I don’t believe in fear of success.
No, that’s not exactly true. There might be people out there who are genuinely afraid of doing well and succeeding. I just have never met any.
I’ve met any number of people who, unconsciously or consciously sabotage their career, their love life, or their economic well being. Some of these people use “Fear of Success” as their excuse. I guess because it sounds so much better than “I’m not sure I’m good enough” or because they, themselves, don’t understand their self-destructive behavior.
Look, we all have self-destructive behavior. I, myself, have found there are things I MUST do even when it will destroy my career or lose me half my audience. Is this a fear of success? I don’t think so. I think in my case it comes closer to “there are things that are more important than my career.” I find myself pivoted into issues where my speaking out will alienate editors and sometimes writing friends. At that time, the decision comes down to “Is this topic/idea more important than my career?” In other words “Is it bigger than me?” If it is, I speak out.
It’s a balance. Part of my duty (something to talk about later) is to ensure I maximize my income, so we give our boys a better start in life than we had BUT with indie I can write confessions on the side. I can even (Hey, there’s such a thing as single malt and a mild buzz) write erotica under a deep pen name, if I’m starving. So if you remove my duty from it, what is left is what matters most. That’s the only deciding factor.
So, that’s number one. Sometimes people know behavior is self destructive, but really, for them, to their value set, it’s the only thing they can do. You simply can’t know from the outside. And yeah, they might fob you off with “fear of success” because they can’t or don’t want to explain it to you.
Then there is not knowing where to start. I think this is less of a problem with the net, because you have all these writers and publishers blogs to consult. In my time, not knowing how to start was huge. For instance, mid-eighties all the houses needed synopsis. I simply had no clue what a synopsis looked like. I didn’t send novels out for five years. I had no idea HOW. The thought of reducing my entire novel to ten pages gave me cold sweats. I’d done precis in college, but had no clue if that was what I should do. (Answer – yes, no, maybe.) Then someone local published a small chapbook called “proposals that sold.” I immediately started sending stuff out again. Got an agent the next year.
You’ll say “you could have figured it out on your own” and undoubtedly, I could. Not to the conventions that would sell, mind, but something that at least meant I sent stuff out. Wouldn’t have made any difference, but it would have looked better to myself, in retrospect. But isolated as I was, ignorant as I was, and afraid of approaching “real writers” for fear they’d laugh at me – among other things, because I am ESL writing in English. How crazy is that? – it was one last, overwhelming barrier. The straw that broke the camel’s back applies to this type of situation, and I’ve seen my kids go through it. I don’t know who the joker is that decided kids must apply to college while finishing their senior year – usually during first finals. Perhaps it is because both my kids were AP/Honors/Advanced and it’s more demanding. But I’ve seen them let college applications slide, refuse to jump the hoops for scholarships, and kind of willy-nilly blow deadlines. I think it’s because they can’t cope. It all climbs up, and they can’t cope. That was the “How do I write a synopsis?” was to me. Not a fear of success, but a neurotic shutting down and hiding under the bed.
But the most common “fear of success” thing I see is actually a fear of failure. I get that. I have that too. Like most writers I have the bottomless, negative self confidence in my writing. I understand just enough of what I do, to know how much I don’t understand – in fact, how much I don’t get – about how my writing works. And what’s not under my control freaks me out and makes me afraid it’s not god enough. So I live in fear of failure. Like Wily Coyote, running mid air, sometimes I try to run hard enough to escape the inevitable lack of ground under me.
However, there’s something people who fear failure do that prevents success. (This reminded me of it. Apparently writers are not alone.) I think the first question that anyone asked me as a more experienced (I wasn’t published yet) writer was “How long do you leave a submission in, until you pull it?” At the time to me this meant gibberish. “You leave it till it’s sold or rejected.” But no. Later on I came to know my modus operandi was amazingly rare. I didn’t pull books or shorts, but everyone else did. And at the time doing that ranged between stupid and suicidal. Stupid if the book or story had been just waiting, but suicidal if it had been making its way up from undereditor to editor to managing editor or, worse, if it was on the executive editor’s desk, ready to be sent to you with an editorial rewrite request or even an acceptance. An editor who has gone through the process of accepting an unknown will never forgive the unknown for spitting in his face and withdrawing. So unless you’re sure you’re J K Rowling and Pratchett and Heinlein rolled into one, this was an insane thing to do.
Now… other considerations obtain. and therefore, in addition to the above, I’ll give you a few touchstones for figuring out if you’re committing suicide in a complex manner. If you’re doing any of these things, don’t.
- Don’t pre-reject by not submitting. If you write a short story you think would be perfect for Analog or Asimov’s – or even a long shot there – don’t not send it in. At least if you think the prestige of a traditional publication is still worth it. (For most people it is. For those who are, like me, midlist, it might not be.)
- Don’t commit suicide by removing stuff that the editor might want.
- If you’re traditionally publishing, don’t air dirty laundry in public. (Don’t even try the quoque tu, Sarah. I am only traditionally publishing through Baen and they’re family and through Naked Reader, where I have a say. The others… meh. Let the laundry hang.)
Those are old points, mind. Now remember the market is changing very fast, and even if you’re still traditionally published, there are new caveats:
- Don’t confine yourself to traditional only. Always remember, belt AND suspenders. If you’re riding in the titanic, a lifeboat seems puny, but it will save you drowning, if the thing hits an iceberg.
- Follow industry blogs and indie writers’ blogs too. I can’t say this enough. FOLLOW those blogs. DO it. I don’t care if you don’t have time. It’s the equivalent of being on the deck of the titanic and saying you don’t have time to use the binoculars.
- If you go to conventions, be aware of what is happening with the publishers there and what their authors think of them. The days of pitching blind are gone.
- Keep trying. Or to quote what an acquaintance-I-hope-will-become-a-friend quoted at me from Heinlein, in another context, last week “The cowards never started and the weaklings died on the way.”
You’re afraid of failure, and failure is a real danger particularly these days, with the industry crumbling under us. So, what are you going to do? Are you going to curl up and die and admit you can’t cut it? Or are you going to fight?
Never give up. Never surrender.