Facing Your Fears

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

–  Eleanor Roosevelt

 

I am terrified of airplanes.

Like, flying is my number one fear of all time. There’s no good reason for that—it’s not like I have some traumatic childhood experience with air travel. In fact, I’ve flown once before, but I was too young to remember anything about it.

In about six hours, I’m going to be 40,000 feet up in the air. On an airplane.

This is confusing for me. I should be freaking out, biting my nails down to the nubs and quaking in my cheap ripoff Sperry’s. And perhaps I will be during the flight itself. But at the end of that flight is the Florida Keys, where I’ll be staying for the next week. Anyone in Boy Scouts is probably familiar with Sea Base, which is where several of my friends and I are headed.

I’m incredibly excited for this.

But, I have to fly on a stupid airplane.

I suppose that’s life, huh? Most people don’t conquer their fears by going out of their way to face them. It’s not like someone with arachnophobia is going to look for a spider nest and stick their hand in it. Likewise, I didn’t look for an airplane in which to stick my body. It’s a required step to travel to a very fun summer camp, and I’m not going to let a simple phobia keep me from that.

I think we all have that moment in life when we have to face our greatest fear, through sheer circumstance. Unless you have some obscure fear such as Anatidaephobia—which, in case you were wondering, is the fear that a duck is always watching you—you’re probably going to have to face that fear of heights or spiders at some point. The alternative to this is to miss out on a fun or important experience simply because you’re scared of something that goes along with it. In my humble opinion, letting fear dictate your decisions is a poor way to live.

But oh, this post doesn’t apply to me in the slightest, you blogging buffoon, some of you—including, I’m guessing, my best friend—utter at your screen. For there’s nothing specific that I’m afraid of.

I’ve heard this countless times.

I’m no psychologist, but I think everyone’s lying.

We all have a number one fear of something. Mine is flying, with bees coming in second and needles, third. Which means if I’m ever attacked by bees and have to be flown to a hospital where they’ll inject me with treatments, I’ll probably ask that you put me out of my misery.

I digress. What I’m trying to say in this last-minute, scattered post is, everyone is afraid of something, and you might as well face it sooner or later, because that’s the only way to conquer fear. You have to understand what you’re afraid of.

Of course, this all falls within reason. If you’re afraid of being crushed to death by a porta-potti, please for the love of God don’t search for the nearest porta-John and drop it upon your own head whilst screaming, “THE CRAZY BLOGGER TOLD ME TO!”

I don’t know if any of this post makes sense. It’s the middle of the night, I’m about to have the best and worst day of my life, and I’m a whole mix of emotions and Dunkin Donuts coffee right now. I’ll certainly post about my trip in detail when I get back.

But for now, wish me luck on that pesky airplane.

On Writing: When Have You “Made It”?

“There are two ways to get enough: one is to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”

–  G.K. Chesterton

 

Success is perhaps the most basic of things that all writers ponder. From the minute you start hammering out that first draft of your novel, you picture sitting at a table in a little bookshop signing copy after copy for eager readers.

Well at least, that’s my fantasy. Those imagined by other people might include being a NYT bestseller, rolling in rich royalties, and having an internet fan base so large that the Twitter servers poop their pants.

The point is, no matter the specifics of your grand visions, one thing is common: every writer wants to “make it” as an author.

But what does this really mean?

To some people, it’s the moment they finally land an agent. Once I started getting full requests from agents, a lot of my friends and family were all, “Maybe you’ll get an agent! Then you’ll have finally made it!”

I disagree. Let’s go on a hypothetical journey and say you get a literary agent. For sure, that’s a rare and noteworthy accomplishment. Pop open the champagne! (Or in my case, sparkling grape juice). But have you made it yet? Is this where you’re ready to call it quits? I’d sure hope not.

Most people, I imagine, wouldn’t settle being happy with having an agent. They would want to try for a publishing deal. And surely, when that happens, then they’ll have made it!

So let’s say that person does get a publishing deal. And it even comes with a nice advance. Well now, you’ve truly made it, yes? You’ve jumped the final hurdle?

Except, out of every ten books published, only one of them turns a profit. So, I would imagine, the next challenge is to be that one that actually succeeds.

But let’s be optimistic! Let’s say you are that ONE, and not only is it successful, it’s wildly successful. People everywhere are reading your book and telling you how good you are. You get a plethora of requests to speak to students or do signings. And you might even have a shot at being on the New York Times bestseller list!

Have you made it yet? Or do you want to get on that list?

Well, of course you do.

And it happens! You get on the NYT bestseller list. You even crush the long-running reigns of the likes of Rick Riordan and John Green. Everyone knows your name. You make enough money to quit your day job. NOW, now you’ve made it, right?

But then there’s talk of movie deals.

You wouldn’t be interested in those, now would you?

I hope I’m not beating a dead horse here. What I’m trying to express in this drawn-out example is the fact that—sorry as I am to say it—there is no definitive point in the world of writing where you can dust your hands off, lean back and say, “I’ve done everything I wanted to.”

Why is this? Well, it’s because when one door opens, you want to move forward and open the next. That’s the natural, human desire for progress. As a first-time writer, your only goal may be to get a literary agent. But if this happens, your aspirations grow.

Many people imagine that once they get published, BAM! They’ve made it. They think their desires won’t expand.

