Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Fears of Finishing

Just about 10:00 PM on Monday night, I finished my novel.  

What sort of emotions would you expect a young writer to feel about her first great accomplishment?  Joy.  Relief.  Maybe a tinge of sorrow.  Well, I felt none of those things.  I felt like I was just finishing up another chapter.  I was hollow and a bit perplexed as to what to do next.  So I went to bed.

That night I couldn't sleep.  My insomnia gave me the first clue as to what my real feelings on finishing were.  Anxiety.

And why not?  After 9 1/2 years, 7 workshops and an independent study, 2 dozen reference books, 7 completed fanfictions, 14 short stories, 2 NaNoWriMos, 100 blog posts, thousands of pages, and countless mistakes, I think I know how to write.  But I knew nothing about publishing.

Two things you should do after completing a major project: celebrate and reflect.  While I've yet to celebrate, the wave of barely-suppressed panic told me I needed to reflect.  So, in this last week, I've been taking a close look at my fears and trying to form a plan.

What comes next isn't pretty, organized, or helpful.  It's just me dealing with my fears in their raw, natural state.

Fear # 1: What if no one wants to read my story?  

Some people write for themselves.  I don't.  I write because I want other people to read my stories.  And it kills me when people don't.  The worst insult you could give to my story is to call it boring.  And so I crammed my fantasy with as much epic-ness as I could squeeze into it.

But what if it's not enough?

Or maybe it's too much.  It's too long.  It's too complex.  It's too confusing.  People don't want a gourmet meal, they just want candy: something bright and shiny, easily consumed and thrown away.  Maybe I was too ambitious.  Maybe my souffl√© fell flat.

My mom can't seem to read my story.  She tries and puts it down.  But she likes happy little stories in the vein of Anne of Green Gables.  My dad, on the other hand, who actually reads SF, raves about my story.  He says it goes down quick, it's full of twists, and its spoiled all other fantasy for him.

So I know there is an audience for my book, but that it's probably not for everyone.  This fear is nonsense.  What I really want to know is whether all my close friends and family will enjoy my book.  The answer is probably no.  But I have to get beyond that.  If some people don't like my book, it doesn't mean my story is bad or fundamentally flawed.  It just might not be their taste.

Fear # 2: What if I fail to sell it?

There are people out there who will definitely want to read my story.  The question is, how do I now deliver that product to them?  Also, is my audience large enough that I can actually make a living off this?

I never felt guilty about the idea of making money of my work.  My dream is to be a full-time writer, and that means getting paid.   Lately, my life is a seesaw between making money and reserving enough time to meet the demands of my stories.  As a sub, I have flexible hours, but I do not make a livable wage.  I depend on the rent-free habitation of family members' houses.  That can't last.  So I might have to become a teacher.  But that means that my extra time will first go to obtaining a credential and then grading/ prepping for class.  If I do find time to write, it will be limited.

Unless, of course, I can sell my story.

But can I sell?  I cringe at that.  The idea of forcing a product onto someone is just repulsive to my personality.  At the same time, the American culture not only condones this sort of behavior, but actually snorts with derision if you are unable to do it.  And here stand I, utterly incompetent at money-making.  I feel ignorant and pathetic.

I have actually been researching marketing for a while.  But nothing seems to stick.  It's like that time in college when I stupidly signed up for a class on quantum mechanics.  I could comprehend the words and faintly understand the ideas.  But when I tried to imagine how, for example, string theory applied to the universe and to me, that's when my brain exploded.  That's the same thing with sales for me, except without the "smart person" gloss to make it less humiliating.

I'm afraid I'm not good enough to get this done, and I have no real-life experience to dispute this assumption.

Fear # 3: What if I succeed at this book but can't get the sequel out fast enough?

Ten years is too long a time to push out a book, even if it is an 800-page monster.  Fortunately, I can attribute some of that wasted time to mistakes and learning experiences.  Hopefully, I'll be faster the second time around.

But avoiding old mistakes is no guarantee I won't make new ones.  And now the clock will be ticking against me.  What if I cave under pressure?  What if I break?

As much as I fear failure, I also fear success.  I fear the expectations.  Raising the bar too high and too publicly, only to trip and crash and be laughed at.  While still a nobody, I'm anonymous.  If I become somebody, then all eyes are upon me, waiting for me to fail.  I don't want to disappoint anyone, but that too will be inevitable.

Fear #4: More hard work  

Who's afraid of hard work?  It seems laughable.  Maybe hard work is unpleasant, but you grit your teeth and do it.

And then they give you more work.  And more work.  Until the vibrancy of life leeches away and you feel like you're caught by the throat, choking, your freedom buried under a mountain of tasks.

I think my generation has a good reason to fear too much work.  I, for one, have witnessed my mom watching kids from 7:00-7:00 at our home daycare and then working a part-time job at Mervyns after that.  My dad still does crushing two hour commutes each way to work, leaving the house at 5:00 AM and return at 7:00 PM.  

The culture just seems to demand it.  If you aren't working twelve to fourteen hour days, you're just being lazy.

I don't mind work.  I get antsy when I'm not writing.  Still, when I think of the grueling demands of publicizing--blog everyday, tweet your fans, social media, book signing, etc.--I start to feel dead inside.  I imagine myself running from meaningless little task to meaningless little task, all my energy and intelligence ground to dust, and I cringe.

Fear # 5: Loneliness

I know others have gone before me.  I'm even lucky enough to know published writers.  And yet, when it comes to me and my specific book, I feel that none of it applies.  I feel alone.

It's not that no one has ever published a book.  It's that I've never done it.

I'm like a mountaineer.  Before me lies a rugged, yet neatly kept trail, marked with signs at intervals.  In my backpack, I have a map, a guidebook, and as many supplies as I can hold.  I'm prepared.  Yet, as I stand here, all I can feel is the vast expanse of wilderness between me and the top.

My guidebook has told me what to do if I meet a bear.  But I can't envision myself plucking up the courage to scare one off.  What if I get lost?  What if I run out of water?  The mountain has sent many home in defeat?  Will I be one?  I wish I had my own personal guide, to show me how its done and protect me from harm.  But I don't.  The wind whips through the long grass, and I'm alone.

* * *

Interestingly enough, allowing myself to feel and manifest my own fears gives them less power over me.  After reflecting, I found I could take action, whereas before I was paralyzed.   I took out all my notes and resources and realized I knew a lot more than I realized about publishing.

In the days to come, I will continue to plan and prepare myself.  I know it will be long and difficult, and I will make mistakes.  I just hope I have the determination, persistence, and courage to pull through.

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