The Only Thing we Have to Fear

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“My philosophy of life is that the meek shall inherit nothing but debasement, frustration and ignoble deaths; that there is security in personal strength; that you can fight City Hall and win; that any action is better than no action, even if it’s the wrong action; that you never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you’re willing to risk everything, dare anything, put yourself dead on the line every time; and that once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.”
- Harlan Ellison
 
Recently, I came across the profile of an aspiring writer who made mention she “never had the courage to put her words on paper” before publishing her little eBook. I know I’m supposed to be supportive and encouraging to fellow authors for attaining their dreams, but I can’t help but use a condescending adjective like “little” when someone pens a 63 page eBook and thereafter fancy themselves an “author”. Please. 63 pages? That’s a goddamn pamphlet. Are you really interested in being a writer or do you just fancy the label?

Forgive me, I digress already.

Anyway, what I wanted to call attention to, the word that stood out to me, was “courage”. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, it really hit me – Wow! Are there writers who are worried about being “liked”? The thought that anyone would need “courage” to write was unfathomable to me. Because what they are really saying is, “I’m scared no one will like me.”

Right? Obviously. Was I misunderstanding this sentiment? What other possible motive could be kindling their fear? What else is there to be afraid of? They’re not scared their pen may spontaneously explode in their hands. No trepidation a keyboard might electrocute them. Talk of “courage” is because they fear their efforts are a waste of time and will meet with ridicule.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m a very arrogant bastard. I know I do a good job of coming across like one too. But, in this instance, I want to be clear in stating I’m not being condescending toward the fears of other authors. I’m not belittling them for being afraid. That’s not my intention at all. What I’m attempting to express isn’t bemusement or contempt for their insecurities. What I’m try to say is, and you may not believe this, but in all my years of writing, such a fear has never crossed my mind. I know I’m a good writer. Having even an inkling of insecurity about the quality of what I create has never occurred to me. Certainly, there are many writers with far more talent and skill than I and I can easily find myself humbled by the genius of gifted writers. But, despite being humbled by those I admire, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m still really damn good.
 
“Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

- William Shakespeare
“Romeo & Juliet”
 
Never have I written a single paragraph of a loveletter so eloquently. Who would not fall in love with Juliet?

I fear I may never be so fine a wordsmith.

Nevertheless, I have never needed courage to put words on paper.

That’s why this writer blew my mind. She expressed an emotion toward writing that I didn’t even know existed. Needing “courage to write” is an idea that left me flabbergasted, because doubting my value is a thought I have never experienced.

I would never proclaim to be fearless. Far from it. Like many creative folks, I have an immense fear of failure. But – and here is the vital distinction – my fear stems from failing to find my audience, not from questioning my worth. See the difference?

This is an important distinction. Are you afraid you have no skill for your passion? Or are you positive that you are amazing, but you fear your work remaining unknown despite being fabulous?

My writing can have flaws. I know that. Sometimes I ramble too much, when I need to get to the point. Sometimes I sum things up too quickly, when I need to let things breathe. Sometimes I awkwardly compose sentences with some weird grammatical structure, and when I read it 6 months later, I have no clue what I was saying until I go over it 2 or 3 times. Sometimes I phrase things 90% perfect, but I just can’t quite manage to find that ideal word to make it flawless.

On the flipside, I know what I do well. I work very hard at using spellcheck (the Achilles Heel of many amateur authors). I spend weeks reviewing story structures to avoid gaping plot holes. I write realistic dialog. I create some damn beautiful descriptions and set a mood exceptionally well.

Yes, I have a good idea of my strengths and weaknesses.

But to think anyone wouldn’t like my stories? Incomprehensible.

On the rare occasion a person does dislike my writing, they clearly didn’t understand it. They’re obviously illiterate. Or morons. Or both. That’s the way I see it.

Some people believe it when someone says they suck.

The rest of us think, “How about you go fuck your mother with a severed donkey cock?”

Long ago, I learned no matter who you are and what you write, there will be people who love it and people who hate it. This is an undeniable fact. Simply logic. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Sadly, fools have told me such a philosophy is misguided and I had “been done a disservice by whoever told you those things”. Later I found out, the person giving me that criticism had worked as an editor. No wonder. Professional editors are paid to convince writers, that editorial opinions matter more than others (and obeying said opinions will reap greater financial rewards than any other consultation).

Of course, such a philosophy has been proven a lie, time and time again.

There have been many documented incidents of frustrated authors submitting classic, bestselling manuscripts to publishers, with the deliberate intention of being rejected, just to prove that the editors never do their job or bother to read the work anyway. Or if the editors do read it, they are too uncultured to recognize a bestseller published by their own house. Check out Doris Lessing publishing a book under the pseudonym Jane Somers or the very low sales J.K. Rowling had under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Chuck Ross passing off work from Jerzy Kosinski proved the point in 1975 as did his rewrite of the screenplay to Casablanca. David Lassman submitting Jane Austen novels under the name Alison Laydee was yet another instance of authors screwing with the world of publishing. Those are just a few examples.

What does this prove?

It proves the praises and acceptance of publishers, editors and agents is not validation of a story being any good, and it proves the rejections and criticisms are not a condemnation of your writing having no worth.

The only opinion that matters is your own.

Think about your favorite book. You adore it. It changed your life. It touched you deeply. Reading it was profound and moving. But, there are people in this world who hate that book. They think it’s awful. They tell their friends it’s a waste of paper. They couldn’t even finish reading it. I cite Richard Bach – one of my favorite authors of all time, full of insight and wonderment and wisdom; yet many people loathe him as some hippie freak spouting spiritual hogwash.

Think about a book you find terrible. It was a joke. It was laborious. It was horribly written. You have no idea how anyone could praise such a piece of crap. How did it get published? Yet, there are people in world who love that book. They think it’s genius. A masterpiece. I cite J.R.R. Tolkien – I admire the depth and breadth of his work and think his efforts to build an imaginary world are extraordinary and will remain unparallelled for a century, but when it comes to his actual writing, he’s one of the most dry, tedious and convoluted authors of all time; yet many people worship the man.

As a writer, my job is not to write something I think people will love. No. Never. My job is to write something I will love and then work to find an audience who will appreciate what I have created. Finding your tribe. That’s what it’s all about. You write what is true to your own heart, then you find your tribe. Find those who regard you as a tribal minstrel. Find those who will admire and appreciate your efforts. Find your fans. Find the ones who will say, “Yes, this speaks to me.”

Some folks “never had the courage to put words on paper”. Courage isn’t about impressing the world. Courage is about undertaking the quest to find your tribe. May your tribe be vast and devoted, honorable and true.

How about you? What dreams are you afraid of attempting?
 
“Getting rejections all the time… you don’t even notice. Yeah, you’re momentarily bothered, but you figure that they’re all stupid. They don’t recognize your genius and some day they will, and so I suppose your ego keeps you going.”
- Ray Bradbury