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Friday, August 16

That Uncomfortable Fear

by Jana Richards
So, our theme for the month is fear. I don’t like admitting to fears. Or more precisely, I don’t like the feeling of vulnerability that admitting to fears gives me. It’s uncomfortable. And scary.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash
When I first started writing, I didn’t even tell my husband I was doing it. I wrote in secret when he was at work, hiding my writing papers before he got home. I finally, tearfully, told him that I wanted to write, and he looked at me and asked, “Why are you crying?” Good question.

I didn’t want to look ridiculous. After all, who was I to think I could write? At that time I didn’t know any published fiction writers. Books were written by people far away in the States or Britain. Not an ordinary woman like me living in the middle-of-nowhere-Canada. Romance novels weren’t even set in my part of the world.

I remember how excited I was the first time I read a Harlequin romance set in Canada. It was sometime in the 1980s, and the book was set in Montreal, which was still a world away from me, but at least it was in the same country. It gave me hope.

Soon, I read other books set in Canada, both Harlequin and otherwise. After I confessed to my husband that I wanted to write, I joined a writers’ group in my small town. We were like-minded people who were fascinated with words and story-telling. But outside of this group and aside from my husband, I didn’t tell anyone I wrote, and especially that I wrote romance novels. After all, at this point, I hadn’t finished a novel, let alone sold one. I was still an impostor, someone who thought she could write. And if I’m honest, there was a lot of stigma about romance novels back then. There still is.

Eventually I found a group in my province devoted to romance writers. I had to drive to get to the monthly meetings, but it was worth it to talk to people who were as enthusiastic about writing romance as I was. We bounced ideas off each other and critiqued each other’s work. Soon I actually had a finished book or two to submit.

And when I did submit, I met with rejection. It was discouraging, for sure. It reinforced the idea that I didn’t have what it took to be a writer. It kept me from reaching out to people for information on research, something I struggle with to this day.

Fast forward several years to 2006. Small publishing companies were popping up all over the Internet as ebooks hit the market in a big way. On the recommendation of a friend, I submitted a manuscript to a brand-new publishing company. I didn’t expect much. By this time, I’d been rejected by big publishers numerous times. But to my surprise, the publisher wanted my book! I was pleased, but my excitement was tempered by the knowledge that this was a very small company and they were only publishing the ebook. This was before the Kindle and other now-popular e-readers made ebook reading easy and fun. I began to talk about my sale to people outside of my writing groups. I’d often hear that they spent all day at work on their computers. They didn’t want to do their leisure-time reading on one, too.

Getting that sale in 2006 gave me enough confidence to confidence writing and publishing. But I always feel I’m on the edge as a writer. I’m not quite good enough. I see writers with 5-star reviews compared to my 4-stars and I wonder what they have that I don’t. And yes, I know 4-star reviews aren’t terrible. But I fear I’ll never be anyone’s auto-buy. Readers will never clamor for the next book in my series.

I’m just not good enough.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
I’m currently working on book two in a small-town romance series. Book one was met with mostly okay reviews. Okay, but no cigar. I don’t want okay. I want terrific. Explosive. Mesmerizing.

Getting those so-so reviews for book 1 put a stall on the writing of book 2. Why bother? I fear I’ll never get the kind of response to my work that I want, that I’ll always be an 'okay' writer at best.

Even though I’ve been writing and submitting my work for twenty-five years, I still find it difficult to contact people to ask for help with research. Right now, for the series I’m working on, I should be doing some live research into equine therapy. There are places in my area I could contact and perhaps visit. But I’m putting it off. Fear is stopping me. I’m not even sure what exactly I’m afraid of. Fear of looking ridiculous? Fear of being an impostor? Why would anyone want to talk to me?

So, there you have it. Fear. Uncomfortable and scary. Maybe it'll help to bring it out into the light.

