The Fear Never Gets Any Easier, By Tom Pollock

Here’s a guest post by author Tom Pollock, who wrote the fantastic City’s Son (and who was kind enough to blurb Under the Empyrean Sky). Here Tom talks about the fear all authors experience, and it’s a short but powerful horse-kick of a read. He nails it.

The truth about the fear is: it never gets any easier.

It’s March 2013 – I feel like I have a herd of specially miniaturized buffalo stampeding through my lower bowel and I’m sweating enough that if this writing gig doesn’t work out I could probably get a job as a water feature at Buckingham Palace. My finger’s hovering uncertainly over the return key on my laptop, pointlessly so, because I’ve already hit it, and even though I want to, I know there’s no way I can take the email I’ve just sent back.

I’ve sent in the last round of edits on The Glass Republic, the sequel to The City’s Son,  which just enough people read and liked to mean that there’s a readership to piss off and disappoint if I’ve fucked this up. The book’s off to the printer’s tomorrow. That’s it. No more changes. It is now, officially TOO LATE.  In my head, I can hear the typeset falling with the ominous thud of a coffin lid. This is the first time I’ve ever been in this situation with a book already out, and yet the sensation is eerily familiar. In fact this feels almost exactly like it did back in…

August 2012 - I’m sitting at my computer, furiously hitting refresh on Twitter as The City’s Son is about to break like a glorious, urban fantastical wave over the literary world. Anyone who has tried to talk to me for the past week has received a spew of hyperactive and incomprehensible mumbling in response, and I appear to have wholly lost the ability to hold objects in my hands.  It’s been a year of eighty hour weeks, sleepless nights, and my fiancée pointedly referring to my book as ‘the other woman,’ and laying an empty place for it at the dinner table, a brilliant rhetorical tactic only slightly undermined by the fact she has to tell me about it on the phone, because I’m not at home having dinner because I’m writing my fucking book.

It all comes down to this. What if everyone hates it? Worse, what if no one reads it? Worse, what if they do read it, but simultaneously misconstrue and read too much into it and come away convinced that I derive sexual kicks from getting butt-naked except for a Nixon mask and choking the life from innocent penguins? No, you’re right, no-one reading it would be way worse.

GODSFUCKINGDAMMIT WHY WON’T TWITTER LOAD?  I haven’t been this stressed since…

March 2009 – I’m sitting at my keyboard. The return key is still pressed under my index finger, and I know with a sickening certainty that no matter how slowly I lift my digit, even if I leave it there for ever and get catheterised and never leave my seat, it won’t get un-pressed again. There’s no getting that email back –  the email that contains my query and  the first three chapters of my novel.  And even though in reality,  if this agent rejects it, and the one after her, and the one after him, it won’t make the book any less worth writing;  won’t make it any less a story I needed to tell, right now it feels like it would. I’ve spent a year and a half telling myself I can do this, and I’m terrified of finding out I was wrong.

It never gets less scary, I don’t expect it to any more. Also, I try not to let the fact that it never gets easier fool me into thinking it was ever really hard in the first place. Being a soldier is hard, being a miner is hard, being bloody nurse is fucking hard, and sure, being a writer can be hard too, but mostly it’s the “ Particularly Fiendish Sudoku” kind of hard, rather than the “I have to stick a catheter in this guy, then turn around  and get up to my elbow in this other guy’s turd-canal, and then tell this guy he isn’t going to be around to see his daughter’s fifth birthday before heading home for three hours sleep before coming in to do it all again tomorrow” kind of hard.

Everything’s relative, and nothing worth doing is ever easy, and there are a million other things I could be doing, and so every now and then the question naturally arises: “If it never gets any easier, why carry on?”

For you, maybe it’s necessity, maybe your life, or your livelihood or your sanity really do depend on putting one word in front of another, in which case, like the soldier and the sailor and the nurse before  you, go forth and do what you do. Godspeed to you. Power to your pen.

But if you’re like me? If it isn’t necessary, if you could be doing something else? Well then, I guess all you can do is smile maniacally at the backwards ‘QWERTY’ the keyboard raised in bloody bruising the last time you smashed your forehead into it, because apart from necessity, there’s only one other answer to ‘why carry on?’:

‘Because it’s worth it.’  And it is, I mean it really is.

