What are you so afraid of?

Before I get into the meat of this post, just a quick note about the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. It begins Friday, July 1, at Alex’s blog. I’ll be blogging on the second of each month, so look for my post on Saturday. And you can always find the listing of posts on the blog tour site itself.

Now to today’s topic — fear. I recently read Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins, by Farson and Keyes. They talked about fear of failure and fear of success — and how sometimes fear of success was a fear of failure because we’re afraid that we can’t maintain or repeat the success. They also talked about how fear of failure could actually be fear of appearing to be a failure — fear of humiliation. That gave me a lot to think about.

One of the examples of fear of humiliation they used was public speaking. Oh, yes, I have fear of that in spades! I mostly managed to get through my T.A. experiences as a grad student because being a grad student talking to undergrads gave me a veneer of authority, however thin, so I didn’t get challenged too often on what I said (occasionally in review sessions, yes, but I survived). Giving a talk on my research to my lab, though, every single person of which I saw every day and all of whom had a good idea what I’d managed to do since the last time I’d spoken? Terrified me.

It’s not just a fear of humiliation for me, though. It’s a fear of being judged and being found wanting. I get nervous when someone else is in the car with me because unlike most people, I don’t think I’m an above-average driver, and I’m sure my passengers notice. I worry about what the driver behind me waiting for me to turn right on the red light thinks when I don’t squeeze up between the car waiting to go straight and the curb (but I don’t have a good sense of how big the car is, so I don’t want to risk it). I hate making phone calls to people I don’t know because I worry that they’re judging me for needing their services — the alarm went off on the hidden fence for our dog, and I haven’t called them yet because I’m sure they’re going to ask me if I’ve looked for a break in the wire, and I haven’t (I’ve been swamped this week), and I’m afraid to admit that because I’ll look foolish. (Yeah, yeah, I’ll call tomorrow. I know — it’s their job, they don’t get paid if people don’t need their services, etc. Doesn’t change how I feel about making the phone call.)

The fears cross over to my writing, too. I’m not afraid of rejection. I get rejections all the time. I’ve got probably close to 400 rejections so far, and the number just keeps going up. That tells me I’m doing my job — I’m writing, deciding the story is ready to go (possibly erroneously), and sending it out. (And waiting for the rejection.)

When I submitted to the Moongypsy Press writing contest earlier this year, I didn’t expect success. I expected that they’d get several very good proposals and at most, I’d get a “This is nice, do consider sending us the manuscript when it’s finished,” and I’d set the manuscript aside to finish later and continue with what I was already working on. That didn’t happen.

Instead, I’m now in the position of them having loved the first chapters and synopsis, and of me having to write the rest of the book — and it needs to be at least as good as what I submitted to begin with. Is there any logical reason it wouldn’t be? No. Does logic have anything to do with me being afraid anyway that when I turn in the completed manuscript, they’ll say, “We can’t publish this. It’s dreck”? Again, no.

I think this is what published authors go through when working on their sophomore books — the worry that it won’t be as good as what’s already out there, that they’ll be exposed as frauds, that no one will ever believe in them again.

I have the same trouble with my short stories. I’ve been published in professional venues. I’m awfully close to eligibility for SFWA membership (Daily Science Fiction has to be an accepted market for them, which is a few months off, and I need one more top-tier sale.), and I fret that the new stories may not be as good as what I’ve already sold, or may not show the level of improvement that others may be watching for.

It’s paralyzing.

What am I going to do about it? Well, I’ve got Keyes’ book, The Courage to Write, and I’ll re-read that to give myself some pointers. Before I get to that, though, I’m going to write. No excuses, right? Writers of the Future has their quarterly deadline tomorrow; I should be able to get one of the stories I’ve been working on out. Will it get past their first reader and coordinating judge, K. D. Wentworth? Probably not — nothing has, lately — but it’s a sign that I’m not giving up.

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  1. Points for not ever giving up.

    Public speaking terrifies me as well. I joined Toastmasters last month–volunteering to speak, yikes. But it’ll be worth it.

    • Thanks. Yes, persistence is my friend, and all that gets me through sometimes.

      As for Toastmasters — better you than me! I’ve had people suggesting it to me since I was in grad school, and I don’t think it’s any likelier now than it was then. Best of luck with it!

  2. I had one of these moments a month ago or so, just before releasing my book. I was sure that no one would read it or like it and why was I bothering – I should just take more hours at work and forget about the whole writing thing.

    I think it’s a common attitude for artists. We expect far too much from ourselves and only hear the negative.

    So, to counter those rejections, here’s something positive.

    I’ve loved everything that I’ve read of yours and will happily buy anything that you publish. (Plus your proofing skills rock beyond belief.)

    • Aw, shucks! *blush* Thank you, sir.

      Having read (and proofread) your book, I would have happily assured you your fears were groundless. But it really is easy to get caught in that trap, isn’t it?

      Actually, one of the things that caught my attention early in the Mistakes book was the discussion about being willing to fail and so trying more things. That was sort of the point of the book — that you can do new and better things if you’re willing to make mistakes. But the description of inventors trying a whole bunch of things to see what worked reminded me a bit of DWS’s attitude toward stories — you don’t know what will work, what will appeal to the public, so you just throw everything out there and let the readers decide. A lot of food for thought in that book.

      Thanks again for the compliments. 😀

  3. Thanks for a brave lovely post.

    I don’t know about you, but for me, it doesn’t matter how much encouragement I get. When it’s hitting me in a vulnerable spot or a vulnerable time, I’m thinking, “You’re going to hate me when you find out what a fuckup I really am,” even while I’m saying thank you.

  4. I SO know this feeling. I was in the top 100 Amazon Romance books and top 10 Erotica on Amazon for an entire month earlier this year (#1 for a week or so). I’m so afraid I won’t be able to repeat that success with the next book. I’m terrified that I’ve peaked and am already a has-been. I don’t think it gets any better — no matter how many times you’ve been published (or even when self-publishing). Right now I think Into Darkness is going to totally suck even though my editor keeps reassuring me it’s a good book.

    • Wow, #1? Yes, I can see worrying that you’ve peaked. Congrats on going ahead with the writing and revision despite your fears!

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