Publishing – Fear Of The Unknown

Perhaps it wasn’t just a tooth I had removed from my head last week.

 

After the drugs wore off and the pain began to subside, I felt like a cork had been pulled from my mind. I won’t lie – the reason I haven’t updated this blog recently is because I’ve been in a creative rut. We all get them from time to time (except James Patterson, who floats steadily along on one slow river of mediocrity). I hated everything I had written and was seriously considering putting more effort into my day job (yeah, it got that bad).

 

But this weekend I finished two short stories, the initial draft of a third and planned a fourth and fifth (the fifth is killer). The best advice I received last week was from The Voice, who said: At some point I just look myself in the mirror and say “Publish it, you pussy!”

 

And while I tend not to use the word pussy unless I’m inebriated enough to do my (fucking hilarious) Kathleen Turner Serial Mom impression, I have taken the point on board.

 

 

And then Dr Meg recommended 4 or 5 drafts. Seemed like a sensible thing to do. So I now have a 5-draft maximum. Either finish it or bin the fucker. If I don’t impose some rules, I will never finish a thing.

 

The Scribble Bug quoted Neil Gaiman the other day in her excellent entry about anxiety.

 

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

 

And that resonated with me deeply. In the past, I have had no problem getting up and singing a song I wrote in front of 5,000 people, but I am absolutely petrified of publishing anything I’ve written. I guess my reasons for this are twofold:

 

Firstly, writing is a more intimate experience. At least it is for me. It feels like I’m squeezing out droplets of my soul onto paper (or, in my case, an iPad or a Mac). Here’s what I really think – yep, that’s the sort of fucked-up shit that rattles around in my brain every single day.

 

Secondly, people are very mean about writers.

 

I’ve touched on this here, and while my usual stance is fuck you, I can’t help but think I’ll be a little hurt at some nasty feedback. For example, I was looking for editors a while back and had no idea where to start. So I sent a rough short story about a dead dog to half a dozen different editors and thought I’d get a vague idea of what I was dealing with out there. Some didn’t respond, some were half-assed, several were excellent, but one was just pure bitter. He was American, and I normally get on with Americans pretty well.

 

The guy, who probably had a bookcase jammed with James Patterson and thought Dean Koontz was a little edgy, was looking for the suspense factor in the story. I was like, Mate, it’s a two-thousand word black comedy about a dead dog; it’s not a fucking Alex Cross novel. There will be no Hollywood adaptation. And the main thing he was preoccupied with was that I used single rather than double quotation marks for speech. He marked all of them on the document. All of them. Jesus.

 

If you know me like I think you do, you’ll understand that I didn’t take that too well. So, I drafted this long email about his lazy editing, reliance on boring tropes and inability to grasp that in the UK, a single speech mark is perfectly acceptable (a quick Google would’ve done it). But then I realised that if you’re editing manuscripts from virgin authors at $30 a pop, your life probably isn’t where you want it to be and that maybe there was an underlying cause to his bitterness. So instead of sending him the email, I simply named the dead dog after him. That amused me more than any egotistical argument ever could.

 

Criticism is fine, just be constructive. And don’t be so fucking dumb about it.

 

It’s easy to talk about the assholes. Let’s get a little positive here for a minute…

 

Here I am, roughly six months after starting this blog. I have a few short stories ready to go. I have a bunch waiting in the wings, like fame-hungry actors lining up for their starring Broadway role. The novel is, quite frankly, a mess. But it’s kind of glorious, and I’ll leave it like that until I feel compelled to revisit it.

 

My fear of publishing something is diminishing. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? There’s one more piece or crap art out there that nobody gives a shit about. It’s not like I’m waterboarding children or anything like that.

 

So, everyone that’s read and liked and commented – thank you. Your small nuggets of advice and inspiration, along with the odd skim through your blogs have been invaluable. The murky world writing seems far brighter to me knowing you’re in it.

15 comments

  1. That cork is the worst, but very glad to hear it’s popped and you’re on a roll again. Great simile about the fame-hungry actors there too.

    Very glad the Gaiman quote resonated – I think it’s one of the best things he’s ever said and he’s said a lot of great things (the full speech is called Make Good Art and can be found in book form too). And on that note, as the quote says, it’s probably a good thing that you’re nervous about publishing. It means you’ve done something you care about and have exposed a little soul. That’s pretty impressive for six months of work. Keep going. You’re doing something right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Harriet, that was a great post on anxiety. I was on the road all weekend and didn’t get to leave a comment because I thought it would be rude to spend all day on my phone instead of talking to the people we visited. Preferable, but rude! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. No binning the fucker! 😉 Keep it for future use. You’ll be surprised how an old idea will occasionally resurface to give you fodder for something awesome. Even if it’s only two really clever sentences.

    I’m glad you’re back on track with your writing. There is a New York Times article called Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome (I’ll send you the link via twitter, it’s likely to go to spam here) that I think you’ll appreciate. It’s not only about writing but people in many fields who don’t feel “authentic” even after years of success. Have a great week, Jack!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been told American publishers – and therefore agents and the rest – can be very anal about manuscripts. From your blog, I get the impression you’re a very capable writer.

    When The Independent was a decent broadsheet at the turn of the century, the newspaper published a few of my travel articles. Reading them in print made me feel almost physically sick. I hated every damned word.

    Very few people appreciate unknown writers, even though Charles Dickens started off being an unknown writer. Tell anyone you are a writer and the first thing they will ask is if you’ve been published. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you say you haven’t they lose interest in a flash. It’s understandable, but had you said you were studying to be a heart surgeon, they wouldn’t have asked you how many operations you’d conducted then turned away as soon as you said you hadn’t done any yet.

    Don’t lose heart, in my bones I feel you can make it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Bryan. If EL James can do it…If at first I’m unsuccessful, I’ll just add more whips.
      But yes, reading your own stuff in an publication must be like listening to your own music on the radio – excruciating. You always know where all the cracks are.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Opening ourselves up in our art is a terrifying act of vulnerability, but it is so worth it. Such good it does for the soul to speak our inner selves. And good for the souls of others too, who are longing to hear they’re not alone.

    Of course, the fear is understandable. I think we all feel it. But look – you’ve shared your inner self already, here, just now. Maybe those who thought they were struggling alone feel a little less so, now.

    Excellent post, Jack.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s the natural rite to getting published–to meet a lot of strange characters that are not in your book but real life which is even scarier. Life becomes a black comedy. At times, a horror show especially when you have to start on page 1 to put in double quotation marks. Welcome to the world of WRITERS – Writers’ Ridiculous, Incapacitating, Terrifying, Exasperating Rites of S_ _ _.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is basically where my writing partner and I are at. The thought of attempting to publish is nausea inducing to say the least. It’s comforting knowing there are others out there who are just as scared by the big bad world of books. Your thought about throwing another nameless piece of work into the sea hit home here . With such a saturated market, how does one’s work ever really stand out? -Collins

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I know. I think the only way to do it write with conviction and make sure it’s as good as it can be. Also, shameless promotion and a decent cover. Other than that, I feel it’s probably down to blind luck!

      Liked by 1 person

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