Someone asked me the other day whether I was nervous about putting myself publicly forth as writing a book – putting it on my Facebook profile page, in my email signature, on my website, and so forth. Especially when the book hasn’t even been written yet!
The short answer is of course yes! in fact it terrifies me on at least a couple of levels – but I’m doing it anyway. Like jumping off that cliff in Laos (book blog entry here if you want to read about it), some things don’t work well unless you have total commitment.
But I thought I’d write about writers’ fears, at least the ones I’m having, and how I’m dealing with them.
Fear #1: You are Not An Author.
This basically boils down to, “You’ve never written a book. What makes you think you can write a book? Only bona fide authors write books, and you aren’t one!”
The short answer is, “You don’t need a publisher’s stamp to be an author. Or even a good one. Authors are people who write books. I’m writing a book. That makes me an author.”
The longer form: I know Real Authorsâ„¢, both of weaving books and of novels and other nonfiction. They are people, not demigods. They just happen to have written one or more books. So if they can do it, so can I.
(Note that this response applies to “I am not an artist/scientist/athlete” as well.)
Fear #2: I’m going to fail in front of everyone.
Definitely a possibility. Fortunately, I’ve done this before, and therefore realize it’s not the end of the world. In fact, I failed with my first attempt at writing a book (about AIDS Lifecycle), and I got one remarkable insight from that: Nobody cares. I didn’t get a thousand emails saying, “You’re a complete failure”, and in fact people were mostly supportive of my decision to shelve that book indefinitely. My experience has been that people remember your successes much more than your failures. It’s really not that bad.
That said, yes of course that makes me nervous. However, I’m also using that nervousness to drive me to finish the book. Sometimes a little fear can be a good thing – it commits you to success.
William Hutchinson Murray said it well, in his book The Scottish Himalaya Expedition:
‘But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!’
I don’t know about Providence, but all my experience has taught me is that if you don’t tell anyone you are doing something, nobody’s going to help you – because they don’t know that you’re doing it. If, on the other hand, you tell everyone, often people you don’t even know will help you – especially if you’re doing something interesting and epic. I like doing interesting and epic things, and therefore frequently get help. (Which is a good thing, because I usually need it!)
Fear #3: You’ll never get published.
I agonized over this the first time I tried to write a book. I tried selling it to a few agents (not even publishers), got discouraged, and quit. Now I realize I was just looking for validation that I was a Real Author, and not just a poseur. The fact is that I want people to read what I write. I don’t need a publisher for that. I’d like to get some money from it if I can (not my primary motivation), but I don’t need a publisher for that either – I can self-publish on Amazon and get much better royalties at a much lower price-point than with a conventional publisher. And I can do my own marketing for the book – in fact, I’d have to anyway, as conventional publishers don’t put much effort behind a new book from an unknown author.
In short, “You’ll never get published” is code for Fear #1, You Are Not An Author – the rest is just a matter of working out the logistics and marketing.
Fear #4: You are not an Expert. Who do you think you are, writing a book?
Well, no, I’m not an expert. I wouldn’t want to write a book about all the technical aspects of weaving, because I’m not an expert weaver. But this book isn’t about expertise – it’s about one of many ways to approach designing and creating original craft pieces. It’s about my own process, and some of the things I’ve learned along the way. And I am an expert in that.
One thing I’ve realized about teaching (and teaching is really what this book is about) is that you don’t need to be an uber-expert to teach someone something. You don’t need to be able to answer every question. You just need to know and teach well enough for the student to learn something from working with you. (The more they are paying you, of course, the more they will expect to learn.) I’ve seen relatively novice weavers teaching rigid heddle weaving successfully – maybe they don’t know everything about weaving, but they know enough to get someone well started on basic weaving, and to get them hooked on weaving, which makes them a success in my mind!
So, while I’m not an expert, I do feel I have something useful to say, and I think some people will benefit from reading it. And that, to me, is enough. I already know it’s resonating with some people (through the comments and emails I’m getting), and I’m getting quite a few repeat visitors, so I know at least some people think it’s worthwhile. And for now, that’s enough to keep me going. Even if I’m not an expert, my writing can still be of benefit to others.
That’s it for today! Off to Complex Weavers!
Nice post. Thanks for the insight.
Lisa Dusseault says
Neil Gaiman says a lot of the same things in this post in his graduation speech here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ikAb-NYkseI
My favourite lines
“Someone asked me about doing something difficult… I told to pretend to be somebody who could do it.”
“Go. And make interesting mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes… Make good art.”