Tuesday, August 13

That Not-So-Dry Spell

That Not-So-Dry Spell

     I was thinking today about how fear can keep us from doing those things we love.  Some of us are afraid of rejections, while others are afraid of success.  Though the latter may sound odd to some folks, I happen to be one of those odd folks who have had the fear of success intimidate me enough to make me think twice about doing something.  I think part of that stems from the fact that we know that people who do well are often the targets of other people’s ridicule. 
Another form of fear that particularly affects artists (writers included), is the fear that they will suddenly lose all creative ability and become totally stale.  I refer to this as being “flat lined”, and I know the frustration of it all too well for I hit a five-year period when nothing of mine seemed to be coming together and nothing was published.  It felt like such a dry spell.  
I’d once read somewhere, “Just keep writing.”  So, I kept writing, even when it didn’t seem like it was amounting to much.   My agent at the time wasn’t able to get anything of mine picked up, which only confirmed that which I’d started to believe; my writing had hit the doldrums.  But, as painful as it was at times, and as monotonous as it had become, I kept going to my computer almost daily, working on those things which I’d started, or I started something new all together, and, still, nothing seemed to come alive.  I honestly felt like none of my work had much color, brightness or substance to it anymore.
As with everything in life, all things come to an end—both the good and the bad—and after a three-year go of it with my agent, it was time to part ways.  We did so amicably, and, I have to think, not without a little regret and sadness on both of our parts that maybe, in some way, we’d let each other down.  But, it was time, and I walked away with my tediously worked-on, sick-of-looking-at-you manuscripts, and tried to figure out where I should go from there.
Immediately, I started sending some of my work out, and soon thereafter heard from a wonderful editor with a large publishing house who wanted to see more of my work.  Needless to say, the material was in her “In Box” that night.  She called me a week later and told me she’d like to publish my first adult manuscript, and its sequel which I was in the midst of working on.  Of course, I was elated.  After we hung up, I sat back, stunned by the fact that I’d just received an offer for a two-book contract.  And then it dawned on me:  From all of those endless days at the computer, when I felt like my writing was about as interesting as a manual for a new refrigerator, I’d compiled quite a nice amount of work—work that was good.  Good enough to be published.  And it seemed to come together without my even realizing it.
Today, as my husband gave our Basset Hounds a bath in our yard in sultry near-ninety degree weather, I noticed our wilting Hydrangea bushes.  We’re in the midst of not just a scorching heat wave, but a dry spell, too.  And then I saw it:  Nestled among some of the brownish-green, parched Hydrangea branches were some very brightly colored clusters of flowers.  As a matter of fact, the more I looked, the more I saw.  My bush was alive and well, and blooming quite nicely, indeed.  Standing too close to it, everything seemed to be dried up and fading, but when I stood back and took a good look at the bush again, I could see how it was blossoming, and realized that this dry spell really wasn’t quite so dry after all … just like those five years of my work.

Friday, August 9

Hope to Overcome Fear

If you've been reading our blog faithfully this month, then you know that we've been discussing fear--in fact, I was the one who said, "Hey, I think we've got a theme." And this morning, I'm frozen in front of the screen with nothing to add to the three fabulous posts that precede this.

You can leave to read them, I'll wait....

So I'm just going to say, "Ditto."

Having never been published, my biggest writing fear is that I'll never be published. I'll die with all my stories in files on my computer.

Wait! My biggest fear is that I won't ever finish a novel to submit again. Sure, I wrote eight versions (8!!) of Bix which did have ends and I completed eight other manuscripts and two spec scripts before those. But, for the past few years (since 2014), I haven't typed "The End" on anything. And believe me, I've started plenty.

I quit fearing rejection years ago. I think I might be immune at this point. Sure, I get disappointed, but at least I was able to put myself and my words out there.

Lately, my writing fears have been eclipsed by national fears. Will our country find our way back to the future without further carnage?

I've always thought in terms of movies/television---I want a Star Trek future, but sometimes it feels like we're heading toward a Escape From New York future. And that scares me. 

But, then something good happens. The skies open, birds sing, and sun shines down on us. 

Yesterday, KB got a promotion that will have her traveling between four states. It's a huge opportunity and I'm so proud of her. In a few weeks she's going to be training somewhere in Ohio--so Kristi, Nan, and Liz, she'll be closer to you than me :)

I think these two quotes from Toni Morrison are the perfect fear-fighting words for me at this juncture. 

Happy Friday and beyond!

Tuesday, August 6

Facing F.E.A.R. ~ @AuthorKristina Knight

Whoever said there is nothing to fear but fear itself lied. Yeah, I said it. Franklin Roosevelt and Barney Fife lied to us.

