Insecurity, covered with writhing, glinting scales, is a dragon – a truly frightening creature. But here’s the worst part: the dragon has two heads.
The battle against the beast begins the moment you put your fingers to the keyboard with serious intent. Your intent is to be a writer. A writer in the wool-stocking, coffee-gesturing, perfect prose-composing, awesome smartness you imagine all writers possess. The dragon opens one sleepy eye. He blinks indulgently and, immediately, you wither into your own thoughts: Is this paragraph clunky? Is this character likable? Does the motivation ring true? What if I suck?
Time to talk yourself down. It’s the only way to continue. The weapons vary from writer to writer, and the war will be waged in your own mind, but you must fight…or the dragon will win.
When I decided to quit dabbling and actually start writing, I sought out posts and articles dealing with the care and keeping of this particular dragon, and consumed them whole. I needed to celebrate my progress rather than determining I still wasn’t good enough. I needed confirmation that other writers (already published, successful writers) were still entrenched with their own swords drawn because this battle wasn’t new.
The weapon with the most rubies on the hilt and the shiniest blade, for me, was this: a small but mighty phrase by novelist and blogger, Chuck Wendig. His words were “once in a never.” I swung this phrase into the dark corners where my insecurity crouched, exhaling sulfur, leaving me no room to breathe. Here was my battle cry: “Most people write a book (even a bad book) once in a never!” I could finally pat myself on the back for how far I’d come. When I start worrying that the book won’t sell or my classmates will gossip at the reunion that it was rotten, I tell myself, “So what? Most people publish a book once in a never.”
So I finished my book. I am on my way to publication. And, yes, I’m a little giddy. Okay, over the moon. I’m confident I’ve slayed the dragon because I have a contract, a cover, a title, and business cards. But there’s a small puff of smoke and then flame. The second head yawns, revealing a jaw full of dagger-sharp teeth. The insecurity wrinkles a ridged brow, sensing my weakness, because now I have to answer questions about my craft, about the book, to real people – readers.
I want to sound interesting, but what if I’m not witty or unique? I want people to read the book, but what if they find it simple? Or boring? My first line of defense has been, and continues to be, self-deprecation. “Yes, I wrote a book. It was so much fun, so rewarding, you know? But it won’t win any literary awards.” OR “The book is women’s fiction, it’s uh, about women, nothing too complex.” OR “Here’s a business card with a picture of the cover on it. You can throw it away if you want, I have thousands.”
“Stop!” I tell myself. If I can’t talk sweet about my own book, who will? I must be able to talk myself up! I wrote this book with my whole heart and the world should know I love it. But here’s the truth: I’m still struggling with this, even more as I creep toward publication. Because somewhere in my brain I believe if I reveal all the flaws about my book in advance, readers will know that I know it’s not perfect, and then they can’t criticize. I’m hedging my bets. Of course, this is all wrong. This is like dropping the diamond-encrusted blade on my own foot, leaving the dragon to nibble on my limbs.
So, time to talk myself up. But this time I’ll be talking to an audience. It’s so daunting to toot one’s own horn without seeming braggy, to post about achievements, to approach people I’ve long admired from afar and ask them to be my friend, to see me, to buy my book. Here’s my advice, and it’s so simple – take a deep breath and just do it. Hold on, that’s catchy. Someone should use that to sell shoes.
But here’s what I discovered (am discovering). Other writers are so encouraging, so helpful, and so real. I can’t believe this community! I’ve never had a group of co-workers who support me like my writer friends, and most of them are people I’ve never met (in person). I’ve received critical feedback, advice, a place to lay my head on a virtual shoulder – all through my critique and Facebook friends. I was afraid to reach out, but when I did I was received with open arms.
I have yet to receive feedback from actual readers (aside from my betas), nasty reviews on Goodreads, or to talk about my book in front of an audience. But it’s coming. I’m rehearsing my log-line so when people ask me about the book I don’t start with, “It’s no big deal, really…”
Instead I’ll say, “Imagine a century-old house, the walls full of secrets. My book is a braided story about five women who inhabit this same historic home across decades. Their stories, loves and losses bind them to a place they all call home. You should totally read it. And I’d love to visit your book club.”
And I won’t stammer or blush (much). The dragon will rest. At least for a minute or two.