Author Ann Littlewood’s Advice on Fear

After Ann’s book party, a bunch of us local writers (including Ann) convened for literary libations.

I’m going through, let’s call it, a phase with my writing. I call it my fear phase. It’s not writer’s block. Writer’s block I could handle. Last week I read the perfect explanation for my funkitude on Nova Ren Suma’s blog. As quoted from her guest blogger, debuting YA novelist Meagan Spooner: But sometimes the fear is all too possible—what if I send this out and it gets rejected, and the experience is so terrible that it kills my love of writing? What if by trying to reach for this dream, I destroy it?

I’ve been getting rejected for years, right? Right. Handling rejection is a job requirement for writers. Somehow, though, the agent rejections of the past year have been breathtaking, spectacular, crushing. Perhaps my ego isn’t as strong as it used to be — I don’t know — but it feels like something has withered. Picture a dessicated corpse, a tender fledgling that crash-landed during its maiden voyage from the nest. That’s why the quote above caught my attention: I’ve been grasping so hard that I fear I’ve destroyed my writing dream.

Last weekend I was pondering this fear crap as I drove to author Ann Littlewood’s book launch. She’s touring with the third novel in her zoo-dunnit mystery series. It’s called ENDANGERED. If you’re an animal lover and you care about conservancy, check out her books. Even if animals aren’t your thing, check out her books because you’ll dig her zoo-keeper protagonist, Iris. She’s just the right amount of feisty without being annoying.

I had a chance to ask Ann about fear, and here’s what she had to say:

Winston Churchill defined success as “the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” That’s hard to pull off. Failure is debilitating, sucking out energy and leaving nothing much behind. But it can be thwarted if you see the possibility of non-success. Here’s some strategies I’ve used, with varying results.

1. Acknowledge that only a certain percentage of new ventures will succeed, whether they are possible friendships, sales calls, new plants in the garden, or whatever. And that’s OK. To paraphrase what a friend once said, “Of course I fail more than other people. I do more than other people.”  This leads to ….

2. Have more than one growth point to your life. If one wilts, focus on another for awhile. Then maybe come back to the first with renewed energy. And…

3. Have the next step in mind. If this round of agents all reject the manuscript, my next step will be to…write a different book, try short stories, submit directly to publishers, self-publish, and so on. Always know what you will do next if the current strategy does not pan out.

I was one of the last to leave…:-)

4. Look for benefits that you weren’t expecting, that aren’t your primary goal, and savor them. Met new people? Learned something interesting? Had to try something scary and felt good about that?

This stuff isn’t easy. It takes all your self-knowledge and self-discipline to decide whether and how to stay in the game. The alternative of inaction and depression is, however, not the least appealing.

As for publishing, my take on it is that success requires a good manuscript, a ton of persistence, and a surprising amount of luck–a big random factor. The longer you stand out in the field, the better the chance that lightening will strike you. (And I really need to come up with a less  lethal metaphor!)

I’ll take some of that lightening, please. Thanks, Ann!

I Get Scared

Current status: Story spinning okay
Current status: Story spinning okay

I’ve been working on a new novel idea, and I’m doing it differently this time. (Hopefully I’ll elaborate on that soon.) At the moment, I’m a little scared. Do you get scared right before you begin your first scene?

I’m so anxious, my chest wall presses up against my sternum. It’s a little tight in there, like maybe my ribs have morphed into squeezing tentacles. A friend reminded me to have fun with this new story. But I’m still taking it all too seriously, probably because I want this fiction-thing to work out. I’ve been disappointed over the last year. Losing agent, languishing finished manuscripts, writing grant fini and day-job sucking at my creative marrow…

I can’t avoid the writing forever — and by avoidance I mean engaging in endless story-development exercises — because at some point the head of steam compels me to set words on paper. I feel uncomfortable and itchy, just gotta start. I’m at the teetering point now. I’ve been here before. The discomfort is familiar, and I’m thankful for that. I’ve worked through it before and will work through it now. 

This discomfort in a good sign. The story has almost completed its initial gestation period.

This discomfort differs from that I felt at the beginning of the summer, when I thought I’d never have another story idea. Now that’s the truly scary place! Glad I’m past that.

More Like With a Puff

wintermistStruck me today as I was walking that I haven’t started 2009 with a bang. This includes blogging. Any new readers that have come my way probably aren’t impressed with me at the moment.

My brain’s foggy, trying to wade through my priorities for 2009.

I just wrote seven rambling paragraphs and erased them because I don’t know what I’m feeling and what I meant to convey. In those seven paragraphs I admitted to desperation and disappointment and fear.

I suppose what’s really on my mind is this: I’m returning to my life as of summer 2007. That is, I’m back to technical writing to pay the bills (writing grant kaput) with no publishing contract in sight (literary agent kaput). And this feels like a sad, been-there-done-that, what’s-the-point way to start the new year.

One question intrudes even though I keep pushing it out of my mind in the quest for hope and optimism: Since I’m back to this, is this where I’ll always remain?

Answer: Hopefully not; it must not be; perish the thought. But funny how the question persists, buzzing at me like a pesky fly.

I’ve decided that for the New Year I’ve got to ease up on Lisa the Writer and get back to being Lisa the Whole Person. This will help, I think.

I Don’t Care

tomatoesI don’t care what my financial situation is, I’m not, I repeat not, going to buy mutant tomatoes with grayish, waxy sheens and zero aroma at the superstore just because they’re half the price of the organic vine tomatoes at my regular grocery store.

And, I don’t care what my financial situation is, after sending in a resume for a 9-to-5 job purely out of fear, I’m no longer going to entertain for one millesecond technical-writing positions that pay $20,000 less than I’m worth. I’m a senior-level technical writer for crying out loud! What was I thinking?

I guess that’s fear for you. I’m done with the fear. I buy my organic vine tomatoes in good faith.

(That said, I’m may still be funky and moody for awhile.)

A Literary Evening Followed by a Realization

What could be better than sleeping in a guest room laden with my hostess’s novels?

Attending said hostess’s book party and then watching the first presidential debate with her and her gang afterwards. (Talk about hitting my pillow that night with a full brain!)

I met Elizabeth Engstrom over the course of four Maui Writers Retreats, but, interestingly, we didn’t become friends until after the fourth retreat. And I can say that: “friend”. Which is cool, because she’s fun, smart, and full of insight about the biz. In fact, over the course of dogwalking and lunching on Saturday, I received many a food for thought regarding literary-agent relations, self-publishing, and possible next steps. I count myself lucky.

One lesson: It’s okay to disagree with our agents. They aren’t always correct. Elizabeth told me a story about a reputable agent who counseled a client that, as a career choice, her latest novel wasn’t the way to go at that time. She disagreed. She sold it on her own and ended up with great reviews.

(And speaking of great reviews, Elizabeth’s latest, The Northwoods Chronicles, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly! It should be a creepy-fun-great read. It’s a novel in linked short stories, which I find doubly intriguing.)

As Elizabeth and I continued talking about agents, I realized that I fear being dumped by mine. As a result, I don’t talk to my agent enough, as if by doing so I’ll come off as too bothersome or assertive or demanding. However, I’m allowed to bounce ideas off her, ask for advice and help, tell her what I really think, disagree with her. Right? Right.

And if she decides she doesn’t want to work with me anymore? I find another agent. Elizabeth bouyed me up with her certitude: I’ll land other agents as necessary. Right? Right.