I love to write, I need to write… but at the same time, I am afraid of publishers and editors and agents. Not so much about rejection letters or working with them, but sending my work to them. I know it must sound weird, or maybe not. How did you cope with it when you sent Graceling away? Was it really hard to let your creation out of your hands?
My dear aspiring writer: I am leaning out of my computer and giving you a hug.
I think I understand what you’re saying on a visceral level. And I mean literally on a visceral level, because shortly after I signed with my agent, right about the time she started sending my manuscript out to editors, I developed heart palpitations — weird, fluttery, uneven heartbeats — that sent me to a cardiologist because I was scared that I must be dying! I wasn’t dying. In fact, it turns out that all I was was scared — so scared, in fact, that my anxiety chemicals were playing around with my heartbeats.
It was crazy hard to let Graceling out of my hands. And fear has played a starring role in my life since I did so. Along with all of the other emotions — joy when I got a deal, pride with every completed round of revisions, excitement at seeing my book cover for the first time or reading a good review or holding Graceling in book form in my hands — fear has always been present.
It comes from a lot of places. Some of it simply comes from your life changing. Change is hard and scary, even “good” change, the kind that looks to outsiders as if it should be easy and feel great. “Your book is doing well? Wow, you must be so happy!” When actually, sometimes, I can’t tell if I’m happy, because everything’s spinning so fast that I feel like I’m about to whirl right off the earth.
Fear also comes from realizing that you are not in control, and I think that might be, partly, at least, where your question is coming from. When you let go of your manuscript and send it out into the world, it’s no longer completely yours anymore, and you’re not in control of what happens to it. It’s vulnerable, away from its parent, fending for itself. The thing is, your manuscript contains a little bit of your soul, and when you send it out away from yourself, it kind of feels like you’re throwing your soul to the wolves! Once your book is out there meeting people, people will criticize it and interpret it however they like. IT STOPS BEING YOURS.
Except that the thing is, it never actually stops being yours. It will always be yours, first and last, yours. It’s just that it will be other people’s, too, but in completely unexpected ways, ways you never imagined. People who are the last people you ever pictured reading your book will tell you that your book affected them. And one of the most amazing things for me about Graceling being in the world is having people see things in it that I never even meant to put in it. They say it like, “Oh, it’s neat how you connected Theme X with Theme Y in this scene! Good work!” And I’m like, “I did? Oh my God, you’re right! I did! Look at that! How did that happen?” ;o)
The work of writing is very, very different from the work of getting and being published. They are two separate jobs completely. I’m only at the beginning of learning how to add the job of letting my books go to the job of writing the books in the first place. It’s been quite a whirlwind, it’s been one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, it’s sent me to cardiologists. In the beginning, I floundered a lot, and sometimes coped badly. But you know what? I’m still writing. And I’m alive! Letting my books go hasn’t killed me! Not only that, but I’ve done some serious adjusting. Some things that freaked me out a year ago barely faze me now (thank goodness, because it sure is exhausting to freak out on an hourly basis). And I hardly ever get weird fluttery heart palpitations now! (Maybe now and then, like when I get asked to make speeches AND have been drinking too much tea. ^_^)
Have I answered the question you asked? Letting my manuscript go was, and continues to be, hard. But for me, at least, what it led to was a better manuscript, from all the feedback. It led to experiences from which I have learned exponentially — about myself, about business, about readers, about the world. And it also led to the ride of my life. :o)
One thing I want to add, though: I’m not saying you have to let your manuscript go NOW, or even SOON. I waited until I felt like I was ready; until I was ready to take the risk. I can’t say what “ready” feels like — I expect it feels different for different people — and it DEFINITELY doesn’t feel like success is assured. “Ready” always contains a little bit of “OMG I AM SO NOT READY.” But it also contains enough “I am ready” for you to be ready.
Oh, good lord. That paragraph was meant to be helpful, I swear. Here, read this poem by Anaïs Nin:
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
If I somehow managed, in my blathering way, to sidestep what you were really asking, please tell me!
And if anyone has comments or questions to add, please do so!
Happy Thursday, everyone.