Fear of trying?


Silk’s Post #57 – Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

That’s for a magnificent performance by fellow 5writer Joe Cummings, our solo star this year at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Joe did two amazing things this past weekend.

First, he whipped off a monster number of highly entertaining blog posts documenting his experiences and learnings at the conference. Nine of them in four days. NINE! Go read ’em. This is a record that is unlikely to be broken. Ever.

Second, he overcame all the terrors every writer harbours, and put himself – his ego, his work, his ideas, his heart and a number of other unnamed body parts – out there to stand or fall at the whim of the marketplace. He pitched a ton of agents. He submitted his query letter for open critique. He tossed his manuscript in to be publicly lauded or savaged at the SIWC Idol. And then he told all in his blog posts. This is a considerable feat, even for an extrovert, which Joe certainly is not.


And now I’m convinced that Joe is truly serious about getting published. At all costs. Because sometimes that’s what it takes. In fact, maybe it’s the rule.

Forget all the Cinderella stories you’ve ever heard (or dreamed of) about some hermit of a writer getting discovered almost by chance and becoming an international bestseller. Oh, yeah, sure, the writer’s nephew stole a few pages of manuscript and sneaked it off to a publisher who fell under the spell of the story and sought out the shy author, advance cheque in hand. Now there’s a lovely piece of fiction.

Nope. The whole marketing ball-of-wax is hard, sometimes discouraging work. For introverted writers with tender hearts it can be excruciating. You think your job is done when you’ve actually completed your first draft? Done your rewrite? And your second, third and fourth rewrites? Written your query letter and your synopsis and your elevator pitch? Well, sorry to be harsh, but you’d be wrong.

The next step in the process is like stepping off a cliff into thin air. It’s putting it all out there. Your book, your self, your dreams. And that’s not even the hardest part.

The hardest part is what happens next … when NOTHING happens. Maybe you get a few echoes back along with the rejections. Some words of encouragement, if you’re lucky. After months, maybe years of work. It’s the possibility of that NOTHING that keeps writers, even great writers, from putting themselves out there.

The risk of losing your belief in yourself as a writer is terrifying. We’ve all felt it. And the more it matters to you, the scarier it is. Talk about a barrier to action! This is our Mount Everest. Our dragon-infested, unexplored ocean.

Those who overcome their doubts and plunge ahead with open eyes are not fearless. They’re brave in spite of their fears. They’re heroes.

Fear of failure can become fear of trying.

For those who can’t abide risk, who are too sensitive to bear disappointment, who aren’t compelled by some inexplicable obsession to express themselves creatively and publicly, discretion is the better part of valour. But for writers with a calling, nothing will do but to take that plunge.

It takes courage. Often it takes a kind of blind self confidence, even in the face of rejection. Some might even call that ‘faith’.

Here are just a few authors you would never have heard of if they hadn’t kept the faith:

John Grisham – whose first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishers.

Robert M. Pirsig – who apparently holds a Guinness record for most rejections of an eventual bestseller, with Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance garnering 121 rejections before it was finally published.

ee cummings – who had to self-publish his first book, The Enormous Room, now considered a masterpiece, after rejection by 15 publishers.

Louis L’Amour — who’s reported to have received 200 rejections before getting his first book published.

L. Frank Baum – who collected all his many, many rejections in a journal he titled Record of Failure, before publishing his first book Mother Goose in Prose, followed by a collection of poetry and then The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (after yet more rejections).

Irving Stone – whose biography of Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life, was rejected 16 times before going on to sell 25 million copies.

Frank Herbert – whose beloved sci fi blockbuster, Dune, suffered 20 rejections.

Margaret Mitchell – who received 38 rejections before getting Gone With the Wind published.

J. K. Rowling – who famously suffered a dozen rejections of her spectacularly successful Harry Potter series, resulting in 12 publishers who are now very, very sorry they were so dumb.

No wonder few topics have been addressed by writers more often or more eloquently than rejection. Some of my favourites …

“First remember George Seither’s rule: ‘We don’t reject writers; we reject pieces of paper with typing on them.’ Then scream a little …”  — Isaac Asimov

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” — Ray Bradbury

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” — Barbara Kingsolver

“There is nothing like rejection to make you do an inventory of yourself.” — James Lee Burke

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett

“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.'” — Saul Bellow