Perhaps all those people are right. I wouldn’t know myself; I’m not a published author. But I have thought about it plenty, and I’ve asked myself that magical question: if I get a call saying my book is going to be published, will I be satisfied with my career as a writer?

Of course I won’t. I’m much too selfish for that. I want to be the best. I want to be remembered. I want to change the world.

Sure, these are good goals, and if I do accomplish them, great. But I need to stay grounded, too. And I need to accept the fact that, much as I’d like to say “I made it,” I probably won’t ever be satisfied with where I am.

I hope no one mistakes this for ungratefulness. Just because I’m unsatisfied with where I am does NOT mean I am unhappy. I accept that even getting to the “agent” stage is difficult, and I’m grateful to have made it that far. I’m thankful for all of the helpful feedback and all the time people have taken to assist me on my journey. But my desire for progress is driven by my desire to show all those people they didn’t waste their time. I want their faith in me to be rewarded.

If I go the rest of my life without making it ANY further in the publishing game, fine. What’s meant to happen will happen, and I don’t need a publishing deal to be happy in life. But that desire for progress will always be there, no matter how far I go.

All that being said, if I ever do get a publishing deal, I’m totally going to say, “hey everyone, look, I made it.”

Why, you ask?

I’m not sure myself. I think it has something to do with the fact that a publishing deal would mean I could hold my writing in my own hands, as a tangible stack of paper with a professional cover. Printed books have something beautiful about them, and perhaps if I ever have my own, then that’ll be enough for me.

Right now, I just hope I get the chance to find out.

What about you? When will you have “made it,” if ever?

On Writing: Is “Natural Talent” All You Need?

“Before you can win, you have to believe you are worthy.”

–  Mike Ditka

 

I’ve blogged about this subject before. In a post from last year, I outlined my thoughts on whether writing is a talent someone is born with, or if it’s a skill everyone has equal chance at mastering. I concluded that it was a little of both, going on to say:

“[Rick Riordan] took ten years to get his story good! J.K. Rowling only took three with hers. Stephen King took less than that. Many would argue those two have more natural writing ABILITY, and I would agree with them. Riordan probably had to spend more time building his talent; had to revise his story dozens of times, and had a tougher time getting published than JKR or King. But he did it, same as them.”

A year later, I still agree with all that. Back when I wrote that post, I was a kid with forty rejections and no progress in the publishing industry. Today, I’m a kid with four full requests from agents, including the woman who represented The Hunger Games. Perhaps in a year, I’ll be further. Who knows? My point is, I’m no Shakespeare or even a Riordan or Rowling, but with a few years of hard work, I’ve made progress. I believe everyone has equal chance of doing the same.

Get to the point, Caleb.

Right. Since we’ve closed out that debate, I want to move on to a related topic: in the industry of publishing, is “natural talent”—if such a thing even exists—all you need to make it?

My answer, in short: no.

Let’s back up. First of all, have you ever been in a position where someone has confused your hard work with natural talent?

It happens all the time to me. People will hear about this progress I’ve made towards publication, and they tell me something like, “Wow, you must be really gifted!” or, “You must be a great writer.”

I certainly don’t mind the compliment, but I’m still trying to figure out if it’s fair to say I’m a talented writer. On one hand, saying that talent is proportional to progress is certainly a reasonable assumption. But on the flipside, I think if someone were to sit in the chair beside me while I take hours to research agents and revise my query letter, then perhaps they would re-think the idea that natural talent is all you need. I don’t think it is.

I’m not trying to sound ungrateful; the support of people around me is what keeps me going, and like I said, maybe they aren’t entirely wrong to believe talent equals progress. But having seen the harsher side of the publishing industry, I can say almost for certain that talent is no guarantee of success.

I’m speaking mostly to my fellow writers here, the ones who have had to craft a query letter and send those proposal emails and cross every finger, toe and other bendable body part for good luck. If an author were suddenly endowed with all the writing talent in the world, do you think they’d make it in this business eventually?

That’s what literary agents like to believe. How many times have we heard agents say, “If your book is good, it will find a home eventually”? More times than I can count. And yet, how many times have we also heard, “Even the greatest writers get rejected”?

I’m no calculus expert, but I think somebody’s lying.

You’re just bitter, you whiny child, you growl. If someone had J.K. Rowling’s talent, they’d make it easily.

At which point I would remind you that Rowling herself was rejected by thirteen publishers, AFTER she got an agent. What’s more, when she wrote a crime novel last year under a pseudonym, barely anyone picked it up until the author’s true identity was revealed.

My long-winded conclusion: talent is NOT everything in this industry. It won’t carry you across the finish line. Harsh to say, but I think talent is more like your entry ticket to the race. You still have a lot of work to do before you win it.

I don’t mean to lecture, because I don’t even know if I’ll make it. I’d like to think I will someday, but I also don’t want people to chock that up to natural talent, because believe me, I’m not bursting with gooey bits of golden blood from the writing gods. I started a crappy writer, worked my way up to not-crappy, and perhaps someday or another I’ll set foot into ‘good writer’ territory.

But no matter what happens to me or anyone else, I think the bottom line is this: talent alone isn’t enough, hard work alone isn’t enough, and luck isn’t enough. It’s a tricky balance between the three, I think; but, it’s important I also say, I believe that with enough willpower, you can increase any of those three in the amounts you need.

So, all that being said, I think there’s only one grand force in the world that, if you have it, can guarantee you’ll make it eventually.

It’s called willpower.