Tag Archives: fear

2009 targets

I have a mate who continually reviews his progress in relation to personal and professional goals. Each month he sets himself targets and asks whether he achieved to a satisfactory level for the previous 30-odd days. At the year’s end, he analyses each month in turn before considering the year as a whole.

As a part-time author, my progress towards major goals can be painfully slow. After signing a contract, for instance, publication may still be up to a year away. Writing time tends to be crammed in between wage-work and other commitments … and there are days when I struggle to get 500 words written. That said, I reckon some public goals are in order for 2009 as, once I write them down, they are on the record for better or worse.

So, to kick off the new year here are some writing goals:

1. Get a contract for publication of Book 2.
2. Hammer out a plan and (hopefully) a complete draft for Book 3.
3. Make more time for writing (and reduce distractions/distractedness) in order to achieve #2.
4. Read more and watch less TV
5. Be more optimistic and less afraid.

The last point is inspired by things I’ve been reading recently. Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ was a surf-centric, brilliant book for a beach holiday and a powerful exploration of how we feel most alive when we’re afraid. I know myself well enough to accept that fear regularly affects me, sometimes inspiring me to greater heights and sometimes holding me back. Fear of not measuring up to expectations (whether my own or others’) is a big one for me … but I also know that if I focus on what I might not do, I’m less likely to do anything. So my goal is about focusing on the positives that can come out of fear, rather than being crippled by potential negatives that usually don’t eventuate.

In relation to optimism, I like a comment by the founder of the online store Remo General Store that I read today. Remo Giuffre wrote in his 2008 Printed Thing how “chronic entrepreneurship” had hurt him and his family financially but he remained optimistic. He said: “Not only do I remember feeling optimistic but I also remember coming to the realisation that this feeling of optimism was probably more important than whatever was going to happen. A feeling of optimism about the future … was actually delivering us a very high quality of life in the present. The outcomes of our endeavours were actually irrelevant to the quality of the lives we were living.”

Optimism doesn’t always come naturally to me so I’m keen to lock it in as a goal. It means seeing the best in others and seeking the best in myself.

Fear of failure

I had lunch with an author friend yesterday. She is just about to have her second book published after genuine success with her first. I’m still working on my second and the first seems to be going OK. Both of us are living in fear that Book 2 won’t live up to expectations.

Before Game as Ned was published I had a conversation with my agent in which she candidly informed me “everyone expects your second book to be even better than your first”. The statement didn’t come as a surprise. As a consumer, I bring the same expectations to the next book/album/movie/performance from any artist I have previously enjoyed. But when I slip into my lycra author costume, Second Book Syndrome looms as one of the worst super-villains I need to defeat.

GAN is (mostly) fast-paced and tense. Book 2 is not. It can’t be. It’s about big ticket items such as living, dying, loving and grieving. The pace needs to be different. But even while my rational brain knows I’m writing a different story, the emotional brain thinks “everyone will hate it because it’s not like the first”.

Another author friend recently handed me the manuscript for his third novel, having asked if I’d be willing to read it. It takes guts to do that. I tested my first manuscript on maybe 15 laboratory rat readers and each time there was the potential for a very awkward moment when they handed it back. My rule for all of them was that they had to be honest in their feedback. Even if I got bruised. For the record, most were positive and/or constructive, a couple were tepid and one either lost it or still hasn’t read it.

Writing a book is often compared with giving birth. It’s true that there’s lots of sweat and groaning and no guarantee of a beautiful bonding moment at the end of your labour. What you get at the end of the process is yours though. And while you’ll probably love it, that doesn’t mean anyone else will.

So why do we do it? Why do we risk the rejection letters, bad / patronising reviews, poor sales and other forms of art-induced suffering? In my case, it’s because I love immersing myself in a story – a universe where I can see and hear and smell things and try to recreate the sensations for others. The magical moment when all the pieces of a plot come together is pure joy. The possibility of converting a reluctant reader into a regular reader is golden.

So yes, there’s plenty to fear in being an author. Indeed, I’ve read that even for the literary greats it doesn’t end with Book 2 or Book 3 or Book 14. But if we let the fear win and never take a risk, the world would be a much darker place.