Friday, June 24, 2005

Self-Doubting Thomas

Hard topic, and something few talk about.

So I will.

Most writers I've met have secret fears. They're driven by uncertainty, and then proven in a dozen different ways.

We fear that our books won't sell. That we won't get another contract. That we'll get bad reviews. That our editors will switch houses. That our cover art will suck. That no one will show up at our signings. That our efforts are in vain.

In short, we fear failure.

That's a pretty normal thing. Most people fear failing. But writers have so many obsessive, neurotic ways to reinforce their fears.

We don't admit it, but we all do the same things, and think the same thoughts. Some of them include:

Google our own names. Most writers do this daily. Some do it hourly. Searching for another mention, another signal that we're getting our brand out there.

Check Amazon. Again, it's a daily, possibly hourly thing. We're looking for rank, to see if it's gone up or down. Watching your rank go down is like a little slap in the face. An even bigger slap is when some helpful soul gives a you one star rating for no discernible reason.

Deny success. Many writers refuse to acknowledge their own accomplishments, because they're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or they think that success was a fluke that won't last.

Stress out. Rather than enjoying the wonderful ride we're on, writers worry about the next goal ala Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow was right--as soon as we fulfill our dreams, more dreams take their place.

Avoid humiliation. A great number of writers I know refuse to do signings. I understand why. Sitting alone at the signing table while customers walk by is awful. It's worse than not being asked to dance. It's worse than being the last kid picked for backyard football. Smiling at person after person, shaking hands, pitching your book, and getting shot down over and over again is a direct punch right in the ego.

Watch our websites. A lot of writers I know have invisible counters that show how many people have visited their sites. The obsessive ones (you know who you are) also check for length of stay, entry and exit pages, keyword activity, browser activity, system stats, visitor paths, geo-location, returning visitors, number of downloads, and on and on.

Obsess over reviews. Good ones are a cause for celebration. Bad ones can cause depression. Having none is worst of all. I know writers who don't read reviews anymore. Or at least they say they don't. I don't know how that's possible.

Envy each other. This is never mentioned, and hardly ever shown, but we all secretly wonder about our fellow authors. Why does she have a movie deal and I don't? Why is he a bestseller? Why does she make more money, and have bigger print runs, and have books in 30 different countries? Why is he in hardcover? Why does she have books on tape? Why did he get a book tour and massive publicity? The unspoken tagline is "...especially since I'm a better writer."

Hate rejection. Doesn't matter how long you've been in the biz, getting your work rejected still stings.

Dislike imposed edits. Maybe we say we love to be edited. But deep down, we all feel that what we originally wrote was right. That's why we wrote it that way. And I'm pretty sure that we're wrong, and that the editing is necessary, yet it still rankles a bit to be told something needs fixing. I have a theory that the bigger an author gets, the less editing they allow. Which is why so many bestselling authors aren't as good as they were years ago---they refuse to be editing. (But that might just be envy talking.)

Drink. Where do you always find authors at a conference? The bar. Writing is a profession that pushes social drinking to the boundaries. Good news? We drink. Bad news? We drink. More than one writer in the room? We drink. The only thing bigger than my liver is my bladder.

Become a little conceited. Or perhaps very conceited. Having strangers tell you how much they love you is a heady experience. If it happens enough, it's very easy to believe them.

Forget where we came from. All pros were once newbies, dreaming about being published, struggling to get an agent. But once we get a key to the clubhouse, we forget how hard we struggled. A lot of writers I know make an effort to help new authors. They blurb. They teach. They critique. They make themselves accessible. But some don't. They're at the top, but they haven't sent the elevator back down.

If you're a published writer, you might look at these things and think, "How did Joe know?"

Or you might look at these things and deny them all.

If you're not published yet, you might look at these things and think, "I'll never do any of that."

But I'd put good money on the fact that you will.