Monday, August 17, 2015

Insecurity is Part of the Process

There is something a little off about writers. I mean, we do this thing, where we put words on paper and then share them with people. There is always a piece of us in the words. So that sharing, that giving of our words to others, it’s a little bit like baring your soul to strangers and hoping for the best. It’s probably why developing a ‘thick skin’ is something established writers are always telling the newbies. Best to learn early, before your heart gets trampled beyond repair and you burn your manuscript in a sad closure ritual.

You might be tempted to think that writers are naturally a thick-skinned bunch. Why else would they be drawn so moth/flame-like to this perpetual rejection cycle? I think it’s actually the opposite of that. We can be a truly insecure bunch.

I have the honor of having met quite a few writers now (virtually and otherwise…Table of Trust shout-out!), and I’m including the unpublished ones in that heap, too. Those perhaps more than any other.  For myself, I’m realizing I have an uncomfortable relationship with this whole insecurity thing. And I think most other writers, aspiring, agented, and published, feel pretty much the same.

There is this really long, really harsh reality of trying to becoming a traditionally published author now. Last year was different, and next year is likely to be different, too. Forget getting published, the reality is finishing the damn book is hard enough. Like, really hard. Probably why so many people want to do it, looking misty-eyed into the distance. “I want to write a book!” Sure. Like so many people want to complete a marathon, just to put the 26.2 sticker on their SUV, like a badge of glory.

Writing a book seems so hard. Newsflash: it is hard. It’s an indeterminate number of hours, days, months, for many, even years of putting words on a page. Not just any words. Words that mean something, coalesce into a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a story which means something. Characters we care about, plots that make sense. Not boring your reader to tears. Revising until you want to puke because you’ve read that chapter Eighty. Million. Times. But it still doesn’t seem perfect.

But then, you figure out that this thing might be good, someone else might enjoy reading this. Heck, maybe the masses should read this thing. Then you start the next phase. Making sense of what’s going on in publishing these days. Which tomorrow, could be different from two weeks ago. Seriously, it’s that intense right now. It doesn’t take you long to figure out you’ll need an agent. An agent, not a publisher. Because most of the big houses and even mid sized publishers don’t take unagented work. And not just any agent. Someone who reps your genre, someone who’s good, but not closed to queries or only accepts submission by referral. And you probably need to nail down several dozen of those individuals, easy, because, well, you have to convince them they want you instead of the hundreds of other writers who are doing the exact same thing.

If you cringed just now, well, let’s just say, I get it. There are days where the enormity of the task is overwhelming. Now imagine going through the agenting process, complete with an indeterminate number of revisions… again, this time in search of an amenable publisher, negotiating a contract, all that.

You can imagine the opportunities for self-doubt in the process I just detailed would be beyond intense. At every turn, most writers I know are stopping, at least for a moment, and saying, ‘my book isn’t that good.’ I know I did. Do.

But, there was some vaguely masochistic pleasure I felt when I learned this was normal. In fact, if there aren’t pushy tendrils of doubt wrapping around your ankles and knocking you down, something might actually be wrong. Too cocky, too arrogant isn’t a good look on someone who needs to knock politely on the immense mansion of traditional publishing.

I am a newly agented author. I’ve been with my incredibly supportive agent, Sarah Younger, of Nancy Yost Literary for a handful of months now. Yet I still had one of those moments of breathtaking insecurity recently. Sarah had requested some revisions to the manuscript (which is totally normal, BTW), before sending the book off to the editors she has in mind. It took me some time to do the revisions, and I had this feeling, this acid-coated pill stuck in my throat, sure, positive, that Sarah would see the revisions and call the whole thing off, all ‘what was I thinking’ style.

It took her about a month to get back with me. Thirty six days, if I was counting.

I still have an agent.

So, if you’re word crafting and trying to finish the book, if you’re revising until you want to scream, if you’re querying your hundredth agent, if you’re waiting for your editor’s final nod of approval…embrace the insecurity. I’m thinking it’s just part of the process. It’s that thing that keeps us wanting to be better.

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