So I have been working very hard on my new novel. I get up early to work on it. I stay up late to work on it. I take days off to work on it. Today, I realized I am working on it extra hard—harder than I’ve ever worked on any book, actually—not just to get it done, but as a way of calming the intense bouts of terror that keep ambushing me.
These intense bouts of terror are different than the standard drone of low-level anxiety that goes along with making a book happen. Is the book any good? Will I get it done on time? How is the money going to work out? Will anyone even notice I’ve published it?
I’ve dealt with all of these anxieties before. Yes, one is always anxious about the relative quality of one’s work—but at this point in my life, I am confident that I can hang reasonably coherent words on a reasonably compelling plot. Moving on.
The anxiety of getting the book done on time is somewhat greater—but I’ve been a communications professional for years, and have managed much more complicated projects for much more exacting clients. And I keep the project manager’s secret creed close to my heart: you can make any schedule flex.
Another step up the anxiety staircase: the funding I will need to pay the top-notch creative professionals I am bringing on board. But having run several small businesses over the years, I’ve discovered that money has an incredible way of showing up when you need it. So even if my Kickstarter goes down in the most spectacular flames of all of Kickstarter history, the show will go on.
So, long story short, none of the above keep me up at night. They annoy me every now and again, give my brow a bit of a furrow, but nothing more.
What does keep me up at night—what leaves me as scared as a woman driving through bat-country without her shaving kit full of pharmaceuticals—is the fact that I haven’t gotten permission to publish this book.
There is no publisher (big or small) who will ultimately say “this book is worthy of being read.” When it hits the street, it’ll just be me and my own massive ego standing out there in front of it. That, dear friends, is what will make you sit up stark-straight in your bed at 4 a.m. and scream “what the fuck am I doing?”
We all know that just being a writer at all requires a massive amount of arrogance—the arrogance to believe that people actually want to read about stuff you just made up in your head. But becoming a self-published writer requires such a dramatic leveling up of writerly arrogance that it terrifies me.
My teenage daughter has been a valuable mentor in dealing with these terror episodes. Teenagers are great instructors in arrogance. The cool, calm eyeroll … the studied, sighed, “whatever, Mom.” Visualizing myself doing this in the face of my imaginary legion of future critics helps, a little. But realistically, as an adult, I know that I will have to better weapons at my disposal than the dismissive eyeroll. And there’s the crux of the matter: no such weapons exist. There is no way to objectively defend one’s work or one’s decisions. I am doing nothing more (and nothing less) than simply doing exactly what I want to do. Doing what pleases me, writing the book I want to write, using the words I want to use, and putting out into the world all by myself.
It sounds like it should be so uplifting. Taking control of your creative destiny! Luck and pluck! Believe and achieve! It sounds like it should be a fucking Disney movie. But it also reminds me of a story about a guy with wings made out of wax. And the fact that I don’t know which ending I’m going to get scares the everloving hell out of me.