Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920's mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.
What if I never get published?
What if I do all this work on this novel—invest all this time, energy, and money—and nobody but me ever reads it?
What if my (insert-family-member's-name-here) reads it and disapproves?
What if people laugh at me when they read my book? (Or, if the story is supposed to be funny, What if they don't laugh?)
I'm not alone in asking these questions, right? They ran through my thoughts regularly as I worked toward getting published. I imagined signing my first contract or getting an agent would help to silence my insecurities about my writing forever. Sadly, the insecurities don't go anywhere when you're published; the questions just take a different shape.
What if I get terrible reviews? What if people say really mean things about my book on Goodreads? What if no one comes to my book signings? What if my editor doesn't like the next book I send her as much as she liked this one?
Sometimes when those questions pop up, I'm able to easily dismiss them. I'll remind myself that everybody gets mean reviews on Goodreads, and that I can survive it. And sometimes that's all I need to go on my merry way and keep fearlessly creating.
Other times my insecurities hold me hostage. Creating feels like a struggle, I'm mopey and distracted, and I start over-explaining everything because I feel like if I don't, no one will understand what I've created.
I almost did that last week, actually. I was sending two newly finished chapter to my agent. I never send her anything that quickly after writing it, but the chapters needed to be turned in NOW.
I spent about 15 minutes drafting an email that explained my chapters. ("I almost did this, but didn't and here's why. I'm sending two chapters instead of one for this reason. I'm not sure about this character, because of these reasons. I considered starting at this point in history, but here's why I didn't...") Fortunately, before I hit send, I realized that my insecurities had flared, and that I needed to shoo them away.
Insecurity is a part of the human experience, but that doesn't mean we have to let it keep us trapped. I imagine I will spend the rest of my life working on my insecurities, but here are some tactics I use to push through them when it comes to writing:
My book isn't me.
Our stories feel personal to us. That's how we're able to create good ones, by digging into ourselves and making them meaningful. So when people don't like what we've written, or think the story would be better if done differently, it can feel like they're saying negative things about us.
My book isn't for everyone.
It has 1-star ratings.
There are people in this world who somehow read The Scorpio Races and Pride and Prejudice and The Help and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and didn't think they were absolutely wonderful.
As of yet, no one has created a piece of art that everyone loved. Statistics show that I'm probably not going to be the first one to do so. You probably won't be either.
My books are meaningful to some, "meh" to some, and offensive to some. That's just part of creating.
Let's say that does happen. Then what?
Let's try getting specific with one of the most common insecurity-born questions among writers:
What if I put all this time and energy into this book, and it never gets published?
For me the specific answer is, "Well, that would make me sad. I really want this book to be published. I believe in the story, and it means a lot to me. But if it never gets published, I'm still proud of it, and I learned a lot that I can apply to my next story."
Your answer might vary from mine, but I bet it still doesn't seem quite as forbidding when you lay out the specifics. For me, the answers tend to be things that would be painful for a season, or that would hurt my feelings, but not things that would make me give up.
Negative talk doesn't produce positive results.
Obviously there's value in being able to recognize what needs improving in your manuscript. That's a very important part of the creating process.
A healthy focus on changes I can make to improve my story leads to questions like, "This character is reading flat. I wonder what I can do to fix that?"
When my critical focus has turned unproductively negative, I'm bound to think things like, "This character is reading flat, and I have no idea how to fix it. This book will probably never be published!"
While bad days are bound to happen, I try to not let myself wallow in that place for too long. (Writer friends are great for grabbing hold of your hand and pulling you out of that toxic pit!)
No one else is paying attention.
Nobody thinks about me as much as I do. I used to worry a lot about what people would think if I never got published, or if they thought it was taking me too long to write my book.
And then I figured out that people really weren't thinking about me and my book much at all. Sometimes they might ask how I was doing with my book, but they weren't keeping a calendar of my progress or tracking how many agents had rejected representing me.
If I fumble through an answer for an interview, or if I send out an email that has a typo, or I find a blog post I wrote a few years ago and now disagree with, my tendency is to stew. To obsess. But I'm getting better at remembering that likely nobody else is sitting around thinking about it, and that me continuing to do so is a waste of time. I'll ask, "What can I learn from this mistake?" and then move on.
Get back to creating.
What really quiets down my insecurities is when I'm creating a story or article that I love and care about. That's when I'm able to tell Insecurity, "Shh. I'm creating right now. You'll have to wait." And often Insecurity gets bored, and wanders away.
If you're currently struggling with insecurity, what's something you could have fun creating right now? It doesn't have to be something written, just something that will help you have enough fun that you aren't so worried about if it will matter or who will notice.
What's a strength of yours when it comes to writing? Story ideas? Dialogue? Developing interesting characters?