The Fear is Real

I love all things dark and spooky. I can’t resist a good thrill or chill. So of course I love this time of year. I thought about doing a post about my favorite scary books and movies, but I felt like there weren’t many original recommendations I could make. Instead, after waiting until the last possible minute, I decided to focus on a different kind of scary. The kind that gets to the very core of who we are.

The horror, the horror…
One of the big trends I’ve noticed book-wise these last few years is more attention given to thrillers, but less to horror. Which I find odd considering both explore dark themes. So I looked up what distinguishes the two genres and discovered something interesting. Yes, there is some overlap, though horror is more about dread/terror and thrillers more about suspense/menace. Yes, horror often includes supernatural/gory elements whereas thrillers are often more realistic and crime-oriented. But there’s more to it. In a thriller, the narrative tends to be about evading a threat, while horror makes you confront it head on.

I think there’s something compelling about putting a spotlight on your fears and facing them. So in honor of the scary season, here are my top fears as a writer:

1. I’ll never write another book.
This one is haunting me big time at the moment. Ever since I left the corporate world to write full-time, I’ve averaged a novel a year. I was on track to complete a fourth book this year, but a third of the way into it, I stopped. I knew the hook wasn’t strong enough and that my previous books were better, so I didn’t see the point in finishing something that would be less than. After tinkering with some other ideas, I have a seed of a concept I like, but it’s too soon to say whether that will be enough to produce a book. Meanwhile, I’m itching to work on something new, even as I’m putting a lot of my creative energy into marketing and promotion for my forthcoming debut. Which brings me to:

2. People are going to hate my book.
Writing is a tricky thing, because you have to do it for yourself, but you also can’t do it in a vacuum. You need to tell your story in a way that’s true to your vision, but also remember you’ll (hopefully) have an audience. Since I tend to write stories that are a bit off-kilter, I know they won’t have universal appeal, but I’d like my work to be generally well-received. Negative reviews will still happen, but it could be worse…

3. People are going to ignore my book.
With TV, movies, video games, social media, and countless other forms of entertainment/distraction, it’s tough enough to get through the white noise and hold people’s attention, tougher still to do it with a book. And there are a countless number of great books out there, so how can I ask someone to set aside hours to read mine? And yet, that’s what I’m doing, even as I also worry…

4. I’m not talented enough.
Oh, imposter syndrome, you persistent fiend, you. I’ve been writing for decades. I studied it in school, endured countless workshops, worked with editors and other writers. I write and revise, write and revise. And still, there’s always a nagging fear that I don’t have the goods. And the notion that you suck at the thing you love doing most is soul-crushing. No matter how much praise my writing gets, how much I convince myself that my hard work and ability will pay off, that doubt might go away, but it always comes back to linger. And speaking of paying off…

5. I won’t find success as a writer.
This is a tough one, because this fear is rooted in the harsh reality that is the publishing industry. Getting an agent is hard, getting a book deal is harder, publishing a successful book (whether through traditional or indie means) is hardest. And even if you have a hit book, making a living off of being an author is… not impossible, because it does happen, but definitely unlikely for the majority of those who try. It’s like expecting to win not one, but a series of lotteries. And yet, that’s my aspiration: to be—in effect—a professional lottery winner. The odds are slim to begin with and slimmer still for me because I don’t write in a popular genre like romance or thriller and I don’t write multiple books a year. This is the one I grapple with the most.

So what do I do with all this fear?

Yeah, good question. With no easy answer. For every fear we conquer, a new fear is waiting in the wings to take its place. And there are times that it can overwhelm and cripple. But sooner or later, you have to stop cowering and get on with things.

Looking at the list above, makes things weirdly less daunting. Writing is the thing I love most and I hope my passion for storytelling will overcome the doubts. I’m always getting new ideas so I have to believe I have more books in me. Some people might hate my work, but based on early readers, I know other people definitely love it. My book might not be a best seller, but it won’t be for a lack of hustling and trying to get it out there. There will always be writers more talented than I am, but the thing I can count on is that I’m always trying to improve as a writer—if nothing else, I suck less today than I did yesterday. And as for that pesky notion of success? That comes down to defining it for yourself. Sure, I’d love the kind of writing success that lets me take care of my family and not worry about money. In the meantime, one of my biggest dreams is coming true: I’m going to have a book out in the world early next year. For me, that feeling of fulfillment is a writing success right there. That makes me want to write more books and shoo away the fears.

So that’s my plan. I’ll acknowledge the scary stuff, but then I’ll focus on the inspiring and awesome. I’ll keep working and improving. I’ll keep sharing stories. I’ll be so busy making my creative dreams a reality, I won’t have time to be afraid.

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