No, this isn’t a story about the dangers of BDSM submission. I mean, the literal fear, doubt, worry, and terror that come with hovering your finger over that “submit” button when you send a story off. Or maybe it’s just the “send” button on your email, whichever. Either way, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s felt it. Along with that plethora of emotions, there are good ones, too — excitement, anticipation, hope, pride — but at the end of the day, it’s the fear and the anxiety that keep me up at night.
Now, I don’t know if I’m alone in these feelings when I submit. Maybe I’m the only one feeling anxious and worried and sick as I pretty “send” or “submit” or whatever button makes my story go from existing just on my computer to existing in someone else’s inbox. According to my Twitter feed, though, I’m not the only one, and my emotions are fairly common? Anyway, I wanted to talk a little bit about why I think submitting my work is the most terrifying thing I can do – and why I do it anyway.
A Little Back Story
I won’t bore you with the details, I promise. Growing up, though, I was always terrified of showing anyone my writing. Even when people were supportive. If it was something I’d written for something other than an assignment for school, I didn’t show it to anyone. My family were the only people who really knew that I liked writing. Until I was doing some creative project my senior year for one of my teachers, and class ended, and I was still sitting at the computer writing that story. After everyone left, I told her that I liked writing, that I didn’t want to leave until I was finished because I didn’t want to lose the idea.
Then she ended up literally screaming in her classroom as she told me I would be wasting my talent if I didn’t go to college. But I feel like that’s a different blog post if I get too far into that. All through college, I was the same way. The only people who saw my work were my classmates and my professors. I was scared to branch out, to let anyone else see my work. It took me a really long time to realize why this was, why I was so desperate to be published, to get my work out there, and yet also paralyzed into not doing anything.
I was terrified of failure. I was terrified that no matter what I did, what classes I took, how much I practiced, I’d never be good enough..
I couldn’t fail if I never tried. Right?
On a whim in 2016, I decided to try NaNoWriMo. I hadn’t finished one in years; I’d barely made it bast 10k. So I wrote. I got behind, like I always did, but by the end of the month, and a couple of astounding 10k word days, I had a FINISHED novel. Not just “I won because I wrote 50k in a month” finished – but actually finished. Like, if I was the type to write “The End” on things, I would have slapped it on there and called it a day.
Awesome! Love for writing renewed. Very soon after that, my fear took over again. Yeah, I wrote anything, but it isn’t any good. It’s still shit, no one is ever going to want to read it. It’s boring, nothing happens in it, your conflict is shitty and overdone, your characters are clichéd tropes that everyone is sick of seeing.
Ugh, not this again. Come on brain, can’t you just let me celebrate?
*Yawn* How does ANY of This Relate to Your Point?
Right, my point. The fear. The failure. The terror. The self-flagellation that stopped me from feeling good enough about my work to send it out.
I can’t say that it’s gone away. Hell, there are some days I can’t even say that it’s gotten better. But I’ve learned the mute all that negativity and that mean voice in the back of my mind (because think about it – that’s literally all it is. It has no other purpose but to hang out back there and say mean things about you).
I recently submitted a novella to Tor.com for their open submissions. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I wrote the story in May, proofed in in June and July, and then sent it in the night of the 31st. That was a particularly hard day for me. Mean Voice was really on point that day, I’d had a terrible day at work, I had a migraine, and I felt overall shitty. I think I was crying when I finally hit submit for that one – and they were not tears of joy. So why did I still send it even though my mind was telling me that it was going to get rejected and that I should just order a case of Moscato now?
I told myself I would. I told myself that I could. I wrote a novella in a month. I proofread it, and it was as prepared as I could have made it in the timeframe I had. “Yeah, but it’s going to get rejected anyway, what’s the point? The story’s trash compared to the other submissions,” said Mean Voice.
Well, Mean Voice doesn’t know what the other submissions look like anymore than the rest of my brain. It’s so easy to let Mean Voice get the better of you, to get lost in that fear and insecurity and comparing yourself to other writers. I had to write my cover letter, and in doing that, I had to isolate the themes of my piece, what was unique, and talk about how good it is. Because I did that, I managed to convince myself it was worth the time it took me to write the letter and submit. I managed to override mean voice by fighting back, by telling it that YES, MY WRITING IS GOOD AND IT MIGHT NOT GET ACCEPTED BUT HEY, GUESS WHAT? IT MIGHT, THOUGH.
Story submissions/agent queries are hard. They’re frustrating, and disappointing, and they take so much time and effort and it’s hard not to get dejected and think “what’s the point?” It’s easy to get lost in that initial fear of not being good enough, of not writing well enough, to get lost int he frustration and self-doubt and anxiety and depression. It takes its toll every time you click ‘submit’ or ‘send.’ It’s not about not feeling those things. It’s about accepting them as part of the process, and knowing that by doing it anyway, you’re really giving yourself your best chance at success.
I don’t really know how to end this without sounding like, too sappy, so I’m just going to quote that video of Shia LaBeouf yelling at you to “JUST DO IT” because “Don’t let your dreams be dreams.” Because seriously, I guarantee you you’re better than your mean voice gives you credit for.