All my life I've had a healthy imagination. This is normally a good thing. I can dream up story ideas, brainstorm writer-friends' stories, and generally be upbeat and encouraging in the face of disappointments (theirs and mine). Lately, though, that healthy imagination hasn't felt so, well, healthy. It's felt downright overwhelming and scary. Lately, and by lately I mean the last year or so, my imagination has looked for the worst things to happen. Maybe it's the political climate in our country? Maybe it's that I've spent so much time looking for the silver lining in every single cloud that came toward me or my family or my friends that I've used them all up? Maybe, though, it's just fear.

Someone told me once that fear and fine were the two worst words in the English language. Me, being me, mentioned a few really raunchy curses, which led to a tilt of the head and a small smile. That's when he told me what fear and fine really meant. His definitions:

F E A R: False Evidence Appearing Real

F I N E: Freaked-out Insecure Neurotic Emotional

In a lot of cases, fear is as substantial as the imaginary ghost creaking in our hallways, that awful-terrible-bad thing we think *might* happen. Fear is our subconscious trying to protect us from the unfamiliar, especially if we've been burned - even only slightly burned - before in the past. Before I became a published author, I received at least 20 rejection letters from editors. I'd file them away and tell myself 'Next Time'. Start a new book. Move on. Then I became a published author. Editors wanted my books. People read my books and enjoyed them and wrote to me about them and editors kept buying my next proposals. Then my line closed. That was scary. Then the new line didn't like the proposal that the old line had loved. That was scarier. People would ask me how I was doing post-closure. My standard answer was, "Fine, I'm fine," and I didn't even think about what F I N E meant. I didn't think about what F E A R was doing, either. Because I wasn't afraid, I couldn't be afraid. I'd been through dozens of rejections letters, a long wait time between starting to write and selling my first book. This was just a stumbling block. It was something to be overcome, and the closure of a line, well, that was just a business decision. It had nothing to do with me.

Except, it did have something to do with me, didn't it? Because I was writing books that I loved when my line closed. So that meant, I was writing the wrong books, didn't it? And if I kept writing the books that I loved, I'd keep writing the wrong books and then I'd never sell another book because what I was doing was ALL WRONG. False Evidence Appearing Real. See what fear did there? It took what was a business decision by my publisher and made it all about ME. One single author in the space of thousands of other authors in a very glutted contemporary romance market. But F E A R made it my fault. And my fault wasn't just a little rejection letter about a single book, like it had been before I published. Fear made the fault every single thing I was doing. The stories I was writing, the stories I want to write in the future, the stories I'd written in the past. It was all wrong. And I kept telling people I was fine - everything's fine, I'm fine, the new book is fine. Except it wasn't.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash
I wasn't fine, although I appeared calm and cool on the surface. I was freaked out, to the point I couldn't even admit to myself I was freaked out. I was insecure (about what I'd written in the past) and neurotic (what else would you call it when I put the whole line folding on myself?) and emotional (about what I wanted to write in the future and what I'd already written and how any of it could be okay or even good).

I was - and still am - afraid. Of what happened before. Of what happens next. There, I said it. And the world didn't crash down. It's still a sunny day outside and bebe is still laughing hysterically at Pat & Jen videos on YouTube. I'm not fine. I'm insecure. I'm emotional. I'm not entirely sure where I go next, but I do know that I don't want to be fear, pretending everything is fine.

So how do I get where I want to be - writing again and doing all those writerly things? I truly don't know but I'm going to try two things. 1) I'm setting a deadline for myself to finish the next book. I'm going to set my butt in the chair and write with daily goals, small at first. I'm going to write this story for me, because it's a story I've wanted to tell for a long time. And when I finish the book, I'll send it off into the world and...we'll see what happens. 2) I'm making a fear list, kind of like the pro/con lists I'd make in school about this profession or that cute boy. Only the con side will be the fear and the pro side will be the counterpoint to that fear. Will it work? I have no idea, but I don't want to be afraid of the ghosties, real or imagined, and so I'm willing to try.

Have you faced down your ghosts?                                    ~ Kristina Knight

Friday, August 2

"Behold wonder." by Liz Flaherty #WordWranglers

We talk a lot, the Wranglers. Although we haven't even all met in person, we trust each other, and we know that what gets talked about in the Corral stays in the Corral. Except for when the conversation spills over the fence and we share it here. Which is where this month's theme--fear--came from. Because we've all got 'em and I imagine you do, too. Talking about them within that Corral was easy--remember the trust thing?--but I'm discovering it's not so easy putting it here.

