Sometimes I point to my education, many times I point to my library and my reading (for, it is my opinion that all writers have to be industrious readers), but there is a secret friend I usually never bring up. He is a nagging voice, usually the last one I hear in my head each night before I go to bed. He questions everything I did that day, and wonders what I can do in the morning to correct it.
That is insecurity, and over the years I have learned to look at him as a companion in this upside-down, backwards and forwards, writing career. He rarely cheers or gets excited when something goes right (if he goes quiet for even a minute it is rare), but he keeps me on my toes, challenges me and always has my back in any situation.
Yes, I am telling you my fellow authors to be insecure! Fill your mind with self-doubt and worry! Let your uncertainty overwhelm you!
…And then use that power like I do.
How original exactly is it?
There is nothing more enticing for me that that first spark of an idea. This may sound overdramatic but the only thing I can compare it to is the spark you feel when you rub socks along staticky carpet.
And suddenly everything has changed! You mind is focused on something completely different! The last time this happened to me I was in Richmond, Virginia about to speak at a writing event. I had the morning off so I decided to wander around the city, check out the Edgar Allan Poe museum (for some macabre reason I wanted a shot glass). I was walking around and suddenly that is when it hit like lightning.
I paused in the middle of the crowd. I had to take a breath.
I got out my phone and immediately began dictating ideas into my note app. I did that during my entire walk to the Poe museum and back to my hotel. Once there I outlined and worked on the first chapter… I finished that novel six months later.
That is one of the best stories for me about being a writer. Those are the moments I live for. But here is the thing you don’t hear in stories like that, right from the start I had insecurity along. Actually, it was the first thing to interrupt me.
“How is it original? How is it new?”
Some might balk at questions like that, but I love the challenge of it, because if I can’t answer, the idea is toast. Not worth continuing. And for each chapter, I outlined and worked on since that day, insecurity was asking that again and again.
See, the thing is my work and myself as a writer never becomes complacent when I have to answer that question. It can make me go back and rewrite a paragraph, throw away a chapter, rework a character.
We all have read books that feel like mirrors of another author, rip offs. We have all seen genre works that seem like they are from a factory or team of writers as compared to an original. Frankly those works may sell, but they don’t stick to a reader’s soul. They don’t make a lasting impression. The books that are original, that surprise, that give the reader something new always have a greater impact, and always will.
If you want your book to be something like that, never stop questioning yourself.
Trust (almost) no one
I do the book reviews for my local NPR, which means I get in the mail, books before they are released. Many times those copies come with letters from the publisher (about marketing and book tours) or from the author. Recently, I got such a book from a popular YA author. And in the letter he explained how he had three readers read the work to get their opinion. Yes, he was justifying the book to me the reviewer (never a good sign).
To that author, I wish to say with utmost regret- those three readers care a lot about you, maybe even love you, but they are also liars.
We authors need our early readers, those we can turn to to say if we did something magical (which we always dream it is) or if it is crap. Yeah, our insecurity turns us to these readers, but they are crucial. It’s not about the editing (that will come later), this is about the soul and heart of the book.
Early readers like this helped me restructure one of my novels, another time they made me rethink an ending. I can’t imagine sending a book onto an agent or publisher until I have the thumbs up from readers I trust.
And here is the rub- you can’t turn to family, friends and other loved ones. You have to turn to those you trust to lay it on the line and be honest, because they have no emotional stake in your response.
So where should you look? Many libraries and bookstores have writing tables, consider joining one. Which is the author that brings in great work each week? Always has something interesting to say? There is an option! Or how about a professor? Or a fellow writing student?
All your first readers need to share in common is a trust. You need to trust them to give you an honest opinion (good and definitely bad) and you have to believe going in that their opinion matters. If you don’t believe that truly, insecurity will catch you and call you out.
No, you want to read this story (but maybe not)
If you have to reach out to agents and publishers after finishing your book (in other words you are not J.K. Rowling and Stephen King), you need to be able to hype yourself. Insecurity plays another major role for me in this work. Because in those e-mails and query letters I need to market and that is hard for us introverts (and, let’s be honest, that is most of us writers).
The trick is to remember and walk a very thin and careful line. Your book doesn’t have to walk on water, but if it could perform a few miracles, that would be awesome.
I am never satisfied with how I describe my book in my correspondences, or how I sell it. I’m always fine-tuning the query letter. Again and again.
And after I send a query letter, I immediately think of it getting a negative response. That is not a bad thing! It’s a well-practiced event my insecurity and I have worked out. For it is through that negativity I find my next audience to write to, and my next, and my next.
See, if I let myself be positive, I wouldn’t be sending that many letters at all. (And did I mention my books can perform miracles?)
The end is never the end
There is this old dream that after your book is published the work is done. It is on the shelves and you can happily turn to other works; and it will always be there for posterity’s sake. There is your legacy right there!
Oh, if that was only the case.
If I said this once, I have said it a million times, the literary market is congested. Thanks to the internet and self-publishing and eBooks, anyone and their grandmother can be published. (I don’t know why I said grandmother, I loved my grandmothers!).
I have always been a fan of the idea of gatekeepers, those making sure the books that hit the sales floor are worth your time, but frankly, those gates have been trodden to dust a long time ago. Heck, there are many books that are published by major publishers, and made a big deal of that should not be read by anyone, no matter who the author is. *cough* Harper Lee and Go Set a Watchman *cough*
The publishing world is a business world, and even if your book has hit the shelves and been out for a while there are still things you can do to generate interest. If you don’t, your book will disappear into obscurity (what I call the search engine on Amazon’s fourth page that no one turns to). Even if you are published by a major publisher there are things you can still do. Book giveaways, readings, interviews, contacting websites for book reviews. Your book is alive as long as you want it to be.
Remember how I said insecurity was the last voice I heard before falling asleep? It is mainly for this reason. I wonder if I did enough for all my books and what I can do more. For I love all my books, and I want them all to find readers and success. Insecurity is a teammate in this, more than any business model.
Never, ever stop fighting for your books.
I love my books, but I can never read them after they are published.
This is the one way, and maybe the only way, my insecurity hurts me. For if I was to pick up a book and try to read it, I will immediately question my decisions, wonder about my choices. And, heaven forbid!, I find a comma in the wrong spot.
No, seriously, I would lose sleep for days kicking myself.
But if that is the due I have to pay to keep myself creating new and original stories AND fighting the good fight for readers to find my books, so be it. See the fact is no matter what happens today or tomorrow in my life as an author, I will never be satisfied because of my insecurity.
And that is just fine by me.
My latest novel Permanent Spring Showers was just published by 5 Prince Books. You can find out more about my novel as well as my other books (including A Jane Austen Daydream and My Problem With Doors) and grab a copy via my author page on Amazon.com here.
Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.