It turns out Author Anxiety is a Thing. It’s not just me.
I discovered this on the eve of publication of my debut novel, DECEPTION ISLAND, when I was silly enough to Google my shiny new title. Up popped a Netgalley reviewer live-tweeting as she read it. Only she was hating it—pulling it apart chapter by chapter.
Column by Brynn Kelly, author of DECEPTION ISLAND
(June 2016, HQN Books). Brynn is working on two connected
novels. Brynn has a journalism degree and has won and finaled in
several prestigious writing and journalism awards, including the
Golden Heart, Valerie Parv and Pacific Hearts awards. She’s
also a best-selling nonfiction author in her native New Zealand.
She is repped by Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates.
Follow her on Twitter.
I’d had loads of great reviews—in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, on dozens of blogs—but this one hobby reviewer withered my fragile confidence. It was the intimacy of it. I could see what she looked like, I could see what page she was reading, I could certainly see exactly what she thought of the story. And I couldn’t stop refreshing. Because I’m an idiot.
I’ve been a journalist for two decades and I’ve published a bunch of nonfiction books, so public criticism is nothing new. Why, then, did this rattle me?
I did what any 21st century dweller does when faced with a 21st century dilemma. I Googled. And I discovered I wasn’t alone. Not only is Author Anxiety a Thing, but it’s such a Thing that, yes, it deserves initial caps. I set out to find a remedy before this vile feeling paralyzed me from writing another fictional word. In the interests of author solidarity, I’m sharing five of my best cures.
1. Find perspective
Many years ago, to finance my journalism degree, I worked as a TV publicist. A fun job but intensely shallow. (Ask me anything about "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place.") Even so, like all jobs, sometimes it got stressful. The most important lesson I learned from that two years was from a boss who was fond of saying, “It’s entertainment. It’s not f***ing brain surgery.” Same goes for my novel. It’s a romantic thriller. It’s not important. My bad day at work is when a reader isn’t entertained or moved and I lose that reader. I’m not a doctor who has lost a patient or an air-traffic controller who’s lost a plane. The worst-case scenario? This novel tanks, everyone forgets about it, and I write another one.
2. Embrace imperfection
Don’t tell my publisher this, but DECEPTION ISLAND isn’t perfect. There, I’ve said it. What a relief. I could have spent three decades rewriting it and it still wouldn’t be perfect. There’s no such thing as perfection in creative endeavor. At some point—usually when a deadline hits—you must step away from your manuscript and say, “There, it’s done. It’s the best I can do right now.” That book has become your past, not your future. It’s not even your present, anymore. The only thing that remains wholly in your control is your next book.
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3. Get productive
If I read a bad review, suddenly I don’t feel like writing. But you know what? A good writing day blows away my doubt and fear. And studies into motivation have found that the muse kicks in after you begin a task, not before. Don’t feel like writing because someone just told the (virtual) world that you suck? Open your WIP and start somewhere, anywhere. Tinker with a paragraph you wrote a year ago, write a random exchange of dialogue, change the font. Just. Start. Your brain will light up, the motivation will come and the angst will evaporate.
4. Log out
Only one thing will make you a successful novelist: writing novels. Let the virtual world live without you—especially if it drags you down. Forget the rules that you must regularly post on social media and engage online. If bad reviews on Goodreads or Amazon discourage you, don’t read them. If you can’t help flicking onto them—because validation is addictive— but you hate yourself for it, get a productivity app and block those sites, and any others that routinely make your heart soar and sink. (If a review falls in a forest…) Ray Bradbury once said: “You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” And if you just want the boost without the pain? Ask a friend to email you only the great reviews, in a monthly digest. It’s not a cop-out. It’s sensible.
If that sniping little head of yours is not a pleasant place to hang out, get out of it. Do something immersive: play a card game with your kid, see a movie, whack a tennis ball around a court. When you return, you should find your mind is a more agreeable—and productive—environment. Keep it that way by throwing a little love into the world to offset the negativity. Tweet an author about how much you enjoyed her book—because she may be feeling Author Anxiety today, too.
How do you deal with anxiety and fear? Share below.
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