Sunday, January 8, 2012

Working through the fear

by: Joelle Charbonneau

A friend sent me a message the other day that expressed concern about the current project he was writing. He’d pitched the concept to his agent. Said agent was highly enthusiastic about the project so he immediately embarked upon writing. Now he is approaching the end of the book. With each day that passes he grows a little more concerned.

What if he didn’t do the concept justice?

What if only the concept was good?

What if his voice doesn’t match the story?

What if his agent is disappointed?

Wow—do I know those concerns. I’ve been struggling with them myself especially in recent days. I mean, I have been beyond fortunate in my recent submissions. If you missed the news—a young adult project I wrote last summer sold to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt last month. I loved writing that book and am truly excited to write the next two in the trilogy. But no matter how delighted I am with the sale (and trust me I did the girly squealy, excited thing!) there is fear. THE TESTING will be the lead title in the Spring of 2013. The whole concept of being a lead title is still hard for me to wrap my brain around. The expectations for a lead title are much higher than what I am used to. So I find myself asking, “What if the next two books aren’t as good as the first?” “What if I can’t live up to the expectations the editor has?” “What if I can’t live up to the concept of the next two books?”

Yeah—as happy as the deal made me, I have lost a great deal of sleep worrying about living up to, meeting and exceeding expectations. And that is totally pointless.

I mean, if I want to waste energy I can just run around after my toddler on one of his many circuits of the living room, dining room and kitchen. Which is why I keep reminding myself what I reminded my friend yesterday—worrying will do me no good. Sure, the concept is important, but it is what I bring to the concept that makes it truly unique. Only I can tell the story that will unfold as I type. It might not be the story the editor envisioned, but it is the story that needs to be told. And that is what is important. My voice. My story. My way. The rest is minutia. I love writing. I love storytelling. I just need to hang onto the passion for the story and the rest will take care of itself.

Does that mean the sleepless nights will go away? Ha! I doubt it. I’m a worrier by nature. But knowing that the editor wants MY story makes those 2 a.m. moments where doubt is the strongest easier to deal with.

Of course, that being said, I’d love to hear your stories about how you deal with doubt. Do you wake up in the night and worry that you won’t live up to expectations—writing or otherwise? How do you survive those moments? Trust me—I really want to know!


Sandra Ruttan said...

You know, I was thinking about this earlier, and I feel I should send every writing student I work with over here to read this post. I know it's such a green concept, but the sooner writers realize that insecurity plagues us all at times, the sooner they'll stop hiding behind it as an excuse.

I don't know that I have a great strategy for dealing with doubt, other than to remember that it's the insecurity that forces me to go over my work and work harder and push myself, and I do believe that keeps me from coasting as a writer. I use it as an inverted motivator. And I trust my agent, and my husband, to tell me if something is crap. If all you ever want to hear is praise, you'll not only doubt yourself, but whether or not people are telling you the truth about your work. Eventually, that becomes a destructive thing. You need people to tell you when you can do better in order to trust when they're telling you that you nailed it.

Thomas Pluck said...

It sure does plague us all, and thanks for shooing it away, once again. The only "what if" writers should think about is "what if I don't write this and just sit around whining all day, I'm not a writer anymore, am I?"

John Ross Barnes said...

Thanks Joelle, You made some good points regarding the agent wanting your story, not I assume, the one you didn't write.

I'm nowhere near possible publication, so writing to anyone else' expectations is not yet a concern.

I am however, a particularly gifted worrier, to the extent that I deal with it by means of medications and therapy.

I wouldn't advise that unless you become significantly dysfunctional due to worry/anxiety - it's really not that much fun.

Thanks for this, every qualified encouragement is appreciated. ;-)