Fear. It plagues us all. Maybe you feel it when you wake up in the middle of the night and your room is pitch black and silent. Or maybe it hits you in those few moments after you’ve killed your car’s engine, and you walk up to your front door at close to midnight, the weight of a recent horror story on your mind. No matter how it hits, when it hits, it can be paralyzing.
For writers, our fear is mounted in that first draft. The editing process. The submission process. The moment you are about to hit send, your finger hovering over the key, the possibilities of rejection tumbling through your brain.
I’ve been there. After I submitted my first book to publishers, I got countless rejections. One after another, always polite – I haven’t yet received a rude one, though I’ve heard of writers who have – but always a firm no. The same has happened whenever I submit a short story or essay for publication; the responses I get are along the lines of “not a good fit for us” and “not passionate enough about this.” And always “keep submitting.” That’s key.
When I submitted a short story to the Masters Review workshop, it was the first time I’d ever hit send with any kind of confidence. Because I wasn’t submitting for publication. I was submitting for notes, and what I got back was so much more. A few of the essays in the workshop packet talked about sending your work out. In one, the people in charge of selecting pieces for the Masters Review talked about what they look for, what would grab their attention, and what they could forgive in a story or essay they are thinking of selecting. And then, they encouraged the reader to submit, submit, submit until you think it’s time to give it a rest. Which was some pretty welcome encouragement, given I’d been going off the advice of a literary agent I met in college, who said if you’ve sent your work out ten times and gotten ten rejections, there is something wrong with your work.
We all need encouraging words when the fear of rejection and failure settles in. Included in the workshop packet were encouraging quotes from authors, authors who started out just like us, just writers putting words on a page and praying for magic. Here are those quotes, and I hope at least one helps you through whatever you fear about your journey to a writer’s life.
- “Love words, agonize over sentences, and pay attention to the world.” – Susan Sontag
- “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” – Ray Bradbury
- “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” – Harper Lee
- “This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word in front of the other. It’s that easy. And that hard.” – Neil Gaiman
- “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” – Allen Ginsburg
- “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard
And, my personal favorite that wasn’t in the packet:
- “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce
What gets you through the fear? Let me know! And Happy Friday the 13th! Stay away from abandoned campsites and spooky lakes!