Getting a grip on fear

While it’s said that Publishing is an industry built on optimism, it’s often ruled by fear. Writers fear rejection; editors fear acquiring an unsuccessful project; booksellers fear Amazon; everyone fears ebooks; and so on. And ever since I became an agent, I feel like I’ve been more aware of the fearful side of the business than ever before.

If one of the key attractions of agenting is that you work across the publishing spectrum, it seems to come with a similarly broad range of fears. In any given day, agents handle acquisition worries (i.e. whether or not to take on a client), fear of rejection from editors, stress about the future of the industry, and a good dose of personal financial uncertainty, much like our independent bookselling colleagues.

In other words, oy!

But as I logged on to Facebook this morning, I was fortunate that the first post on my wall was this blog from writer Candice Ransom about dealing with fears both in writing and in life. It’s a beautiful piece, perhaps made more so by her stunning photographs. I was particularly struck by her honesty about her new fear concerning time and productivity—it’s a sobering thought, and yet a brave one to acknowledge like this.

Best of all, I appreciate that she offers at least one concrete suggestion for dealing with fear. Has anyone read Writing Past Dark? If so, I’d love to know what you think. One thing that certainly helps me deal with my fears and to get better as an agent is to see how writers manage their own work. So I’d love any suggestions/inspiration you’ve got for how, as Candice puts it, to “face down fear and walk through doors into uncertainty.”


10 Responses to Getting a grip on fear

  1. Kaitlyne says:

    I thought writing was built on masochism. Otherwise why would we do this? 😉

    I admit to occasionally being a bundle of nerves completely certain that my books will never ever sell or that I’m a hack writer who wrote something good on accident and I’ll never manage to write anything else good again, and so on. In other words, normal writer fears.

    I know that, for me, most of the time setting goals helps. It’s not just about working on a new project, which is the general advice I’ve seen given, but also about making a goal and planning out how to achieve that goal. If I can know that I’m working on a particular project with a goal of being finished by a certain date and I’m planning out what elements of my writing I’m going to learn to improve and so on, I’m looking more to the future and ways to build success rather than focusing on the fear of failure.

    I have no idea if that makes any sense to anyone else, but it works for me. And on the days it doesn’t I eat really good Indian food and/or chocolate and that usually makes me feel better. :)

  2. As trite and repeated as it sounds, if we don’t face our fears/take the chance/etc., the answer is always going to be no. We’ll never be published, we’ll never make any money, we’ll never touch a reader, we’ll never prove to ourselves that we have what it takes. We’ll never be accepted if we’re too afraid to be rejected.

    Still, fear is natural, and it’s likely most of us will struggle with it at some point no matter how much our rational minds repeat my above words. Like Kaitlyne, I think goal-setting is a useful avenue away from fear. Tackle the project in small chunks. Do one little thing each day if you have to, and then take on the rest later. Little things add up and you have to take small steps before you can run away from fear.

    • Kaitlyne says:

      You’re definitely right that if you don’t try the answer is always no. I think that’s part of what keeps me going with this as well. I would also rather know that I tried and failed than spend my life wondering what could have been.

  3. Catherine Whitney says:

    If there were no fear, there would be no courage. If there were no courage, there would be no writers. We’re all in this rocky boat. Pass the champagne.

  4. Aimee Stwart says:

    There’s a book that helped me a lot these past months. It’s called the War of Art, by Steve Pressfield. It’s somewhat preachy at times, but the message got across to me. I guess anyone in the arts could benefit from it.

  5. Ryan Field says:

    I was once contracted to write a book for a collection of books that would be showcased on a TV shopping network. I was given three weeks to write a sixty thousand word novel. I never knew fear like I did then. But I did it and met the deadline. (And I will never work on a deadline like that again.) It sounds cliche, but the more you do what you’re doing the more you learn how to deal with the fear on all counts. It gets easier with time.

  6. Anyone in the act of creation feels fear: Will this work? Will anyone care? Will I touch another person in a meaningful way? Will I be able to communicate my ideas, either visually or verbally? and so on. The act of creation is working through the fear, past the brick wall. It is that drive to create and communicate that pushes us past the fear. Persistence is key. Keep going!

  7. Kim Smith says:

    I can’t remember who said: We are born to birth ourselves. They’re right. I have one codicil: Yeah? But we die over and over!

    After years as a hired gun, I now sit in my office with: The Novel. No running cameras, no time-codes… no deadline. No dark stage with quiet boards. No edits or pages back… Nada. Just me, and The Novel. My, “The Novel”.

    It’s taken my whole lifeline to get here. Scared? Oh yes. Blank page = big ocean? Oh yes. Fear standing in as a four letter word today? Yep… wearing a new hat I think.

    Fear is a faithful sack o’ feral crap and will come screeching to your brain-side before your lips squeeze even a lean of a whistle. “Put it down Kim.” “Leave it on the ground Kim.” Breathe. Center up. Shh.

    It is true my Inner Critic is so fat… When it sits around the house, It Sits Around The House. {Insert SPFX: drum kick and boo-hiss} Some days I put the critic on a bike in my mind. Some days I go out of my mind and get on my bike. Fear always wins IF I fight it.

    So, we are close friends – fear and I. War buddies. Soul mates. We’re so close, it’s like we always know what the other is feeling.

    Every morning I invite Fear to make itself comfortable. “Namaste’ Damnation.” Then, I merely begin all over again for the first time.

  8. Lucinda says:

    I understand what is being said about fear, but I have not reached that point. I am always in the stage of “I must get this out of me on paper (computer screen) or I will be eaten alive and then it will burst out of my chest and get my family.” Fear would be a welcome change.

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