I wrote about fear in February for another blog. It wasn't about fear as much as it was about not letting it rule you. I try not to do that. But we're in a different place here. Here, we're just talking. Around the fire with a glass or cup of something warming. In the Corral.

When it comes to writing, I have several fears. I'm afraid every book will be my last, that no one will read my column anymore, that the blank screen will one day stay blank. I'm afraid I won't know when to quit. The other day, I told my daughter and son-in-law that when the time came to take away my keys, it was up to them to do it because I'd never realize my driving days should be over. However, my kids can't tell me when to stop writing. Or won't. My husband would never tell me to call it a day because I was writing crap. Maybe it will be up to the Wranglers to get together and murmur in hushed voices that it's time. It's time.

Added in later after conversation with Nan. Possibly my biggest fear of all when it comes to writing is that every time I'm under contract, I'm afraid I won't be able to finish the book. Every. Single. Time. I don't see that going away anytime soon. I'd love to hear if other writers worry about that. (Nan said she hopes they do--she doesn't want to be in that pool alone. 😀)

Personally? I fear not being loved. Although I have loved and been loved every day of my life, it's still there in the back of my mind that someday I might look up and there will be no one to love me. I can't believe I just admitted that, but there you go.

But I am lucky that those fears--and others, like water--have never ruled me, like I mentioned above. This isn't to say they haven't given me some rough days and nights. But not that many. Not as many as I've had good ones. Splendid ones.

We'd love to have you join us around the fire. Tell us what you're afraid of and how you deal with it.

Richard Bach said, "Overcome fear. Behold wonder." I think I'll keep watching for the wonder.

Tuesday, July 30

Don't Be Skeered...

We Wranglers do a lot of communicating outside this blog—each week we share how things have been for each of us and what the week ahead might bring. Sometimes, ideas for the blog come out, and that just happened recently when someone, can’t remember which one of us, mentioned something they were fearful of, which immediately got us all started on our own fears, which then turned into, “hey, I think we’ve got a theme!” So this month, we’re all going to talk about what makes us afraid, whether it’s in our writing or in other areas of our life. Hope you’ll join in the conversation with us every Tuesday and Friday—sometimes the best way to deal with a fear is to own it.

Right off, you all know by now that Husband and I sold our home of 35 years in April and moved into Son’s basement guest suite while we look for another. Frankly, I can’t imagine what it must be like to sell one home and buy another at the same time. Both the selling and the house hunt have been arduous for these two old seniors. We have our lake cottage and that has been a saving grace as we do this search, but homes in our price range are not nearly as nice as we were expecting them to be. I’m sure we’ll find one that we can make our dream home, but man…this is discouraging and angst-making.

As far as writing fears go, I’ve discovered that I’m not one of those writers who can crank out book after book after book, to the tune of five to ten books a year. I have no idea how people do that and frankly, I question the quality of books that are “cranked out.” But maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about the struggle I’m having fulfilling my promise to Tule that I would write four books in two years. The stories are there, ready to be told, but I’m a writer who needs time to percolate, to cogitate… Plus, editor Nan cannot stop going back over already-written material. Ack! I want to be a writer who just writes a first draft, then goes back for editing and clean-up, but it’s simply not my nature.

Which brings me to another fear (I promise I won’t list them all, none of us have that much time and this isn’t therapy…well, not really.): I worry that I’m aging out of romance writing. Although I love writing and being a storyteller, I don’t have the drive it takes to push my work the way I see some authors do it. Street teams, relentless promotion, Instagram graphics, Tweets, FB author pages and fan groups, newsletters, etc. How do they do it all? Plus, they tweet about TV shows they watch and movies they go see, stuff they do with their families, sometimes even their full-time day job…I mean, holy Toledo, when do they sleep? Heck, when do they even breathe? I know some use assistants, whom they have to pay. I’m a midlist author—I can’t afford an assistant. My writing budget is pretty small, so I have to weigh options very carefully as I choose where to spend my advertising dollars. It’s all very overwhelming to this seasoned writer.

Sometimes (like now when I’m on a tight writing deadline and I have editing gigs in the wings) I wonder if just stopping the whole crazy train would be best for me—continue with the editing gigs because I enjoy those and they are a source of steady income, but stop writing novels. Then a couple of those pesky people in my head clamor for their story to be told… How do I not tell them?

So tell me… what kind of fears do you live with every day? This is a safe place… let’s talk.