What if I’ve forgotten how? What if the last one was a fluke? What if it doesn’t come, and still doesn’t come tomorrow, and again the day after that? What if I can’t What if I can’t What if I can’t?

It’s August 2013 and with a friendly herd of miniature buffalo thundering their way towards my colon, I sit down to write.

20 comments

  • Hit the nail on the head for me. Arranging twenty-six letters into words and then building a sentence one word at a time. Repeat to make a paragraph and then work towards a chapter, and so on, and so forth. Read what I wrote and think who will want to read any of this? Fall into the pit of despair at the end of the day, each morning climb and start again.

  • I’ve not tried to publish a book yet, so i don’t know about THAT fear. I’m still paralyzed by the fear that my stuff will never be good enough. The fear that i didn’t exercise my chops for too long and they have atrophied into worthless little knobby appendages that will just be ridiculed by Those Who Read. Hell, I didn’t even tell my wife I was writing until just last night and i’m half way through the rough draft of a second novel. It’s not that i don’t want people to know I’m a writer, I just don’t want them to think that I’m not a good writer.

    Thanks for the warning. I shall make this fear, as any other, an ally.

  • I usually avoid making this sort of comment, but man, great post at an uncannily appropriate time, as I find myself paralyzed by alternating bouts of fear and indecision.

    My book is ready, heck it’s been ready .. but I know it’s too long and I’ve cut it down several times and I don’t know what else to cut but if I don’t nobody will touch it …

    My query sucks and I know that too … my synopsis is better – now — but not by a lot, and if I cut the book some more then both will have to be revised …

    But I found a new twitter feed to follow (‏@Zen_Moments), just last night, and this morning I login to find :

    “Have patience. Wait until the mud settles and the water is clear. Remain unmoving until right action arises by itself”

    And I realized, I’m thrashing about in my own puddle, the turbidity that arises is of my own making. Calm down, chill out, let the waters clear a little.

    Yes, there will still be fear, but to quote an old and wise saying …

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain (-Frank Herbert)

    May we all fear less, and be fearless.

  • My first thought while reading this was, “OH GOOD GOD yes. Yes on all counts. What a relief that I’m not the only one; that all writers struggle with this insane fear.”

    My second thought was, “We really must all be CRAZY.”

    So, cheers to writers and to insanity, and to finding ways to laugh at it. Thanks for helping me laugh today :)

  • Have to pay respect to the fear, but how do I deal with the crushing sense of invisibility? I’ve worked so hard to only be a drop in a bucket of water.

    • Join Twitter, and revel in your anonymity and utter outsiderishness, and try really hard not to let it get you down. And to add a bit of corny (but true), remember that you are a snowflake, and even melted down into that bucket, you are still a unique, individual drop. And know that it’s better to be that than just a part of the puddle.

  • Sweet muppety Odin, THIS is where I am right now. I’ve just turned in my first round of edits on my debut novel (due out in November). And I had the gut-wrenching panic attack of “oh fuck, people are going to read this now. people who don’t know me. people who read. oh shit oh dear what am i going to do if no one reads it? What if they read it and hate it? What if i’m the only author to ever get a solid string of 1-star reviews? What if no one will even review it?”

    Which then led to the, “I know! I’ll buck up my confidence and send a short story on submission.” Which then gets the inevitable rejection.

    And sitting down to write….terrified.

    That is where I am at this exact moment…

    Dude, I could hug you for this post.

  • I’m so happy I’m not the only one who pulls 80 hour work weeks, and whose family doesn’t understand what draw an unfinished manuscript has. Just kidding. My husband’s really cool about it.

  • You nailed it, as usual, Tom. I’m sitting here with my third book on its way to the printers and – worse still – Netgalley, and praying that I’ve wrapped up this trilogy in a manner that won’t piss off my readers.

    And in the meantime I have to work on the new book and pray that a) my agent loves it and b) he can sell it. Which means a whole new herd of miniature buffalo heading my way next year.

    You don’t have to be a masochist to be a writer, but it certainly helps!

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