame.

  7. Have you read Tracy Kidder's book, "House"? He took both nightmares and turned them into a bestseller! It's his memoir about building a home.

  8. Building a home would, indeed, be a fear-inspiring project, definitely the stuff nightmares are made of. Bestseller? Can't think of a better way to reroute fear into a positive.

  9. One of my chapter members said there was a certain number each person had to be reached before being accepted for publication, but you wouldn't know which it was until you got there. Interesting approach.

    Morgan Mandel


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