(I wrote this a few years ago – I need to read it as if it was written by someone else and then listen – yes, Kathryn, listen to this writer/novelist who stomped over her fears; who didn’t let anything stop her from writing what she wanted to write. Who didn’t let depression, anxiety, anger, or anything else keep her from what she loves, and what she is, frankly, good at.)
Before I was published, whenever I’d read about an author who wrote a book and never wrote another one, I’d say, “If I had the chance, I sure wouldn’t be hesitating. I’d sure be writing to beat the band!” I simply couldn’t understand why a writer who had the chance to have his/her next book published would not jump on that chance with all the glee and energy and writing writer write they had, especially if that book was a success.
Until my own books were published. Then came the understanding of how fear plays such a part in this business.
An artist and I were in a conversation about not letting the negativity get in the way of creativity. I said to the artist how we have to have the dark and the light in our work, but we have to make sure the dark is not someone else’s shadow. Much of what you hear after you publish your book is Everyone Else’s Opinion—if you are not careful, you begin to listen to too many voices/opinions. Finding a way to separate the “should not listen to” versus the “this will help me in my journey” is a difficult one.
After my first book, Tender Graces, was released, I woke up with anxiety so fierce that my stomach tied in a snarl of knots. Fear of what someone may say about my work. That I’d disappoint readers. Some of this faded as time went by, but only because I stomped over it—how else could I go back to work? But it came again with the release of the Secret Graces, and then with Sweetie, and onward with my other novels. Will people still love me and my characters? Did I do okay? Are my words reaching anyone? Will I be loved?
My friends, I understand why some writers do not write that second book. An author can become paralyzed with fear. That fear can permeate and penetrate and become so prevalent that creativity is stifled. Imagine writing a book and being compared to other writers—but—imagine writing a book and being compared to yourself! Harper Lee, Stephen King, Oscar Wilde, Gail Godwin, Ralph Ellison, Margaret Mitchell, Elizabeth Berg—all have one thing in common: they wrote a book. What they don’t have in common is some went on to write more and others never wrote another book, or at least one that we know about.
If I had not stomped over my fears, skirted around the dark that is someone else’s shadow, ignored my terror, more work would not have come to me and then to readers. Writers and artists and singers and dancers and actors—all those whose work is out for public consumption and review and deliberation—must find a way to stop the: “I have to be loved by everyone. My work must be adored by everyone. I am afraid of what will happen. I am afraid of success/failure/mediocrity.” And instead, we must do what we love and do it the best we can and do it with love and hope and strength and honesty.
Of course, we must also do it in a way that sells, don’t forget that. Art aside, love of books and reading and writing aside, it has to be deconstructed into the business side of things as well. Heart and Brain go hand in hand in this business. What a terrifyingly fascinatingly wonderful sucky horrid confusing business!
Am I still worried about the books I write to be released into the hands of readers? Well, yes. But am I letting that stop me? No. Step out from that shadow and show yourself. Be brave and hearty in whatever you love to do. How will you know what you can create until the creating is accomplished?