Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Fear of Getting Published

Someone – (Monica Woods?) – said that sometimes perfectionism can be a perverse form of writer’s block. She was talking about the writer who works on a single project for years, mulling over the same material until it goes stale. She suggested that perhaps such writers are afraid of publication. They want to please everyone, or they don’t want to get rejected, or they aren’t confident. The fear clogs them up. They can’t move on, so they revise instead.

It’s an interesting notion. Some people do take a long time between books – Ann Packer’s first novel, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, was a big success, and she spent all of ten years writing it. Her second book came five years later. In an interview with The Writer magazine, she said:

“I think during the writing of Dive, I was building up my nerve, in a sense, so that the progress I made from one so-called draft to the other was probably slower progress than I made between drafts with my current novel, Songs Without Words. And that suited me just fine.”

If such fear exists, how do we deal with it? Should we even try? I sometimes wonder if those 10-year authors did so well because they took their time. Maybe the fear is a good thing in moderation.

I’ve known plenty of people who jumped the gun when it came to publication, subbing to editors during the first draft, or heading over to Lulu after their second rejection. A little fear might have done them some good.

What do you guys think? Is fear of publication always bad? At what point does it start holding you back?

-Creative A

Similar posts:

Breaking the Rules

Developing a Thick Skin


Marian said...

Wow, five years to write a follow-up. I'm thinking of the pressure applied to debut genre authors to produce the next book in the series within a year of the first one's release.

But to get back to the point, I think a little nervousness is a good thing. It makes you careful to double-check your submission packet, to dot the i's and cross the t's. It sharpens the pleasure of acceptance as well. IMO, if we were indifferent to failure, we'd risk being equally indifferent to success.

But when the fear holds you back rather than making you cautious, that's bad. It's one thing to be a mountaineer who tightens the straps and looks at the oxygen gauge twice. It's another to be a mountaineer who looks up at the cliff face and says, "You know, mountain climbing is overrated anyway. Maybe we could try the rock-climbing wall in the gym."

Angela said...

I definitely have a fear of being published, but I don't let it keep me from sending work out. I guess in my case, I think, what if I do get published and it disappoints? What if people around me read it and think, you spent all this time on THIS?

I may worry about disappointing people with a product, but I worry more about not getting published. I've always tried to teach my kids to chase their dreams, to not give up. I'm determined not to give up! :-)

Janet said...

Good questions! There are those who tell us to make sure it's perfect before sending it out. Yet at the same time we're told that we will get pages of revision suggestions from an editor and many of those suggestions will be good ones.

So I'm going to aim for publishable, not perfect.

And sometimes I am afraid of publication and success. That will mean writing under pressure, whereas now I can take my time.

Rachel Burton said...

Hey, wandered over from AW.

I do have a fear of beginning the road to publication, if not of publication itself. Sending that first query letter always makes me a little queasy. The fear that I might be sending out anything other than my very best can be paralyzing, but after I've revised to death, I just have to let it go...

Thanks for the interesting post!

Creative A said...

Marian, Welcome! I think maybe the publishers gave Packer so much time because her first book did so well, but that's just a guess.

I have to agree with you about the mountain-climbing thing. To personalize the metaphor, I have some relatives who look at me gearing up and say, "you're not ready for this, you shouldn't be climbing at all." There is a fine line there, and some people don't - won't? - see it.


Creative A said...

Angela, I like that. Scared to publish, but more scared not to publish. I feel that way sometimes. I almost think determination makes some people nervous, because they're such planners and worriers that they can't take the risk. Hmm.


Creative A said...

Hey Janet. I think you hit on a key, there. Publishable is a much more realistic goal that perfection. I'm personally not sure how I feel about deadlines...I like having a frame to work with, but sometimes, a project just needs some space.

Rachael! Welcome. I've seen you around AW some myself. I don't think sending the query scares me until the literal moment when I'm about the lick the envelope shut, or hit send or whatever. I have to give myself a moment to breathe and realize I'm really doing this, after all this time. That helps. Sometimes.

Thank you all for the interesting comments


Anonymous said...

I definitely have the "perfection" problem. I spent 5 years working on a project without ever finishing, before finally deciding that I needed to start anew. It's the best decision I ever made. My new ideas are so much fresher, so much richer, deeper, more mature than that previous project. BUT I'm doing it again, I can tell, dragging along wanting things to be perfect.

Sometimes I think my fear is holding me back. I'm trying to get over that with my new blog/publishing scheme, but I'm still way frightened of putting myself out there.

Great post.

Creative A said...

Thanks for the honesty. I never quite got to the point of waiting five years, but on one project, I did waste two trying to write and fix something that couldn't be fixed. I feel for you.

Good luck with your blog adventure


Marian said...

Hi creative a,

This is me making a puzzled face.

How can the relatives tell whether you're ready or not, unless they're professionals who can recognize what's publishable and what isn't?

Besides, sometimes the only way to learn to do something is just... to do it, even if you fail the first time or the first hundred times.

Creative A said...

Marian - did you comment to the right post? I didn't talk about relatives in this post.

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