I am no stranger to anxiety. Anxiety may even be something of a close friend, but it’s one of those friends who talks on and on about themselves during your coffee date together and maybe you don’t even realize it until you’ve hugged and you’re walking home and then finally you think, “I didn’t even say that my dog died/I’m breaking up with my partner/I got a new job/something momentous and totally worth mentioning.” I’ll put it this way: I hate my way through my relationship with anxiety, one miserable unwanted thought at a time.
That said, I am a product of no fewer than half a dozen terrific therapists and my neuroses are down to a dull, annoying grumble in the back of my head. I recognize frenemy Anxiety as soon as it pops itself into my consciousness, and sometimes I can stamp it out even when it’s bumbling about in my semi-conscious, because things like my body will send up an alert, and then that decade of therapy kicks in, and well, if I have to Goldberg Machine my way to functionality, so be it. It’s working for me. I’m even past the point where I tell myself to fake it till I make it.
Couple this tendency toward self-junk and my time spent writing, and I have all kinds of layers of negative messages to unpack. And unpack them I have, from doubting I had even a sliver of talent to keeping my writing locked up offline, to berating myself over every rejection slip, and along the way I admitted I was somehow making progress. If nothing else, being full of self-flagellation means one has a natural path toward humility. I don’t have to be the trans dude version of Octavia Butler (as lovely as that sounds) to write something robust and worth reading. In fact, if I shift my goals from being the next so-and-so to penning the stories I think are important to tell I pivot away from anxiety and toward improving my craft.
It’s a hard thing for many of us to just write and stop worrying, but I’ll say again: it is possible. It is within reach of all of us, especially once we give up the idea of perfection. Perfection is anti-human, anyway, which makes it anti-authorship, anti-functionality, and ultimately, anti-writing.
So, the writing thing. For those of us who see the brass ring as publication, I am here to throw a little water on your fire. There is so much more to it than that. I was watching a rant unfold online last night on the part of a few fellow authors whose book sales are nowhere near where they thought they’d be two months past release. I can understand the frustration, but sales aren’t going to be off the charts right after launch unless the author is J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or James Patterson, because they have lots of presales to bookstores, etc., that drive their initial numbers. For authors still on planet Earth, we have to earn every single sale, which means we need to be our own best marketers. Marketing doesn’t mean annoying the crap out of everyone on Twitter, but it does include examining your genre to see where other books are getting noticed, who is writing the most thoughtful reviews of similar books, what authors say about specific book promotion sites, and how to get yourself well situated as a quality writer in the author community.
When I read the rant I thought about how it set up an unrealistic vision for authors, so I wrote a response that included:
If publishing were perfect, authors would lie on a fainting couch and the words to their latest novels would magically appear in the air, crystalline and jewel-toned, launching themselves onto a ream of the finest linen paper, and small elves would appear with nice-smelling woodland creatures who would carry off the fresh pages and bind them into bestsellers. Nobody would have to do any promotion because knowledge of the new opus would immediately fill the minds of every potential reader, a process called “autoloading.” People would trample over each other (but nicely) to procure the book, would take to the information superhighway to exclaim their literary engorgement with the author’s ideas, and the author’s phone would vibrate off of the table with calls from The New York Times and Missouri Review and McSweeney’s.
Writing is hard work. Getting through the editing process is hard work. Publishing is hard work. As is marketing and promotion, contract negotiation, dealing with rejection slips, bad reviews, unexciting sales, and watching other authors’ success. We do it because we love writing. If you’re doing it for the money or the glory or the pats on the back, or the Amazon ranking, you are bound to be disappointed, at least for the first fifteen years of your writing career. Those things are slow to grow. But if you focus on the writing?
It won’t let you down. The only trick is……
YOU HAVE TO KEEP WRITING.