Note from Nick: This is a guest post submission from Staci Troilo.
My husband and I were having a conversation about my manuscript. I had submitted chapters and a synopsis to an agent, but I hadn’t heard anything by the time I had expected. I was what if-ing my husband to death about all the possible scenarios of why the agent hadn’t contacted me.
Finally my husband said, “You know, I don’t think you’re worried about her not calling you. I think you’re worried about succeeding.”
First of all, no. Second, thanks for the support. And third, who has even ever heard of fear of success?
Well, turns out, there is such a thing. It’s called Achievemephobia, and no, I don’t believe I have it. I have what I believe many writers have: fear of rejection.
Let’s face it; no one sets out to write a book, story or blog post that people hate. We want to be memorable—and for the right reasons. We want our novels to have intriguing plots that keep the readers riveted. We want our short stories to have captivating characters that resonate with our audience. We want our blog posts to have valuable content so we can connect with our tribes and be beneficial to them. If we can’t accomplish those tasks, we fail. It’s frightening to face the prospect.
Many people compare writing to having a baby, but there are some important distinctions that, in some ways, make writing more intimate and personal.
- Writing is a solitary endeavor, unless you choose to work with other people. Physically conceiving a baby requires a partnership.
- As a manuscript develops, more and more of the author is poured into it. As a child grows, he or she develops a personality of his or her own.
- When the author releases a work to the world, it is defenseless, unless the author speaks for it. When a child leaves home and enters the world, he or she has been raised to speak on his or her own behalf.
- When the written word is released, it is in its final version. When children enter the world, they are still works in progress, able to adapt to changing whims of society.
I’m not saying that my writing is more important to me than my children are. I love my children and would do anything for them. But my husband and I are raising them to be strong, independent people with interests and pursuits of their own. My writing isn’t like that. My writing is mine, and mine alone. If the world rejects my children (God help anyone who hurts my babies), the pain is borne by them, me, my husband… and my children have the option to change to try to blend in better. If my writing is rejected, then I am rejected, and I bear it alone. Sure, loved ones may empathize, but they had none of the responsibility of the work, so it isn’t them who the world has shunned. And, as the written word is static once published, it can’t assimilate based on the changing tides of the times.
So what can a writer do to face the fear of rejection?
- First and foremost, write. Write every day, or at least every work day. The only way to be competent in your craft is to practice your craft. If you aren’t writing, you aren’t working toward your goals.
- Read. One of the best ways you can improve your writing is by reading. You definitely need to read works in your genre; that’s how you know what readers want. But read outside your genre, too. Nothing will breathe life into your work more than injecting a flavor or two that you’re not used to. Rocky Road might be your favorite flavor of ice cream, but tell me it won’t taste even better if you have a bite or two of Strawberry Swirl between scoops.
- Complete what you start. You probably have fifteen excellent ideas half started in notebooks and on your laptop. Kudos to you. That’s a start. Now finish one of them. I don’t care which one. Pick your favorite, your kid’s favorite. Randomly choose one. It doesn’t matter. Writing every day isn’t enough. You have to finish one of your works. And once it’s done, you need to revise and edit it until it’s polished and ready for the world to see.
- Join a critique group. The best way you can fix your flaws and hone your strengths is by listening to what other writers have to say about your writing. Is it daunting? Of course it is. But remember, they’re in the same boat you are. They only want to help you and they only want your help. If things seem too critical, you either need tougher skin or you need a different group.
- So guess what’s next. Yep. Submit to contests, magazines, agents. You’ve put the work in, now do it. These are known as baby steps. If I had told you a few paragraphs ago to open a file and send it to a contest, your hands would have been clammy and your mouth would have gone dry. But I led you here gently. You’re ready. You’ve done the research, you’ve practiced. You’ve edited and rewritten. It’s time. Release the hounds.
- Celebrate the rejection. What? Did she say celebrate the rejection? Yes, I did say that. Guess what? Stephen King got a ton of rejection letters. J. K. Rowling was passed over by several publishing houses. Look at them now. You will get rejections, so expect them and the sting won’t be quite so bad. The people rejecting you don’t know you personally and aren’t rejecting you personally. There are reasons your work was rejected, and before you convince yourself it’s because you’re the worst writer in the world, you should consider them. You may not have adhered to the proper submission guidelines. Your work may not have been the right fit for the publication house. They may have too many submissions at this time. Just celebrate the fact that you got experience out of the process, and if you got a personalized rejection letter, you might have made a contact or left the door open for a revision and resubmission.
- Finally, throw a party. Eventually, your hard work will pay off and you will have the success you’ve dreamed of. You’ve conquered your fear. Celebrate!
As it turns out, I had what-if-ed my husband’s ear off for nothing. My hopefully-agent-to-be had been sick and had gotten behind with her correspondence. We just spoke, and after having read my synopsis and first fifty pages, she wants to see the full manuscript. I’m working the steps through the fear of rejection. I don’t know where this will lead; she’s made no promises, I have no guarantees. If it amounts to her representing me, great; I’ll have an agent. If not, then I’ll embrace it as a lesson learned and keep moving forward. My family will support me, and I, the solitary writer, will bear the rejection proudly.