This post is written by Tracey Baptiste and is about fear. The fear that keeps us from writing the story we want to write, making connections, or moving forward in our careers.
The thing about fear is it’s merciless and sometimes crippling. We fear being judged for the questions we ask at a conference, or for the things we say to fellow writers, and especially for the work we show to others. Mostly, we fear the “no.” Sometimes, we fear the “yes.” All of it is fear of the unknown, the what will happen if…?
The good news is, everyone’s dealing with it.
The bad news is, not everybody handles it well.
The most important thing to remember about the what ifs is that they’re mostly in your head. You’re making up scenarios that don’t exist and probably never will. Let’s say you ask an incredibly obvious question at a writing conference. What then? Will no one ever want to work with you ever? Likely, five minutes later, no one is even going to remember your question, or who asked it. What about that manuscript you sent out before it was ready? Does that mean you can never query that agent again? Not at all. And my personal favorite, what about that thing you want to put into your story, but you think, I can’t say that, I’m not qualified/good enough/smart enough. Of course you are, and you should stop reading this immediately and go write that thing you are too afraid to write.
In all likelihood you already know these things intellectually, but if you’re anything like me, you let the small stuff get under your skin and you think about it way past the worry expiration date.
So, what’s the solution? We just need to get over ourselves. Here’s how:
Remember when GI Joe used to say that “knowing is half the battle?” That cartoon army dude was right. If you know you’re going to panic before an event, or even a meeting, do as much prep work as you can. Read a little about the people who are going to be there. Follow the social media covering the event. Not only is it informative, but it also gives you something to open with that you don’t feel awkward about. Remember, even big name authors like Daniel Handler flub sometimes, and still manage to recover. And no, it’s not just because they’re big names. It’s because people make mistakes, and have to move on.
2. Dive in.
The greatest thing about writing is that you’re doing it mostly alone in your own space. You can put down absolutely anything you want, and then hit the delete button if you think you’ve gone too far. In all likelihood, once you’ve written it, you’ll find that it’s not as scary as you thought. In my new MG The Jumbies, I wanted to say something about slave ships and the people who were chained in their bowels. I thought it was not a thing you could broach in a middle grade fantasy, but I put it in anyway. No one, not my agent, nor my editor, nor any of the early readers said one thing about it. The thing you want to say is not as scary as you think. Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said, “you must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Take it from a FLOTUS.
3. Buddy up.
The nice thing about the kid lit community is that we are a generous bunch. You can easily make friends online who become friends in real life when you meet up at conferences, or to exchange your work. Making your way through a conference is way easier with some friends by your side, and I highly recommend you make as many as you can. When your career takes off, you’re going to need their support, as you will give them yours when they make book deals.
4. Plow through.
There are going to be moments when you have to do something that makes you truly terrified. This happened with me several years ago when I needed to part ways with my first agent (who is a really lovely human being, btw). Here’s the thing: your career is your responsibility. You are the manager and CEO, and that may mean making difficult decisions. It may mean deciding on one house over another to publish your book, switching agencies (which is not as uncommon as you might think), or even deciding to leave a writing group, skip a conference in favor of something else, or even cut out things in your own life to make time for writing. Whatever the decision is, you’re probably going to agonize over it. So when you finally make the decision, be brave and follow through. Don’t think about it again. You’ll only be torturing yourself.
Fear is a part of the creative process. Sometimes the work scares us, and it should scare us if it’s going to be good. But some fear isn’t helpful at all, and that’s when it’s time to pull out the bag of tricks: prep, dive in, buddy up, and just plow through. Fear wins when it stops you from moving forward. But you can move past fear. I’m doing it right now.
Tracey Baptiste is she an author and an editor at Rosen Publishing. Her first YA Novel, Angel Grace, which I read and loved, was picked as one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing by NYC librarians. She is also the author of several nonfiction titles for various school and library publishers.
Her new book THE JUMBIES, a creepy middle grade novel published by Algonquin Young Readers hits the book shelves in April. You can Pre-order on Amazon.
Thank you Tracey for another good article and sharing your expertise with us. Can’t wait to Read your book!