Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Scary Stuff

What's the scariest thing about writing?

**I might fail

**I might succeed

**I might starve.

**It might be too unimportant to spend my life on

**I'll never have another good idea

**The next JK Rowling will publish a blockbuster (or Disney will make a movie) about my idea just when I'm wrapping up my final revisions

These are just a few of the common fears that can make us wonder if we should throw in the towel or hang up the computer. But they aren't to me the scariest thing of all. To me, the scariest thing of all is:

This business is so subjective.

We've all read, or tried to read, published books whose characters we don't like. Whose premises we find implausible. Whose plots bore us to tears. Whose writing is too verbose, too spare, breaks every rule we've ever been taught, suffers from "was-itis" or needs a serious adverb-ectomy. "How did this get published?" we cry. It got published because an editor (and maybe before that, an agent) and a publishing house thought enough people would buy it that its gross earnings would exceed the money they stuck into it and result in a certain profit. Which means they saw an audience for the book. And sometimes a great percentage of that audience likes the book. And we think, huh??

We can be on the other side of this fence too, of course. We go around crowing about our latest favorite book and others say, "Oh, that? Didn't grab me." We take our latest story to our critique group, and two like it and three don't. For different reasons. We tear it apart countless times. Three like it and two don't. Well, at least we're getting a little closer.

An entire chain of people makes a book happen: writer, agent, editor, acquisitions committee, marketing department, designer, artist, copyeditor, typesetter, proofreader, printer, binder, salespeople, distributor, reviewer, bookstore or library -- and then you finally get to the reader. And, except for those concentrating on the actual physical production, everybody in the chain is (1) going by personal taste, and (2) guessing. They're making the best-educated guesses they can, and they have commendable skills to be sure, but they're guessing. Writers tend to be a little weird in the first place, and those who feel out of the mainstream can wonder how on Earth they're supposed to get a bead on what will please a sizable audience.

It's one thing to say, "Well, I just wasn't part of the audience for that book I hated." Or, "All I need to do is find that ONE publishing house that thinks my book is the next great thing." Or, "There's a readership for this book, and one for that book, and as long as the right folks find each other, we're good." All of this is true. But as most of us have learned in one endeavor or another, finding THE ONE can be tough at best, and the chance that we may not is real.

So -- what's your scariest thing about writing?


Angela Ackerman said...

Wow--that was a great summary! All of those things are so true. I tell you, there is no other job in the world that requires such a gauntlet of fire to succeed at. And many walk that gauntlet and never succeed.

Face it, to be a writer, you have to be a little Oh Henry, you know?

For me the scary thing is two fold--I have a fear of success, and of continuing to meet expectations. So let's say book one is a hit. Book 2 becomes even more daunting, because people will expect it to be as good as the first one. And, as we all know, everyone's tastes are different, so there are no guarrentees of anything.

Marcia said...

Well, I suppose actors and others in the arts might have it the same. One thing about writing is that it's fairly inexpensive to take up!

Book 2 IS scary. If book 1 is a hit, then book 2 has to equal it. But it's scary even if all book 1 really did was get published. What if you can't sell again? There's another fear: "I might be a fluke."

PJ Hoover said...

There are tons of "things" like you listed. But I don't think I'm scared of any of them. it's like you said. It's all business, and keeping that in mind and the fact that it's not personal is key.
The goals are: write, enjoy writing, write more, enjoy writing more. I think when we start getting scared is when the fun leaves.

Susan Manzke said...

I thought I was the only writer with fears. I guess I'm not alone.

As for fear, well I'm sending my baby (manuscript or published book) out into the world, it's difficult knowing others can critique it to death. It's my baby after all. I nurtured it. I tried to do my best, but I'm not perfect and I know that even before anyone finds fault.

I didn't know my first book was my baby until it was publised. I wanted everyone to love my baby even though I knew that wouldn't happen. Still I keep writing.

Thanks Marcia for an interesting blog.

Susan Manzke said...

