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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fear Will Kill You - by Leigh Stites

The following article was first used in the February monthly newsletter of Midwest Romance Writers. It may be reproduced by sister RWA chapters with proper credit to chapter and author. Bloggers may refer to the article but not republish it.

MRW President’s Column - February 2012

Dear Author:

Fear will kill you. 

No, I’m not kidding.  It will.  Fear will kill every dream you have.  It will kill the momentum you need to achieve those goals you set when you weren’t so afraid.  It will kill the future you might have had if you’d been brave enough to leave the cave and go out hunting.

In last month’s column, I invited you to join me in living dangerously in 2012.  I’m convinced that’s the only way we’ll get anywhere, and especially in this scary new world.  Question is, how will we ever find the courage to step out if we’re afraid? 

That means our first order of business this year is getting past our fears.  In the spirit of keeping things simple, I’ve distilled these into a manageable three-point list.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t act on more than three things at a time. 

Fear #1:  It’s not good enough.  This phobia is a BIG one for me.  I have a tape in my head that plays every time I finish a scene, a chapter, or even a whole novel. 

“It’s not good enough.  You need to go back and work on it.  Revise it.  Now, revise it some more.  Polish.  Tweak.  Nope, still not good enough.” 

Now, I know that no manuscript is ever perfect, but for some reason that damn voice tells me it can be almost perfect if I just do this or that differently. 

The ‘not good enough’ fear has caused me to write in circles for weeks.  It has led me to allow others to tell my story—meaning I took in all their feedback and tried to ‘fix’ whatever they perceived was flawed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bashing critique groups or workshops or whatever channel you use to get feedback.   But I will warn you that if you have this fear you will be tempted to revise the life out of your work in hopes that it will get better.  Trust me, it won’t.  This compulsion to keep revising and tweaking is a creativity killer.  I’ve massacred more than one book by tinkering it to death.  

Last year, a very wise sister (and published author) advised me to write something and send it off without showing it to anyone first.  I was too afraid.

This year, I am committed to living dangerously.  I’ll finish the new manuscript I’m working on, do one revision, and send it off without showing it to anyone.  Oh God, just thinking about doing that gives me the cold sweats.

Still, I won’t break the hold this fear has on me until I learn to trust myself.   Here goes…

Fear #2: The gatekeepers don’t want it, so readers will hate it.  This fear comes on the heels of rejection and will hold you back for as long as you let it. 

I’m not one of those people who saves every rejection, but I do keep track of how many I’ve gotten.  (It’s fairly easy when everything you send out is ultimately rejected.)  However, I have noticed that the tone of the rejections has changed.  First, it was the usual form letter or email.  Then, I started getting a few nibbles (requests for partials or full manuscripts).  Recently, I have been in communication with a couple of agents who say they like my writing but don’t think the current project is marketable or easily sold.

I have let these rejections stop me. 

The truth is, that manuscript everyone keeps turning down may or may not be well-received by readers, but I won’t know if my work never gets out there.  So, this year I commit to indie publishing at least one manuscript for the sole purpose of putting my stories into readers’ hands.  They might love it or they might hate it, but I won’t forego the chance to find out because of fear.

Fear #3: I’ll fail.   Isn’t it ironic how we let the fear of failure allow us to fail? 

Life affords so many opportunities to fail, and fear seems like a logical response.   Yet, I’m convinced we humans are engineered to learn more through failure than success.  We don’t like it, but we can’t fear it.  In fact, if we let fear stop us, this guarantees we will fail.  On the other hand, if we don’t fear failure, when it happens we will just accept it and move on, more the wiser (hopefully).

Consider the process of natural selection.  If the new world of publishing is a jungle, then only those who adapt can survive.  This means becoming stronger, smarter and more fearless than those who keep to the caves, clutching their talismans and hoping one day things will get easier.  Make no mistake about it, you have to work hard to become smart, and work smart to get lucky, but beyond that, you mustn’t be fearful.  Venture forth, learn from your mistakes, face the inevitable rejections, overcome the bad luck, bad Karma, or whatever stands in your way.  If you don’t fear failure, it won’t devour you.

This year I’m committed to being fearless.  I’m going to write more, worry less, trust myself and put my work out there at every opportunity.  When failure comes, I’ll remind myself that something attempted is never a complete failure. 

I invite you to join me on this journey.  Shed your fears and make the most of this year of living dangerously.

Leigh Stites
Writing as Elisabeth Burke

 Leigh Stites is a past Golden Heart nominee and current president of Midwest Romance Writers. She writes American western historical romance. As Elisabeth Burke.

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