Tee Morris: The Fear Factor

Here there be guest post! This time by Tee Morris, talking about how the fear we all feel about our writing doesn’t go away just because you’ve published a book.

I never like seeing friends stressed out. Whether it is intensely stressed out or just out of their groove, it just kills me. It is amplified more when I personally feel the bumpy ride of Life’s rougher patches. Lately, those bumps have been feeling far too frequent for me; and it is very easy to lose yourself within the bad news and let it affect your work.

Getting published isn’t the hard part. It’s living up to the hype. Every time you clear one goal, another appears in front of you; and each goal is higher than the next.

There’s a lot riding on Dawn’s Early Light, the third book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, penned by Pip Ballantine and myself. At least, that’s what I’m seeing. The book hasn’t sold a single copy, and yet the fate of an award-winning steampunk series, potential titles under development, and even my own direction as an author all feels to be in the balance. Why, you may ask? As I was one told by a friend of mine:

“You got nothing to worry about. You’ve arrived.

I have? Well shit, I must have missed that memo.

Sure, I have the previous performance of the series’ previous books, Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair. They still manage to appear in Amazon’s Top 100 in Steampunk. It’s even better when these books pop up in the top 50 after three years. We have been working up a modest anticipation for Agents Books and Braun on Twitter, on Google+, and with a third season of our award-winning Tales from the Archives podcast. We also have a blog and podcast tour underway, appearing on over twenty blogs (including this one) and ten podcasts this month, all of these appearances heading towards the launch of Dawn’s Early Light.

So why the anxiety over this? We got this, right? This ain’t our first rodeo.

Actually, it is. At least, with Ace. Our publisher has made a gamble on us and on a series in progress. We have to make sure this gamble pays off. This is what it means to be a modern day author. Back in the day of Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen King — hell, even in the days of a young and spry (?) George R.R. Martin — the term R.O.I. never came into play.

It’s a different world now, kids. It would be nice to think you can follow in the footsteps of Uncle George and enjoy a few years between books, but you can’t and you won’t. You’re measured by your last book. Not only in how it performs but when it came out.

The clock continues to count down to release date, and I continue to try to keep a clear head amongst distractions like douchenozzles buying New York Times bestseller slots and the saber rattling over Independent versus Big Bad Legacy publishing. It’s enough to drive you to drink (and I enjoy my single malt over chilled rocks, thank you), especially when you have on the line details like a house, a child to take care of, and a career to pursue.

On one of the more intense days where I was getting particularly frustrated, Pip said it to me through my rant of frustration: You cant give up. You’re not allowed.

Then it hit. And it’s still hitting me…

I’m scared.

I’m scared that Ministry won’t go the way people are telling me it will go. I’m scared the book will hit the shelves and people will hate it. I’m scared that I’ve got all these great ideas, but I’ll suddenly find myself unable to get beyond the pitch. I’m scared the Ministry is going to fall short of everyone’s expectations; and I’m scared, particularly on those days when I struggle to herd the words, of losing that ability to write.

There’s also that fear that I’m doing something wrong, or not doing enough, to make our latest title a success.

That’s what’s happening in my headspace, and it is tearing me apart.

I understand what Pip meant though. I’m not allowed to give up. These are First World problems, and I still have stories to tell. It may sound like I am miserable, but that’s not it either. It’s just that anticipation. I love what I do, but I know how I get right before a major release. I set a pace, and there are days when I feel I cannot keep that pace. I have to, though, no matter how bad it may seem. We as the upright mammals we have evolved (in spite of those damn Godzilla-bits in our brain) must always strive forward. Onward. Always.

But this terror. Sometimes, this darkness feels bigger than me.

This fear isn’t a bad thing though. It’s good. It keeps me focused and driven. I know that when I’m the most terrified, I’m sharp. My heart pounds like a jack rabbit as I hammer out a blogpost, before a speaking event, before a panel discussion, against words straining to get on the screen, and—from what I discovered at a writers’ retreat—introducing a new work amongst a roomful of peers. I know that I’m alive, and every rapid pound in my chest reminds me that I have earned the right to be here and it’s time for my “A” game. I am told by agents, editors, and publishers I have chosen a path that few undertake. I honestly don’t know what that means, but I do know that this fear is an acknowledgement of a challenge before me.

When that fear threatens, though, a friend of mine—a fellow storyteller named Phil Rossi—offers a perspective I can get behind.

“We are defined largely by our own perception. If I think I can’t write, then I’m not going to be able to do it.  If I consider myself capable of telling a good tale, then that’s just what’ll happen.  Belief is a powerful thing. 

And in this case, I’d say it’s magic.

In a perfect world, I believe that how we should be to each other: inspiring. That really is, as Queen once put it, a kind of magic.

Find your strength. Even when you believe you have none left, remember you do. It could be a loved one. It could be another writer. There is strength to draw from. Always.

I am ready to face it. I am ready to be a motherfucking rockstar.