The most detested word in the publishing industry, perhaps even in the English language (we writers might argue) is rejection. Even saying it aloud gives you a nasty swirling in your stomach. Whether it be from agents and editors, or readers and reviewers, the word itself embodies our deepest darkest fear—we aren’t good enough. When the “R’s” begin to pile up, we sink into the sludge that mires us deeper in our fears and that horrible message becomes louder, crippling us.
As I’m working on book three, this fear of the dreaded “R” sits on my chest like a fat cat—even after two contracted books at a large publisher. Even with the overwhelming good fortune of having a network of writer friends I’m proud and blessed to call my tribe. I’m pushing the envelope, you see. In my first novel I mashed up historical fiction, women’s fiction, and romance. My second, I skipped ahead to another era and fell in love with a lesser known artist figure and her struggles with madness. Now, I’m taking on a well-known story and turning it on its head. No biographical route for me this time.
Some serious genre pushing.
But WHY I ask myself? Why must I stick my neck out, push my craft to the point of almost physical pain. Why must I risk my publisher saying “no thank you” to this next book, and the one after that.
The answer is simple.
I can’t avoid the challenge, the tugging in my soul that pushes me to grow—in spite of the quaking in my knees. Reach higher, my heart says. Create better, it begs. INSPIRE MORE. Yet I don’t know if I will succeed and this terrifies me. I know many of you know what I’m talking about. You struggle as I do to get a hold of this nasty thing called fear. So what does one do?
Find Your Center
Work on the exercises that bring you to a deeper, centered you. For me, that’s running or biking until the jitters are gone and you can breathe again. Whether it be meditation or exercise, or sketching or journaling, every writer needs a way to disconnect from the voices in your head. Plus you get the added bonus of all that meditative activity adding years to your life.
Put the Risk in its Place
In the grand scheme of life, how does this risk rate? Is it life-threatening, or life-altering? Will it obliterate your reputation or your self-worth? Will it destroy important relationships around you? If the answer is no to these questions, POWER ON. Take the risk and don’t look back. If it’s yes, it’s time to evaluate that risk. Weigh the pros and cons and remember—regrets will follow you your entire life.
Use a Lifeline
My friends are my lifeline—both my writer buddies and my “real life” friends who understand nothing about the pressures in publishing. Sometimes you need both to balance you out, to remind you of all you have accomplished. To remind you of the simple goodness that is you.
Revel in the Risk
What is life without taking chances? A safe, boring affair that passes you by in a cloud of regret. Get a hold of your fear by the throat. REJECT HOW IT RULES YOUR LIFE, YOUR DECISIONS. Embrace the thrill of being bold, of striking out, and of being the best version of yourself—your best writer self. I’m trying like a mad dog. I hope you are, too.
I leave you with a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson. It’s called HOPE.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
There is always HOPE and ADVENTURE when taking a risk. Don’t let the fear ruin all that beauty. I, for one, am choosing to banish it.
Have you ever branched out, far from the core safety of your tree to write something edgy or different? How did you tackle your fears?
Heather Webb is an author, freelance editor, and blogger at award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, about the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the tumultuous French Revolution, and her forthcoming novel, RODIN'S LOVER, about art, love, and the lines between obsession and madness releases from Penguin in January 2015. Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and she may also be found teaching craft-based or publishing industry courses at a local college. Find her on Twitter: @msheatherwebb or her website: www.heatherwebbauthor.com/