I thought I was the only one afraid when it came to writing.

I think my greatest fear is sending my baby out into the world and have any Tom, Dick and Sarah pick on it. My manuscript is my baby. I didn't understand this until my first published book.

Rejections I don't fear. They're easy to understand.

Thanks for the blog topic.
I am not alone. That's good to know

Marcia said...

PJ -- Really? You're not scared of any of them? You have nerves of steel! :) I agree that we have to enjoy the process, because that's what we have day by day -- the writing itself. But I don't think it's always enjoyment, any more than pursuing any other career is.

baby huey -- I think the fears are pretty common. Funny -- I feel alone in some things, but I guess I don't feel alone in that. Haha, I guess if we send our stuff out into the world, we have to take the consequences (gulp). :)

Tabitha said...

I agree about how unsettling subjectivity is. And I also agree with PJ in that the fear makes the fun leave.

So, I don't let fear invade my life. I've decided I'm going to make a career of writing, and I'll never give up on it. I just trust that it'll eventually happen, and I just need to be patient. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Wow, not to go way deep, but fear is like paralysis. It can only hold you back. OK, sure, my knees were quaking when I was in line for a roller coaster at Six Flags. Yeah, I name that fear. But when it comes to writing, it's your career. If you are afraid to do something, then you have to do it. Only by getting out of our comfort zones will we actually grow.

BTW, there's a great book I read called "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway". And reading it was kind of like an epiphany for me.

Marcia said...

I think those of us who really want to write do get past the fear. There's always something to buoy hope again, like a great stack of books from the library, some fun research, a brainstorm that gets you unstuck. Going on in the face of fear is courage. I remember Sue Grafton saying writers are her favorite people because we're so brave. I think this is what she means.

That said, in my teaching I've found that a healthy dose of fear -- by which I mean respect for the difficulty of writing and a realization that this whole undertaking MIGHT not turn out -- often accompanies the better writers. Some of the most confident don't have the best assessment of where they're at. But we all can grow, that's for sure.

Thank you all for chiming in!

Tabitha said...

I agree about a healthy dose of fear keeping things in perspective. I had plenty when I first started writing with the intent to publish. Mostly because there was so much I didn't know, I knew I didn't know it, and I had no idea how to go about learning it.

Now, I've just accepted that, while I know more, there's still LOTS of stuff I don't. But I have faith that I can learn it. And am determined to learn it, no matter how hard I need to work in the process.

I think good writers keep in mind that a lot of writing is about learning, constantly learning. If you stop learning, you stop having things to write about.

Great discussion!!

Marcia said...

I think good writers keep in mind that a lot of writing is about learning, constantly learning. If you stop learning, you stop having things to write about.

So true, Tabitha! The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn, and in this business you've never heard it all. A good writing friend who published 25 books always said, "This business is never boring." It's not something you can conquer.

Brenda said...

I agree with everyone...I have a lot of the fears you listed...I'm mean we put our blood, sweat and tears into these books and we send them out into the real world and they are mugged and sometimes robbed of what we thought made them can we do that to our babies...

I also agree with pj -

"If you are afraid to do something, then you have to do it. Only by getting out of our comfort zones will we actually grow."

So I write like I'm just writing for me and no one will ever see it, then when I think it is ready, I send it to my critique group and then into the real world...before my fear takes over...grin...

Anne Spollen said...

I think my greatest fear is that I will run out of ideas. I haven't so far, not even close, but stranger things have happened.

Maybe, and I'm pretty sure this is right, that fear helps me keep my eyes open and "see" situations that would translate well into plots. So the fear helps.If writing ever gets too easy, then it would never be as rewarding.

Marcia said...

sometimes robbed of what we thought made them special

That's a good point, Brenda. Sometimes they want us to cut or change what we think is the important part, and there's a fear you won't understand your own work anymore if that happens.

If writing ever gets too easy, then it would never be as rewarding.

Totally agree.

Thanks for chiming in on the discussion!