I could make a lot of theories as to why it’s the case, but for whatever reason you want to believe – hypersensitivity, upbringing, a constant sense of humility, perfectionism, etc. – writers live in a state of fear. They’re scared of what people think about their work, scared they’re not good enough, and most importantly, scared of rejection. There’s nothing more destructive to a writer than the fear of rejection, of putting something you put time and effort and soul into off to the side because you don’t want to know how bad it really is; or worse, not even trying.
Think of it this way: you have all the ingredients for a lovely, delicious cake. Some will keep, and some will spoil, even after being baked. You stall for a while, and finally decided to put together the cake, though some of the ingredients aren’t fresh. With love and care, you bake. You take the cake out, let it cool, trim it, frost it, and then take a small slice for yourself. You love it. It’s delicious – not everything it could have been, but only bakers and food critics would notice. That night, you’re having friends over. But you’re so scared they’ll find flaws and mistakes in your baking, so scared their reaction won’t be what you hope it to be, that you stick the cake in the back of the fridge and cover it up. It goes forgotten, goes uneaten, and goes to waste, having only been tasted by its baker.
What a waste of good food, right? And yet writers waste good writing (and their skills) all the time.
I see this fear in a few lights myself as I go on from day to day. Some of my writing acquaintances will find the “perfect” job for themselves, a long term writing assignment that fits their interest and expertise, but don’t even make the step to apply. I see writers who have “the manuscript” sitting, waiting – it’s done, but they look through a million publishers to never find “the right one” – without even sending it in for submission. I see writers find open submission markets, try one article, get rejected, and vow never to return. This last one doesn’t sound like fear, does it – until you realize they go back to a safe place, one that won’t reject them even though it offers less money, less benefit, less recognition.
There’s also this concept of the editor as evil, some anti-thesis of a writer who sits in a dusty ugly office full of red pens, a cranky man or woman who rejects everything except some rare piece once in a while that reflects the smidgen of soul they have left inside. In fact, most editors are also writers, and they are being given the grueling task of doing what most writers don’t do – being critical of their own work. This past week, I read a great blog piece from a fellow writer who has joined the ranks of editors, who gives some insight into the review and rejection process, and is a great piece to read for any of you (especially if you’re thinking of writing novels.)
So how do you grab that wriggling fear inside of you and pluck it out? To be honest, you’ll likely never be rid of that fear – and if you do get rid of it, you’ve done a great thing that many others will never do. I still have my fear, too – who takes the form often of various people in my life who put me down and said I wasn’t good enough. Over time, however, I have adopted a motto that has allowed me to grow as a writer, to take the risks my brain panics over. It’s not “The worst that can happen is they say no.” It’s a good one, but sometimes the heart is too scared of that “no” and sees “no” as the worst thing that can happen, not the least.
My motto is this: Do it anyway.
Whatever I’m scared or nervous of doing, whenever I’m afraid I won’t be good enough, won’t be what they’re looking for, anything like that – I do it anyway. Job I’m not qualified for but love? I’ll apply anyway. Big client? I’ll apply anyway. Never made contact with a big press contact? I’ll reach out anyway. I don’t let myself get daunted. My fear still yells at me, but I just shrug at it, look forward, and say “I’ll do it anyway.”
It’s not easy to jump from fearful writer to having the courage and confidence to knock on bigger doors. It took me time, and a lot of stress and encouragement. Now, however, I have the confidence to stand on my own, to press on, to take the risks whether rejection is on its way or not. I do it anyway.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.