Friday, May 19, 2006

Let Down

“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”*

Yesterday, the friend I met for breakfast said I must be so excited about my book coming out.

More like scared to death is what I told her.

It was a replay, in a way, of a conversation I had with Cornelia a few days ago. Talking about that gut-wrenching fear of letting people down, so afraid people will be disappointed with the book, afraid of making mistakes.

I think it’s natural to feel this way. In fact, the more authors I talk to, the more I realize the really good ones all go through this is varying degrees.

But yesterday, my friend was telling me not to worry about it. And I was thinking, how can you not?

I certainly know not everyone will like my books. People have different tastes. Some reviewers might give it a thumbs up, some might give it a 10 Hurl Buckets Required ranking. So, how do you separate it out in your head?

Then she said something, and she wrote it down for me. It’s now taped to my desk hutch, right above my computer.

I am not responsible for other people’s expectations.

For me, this really helped. I’m going to work as hard as I can to make this the best possible book it can be.

Oh, I want the people I respect to like it. I don’t want them thinking I’m an amateur hack. And it’s hard not to want that peer approval.

But my friend Linda reminded me so something else. “The only two people you need to make happy are yourself and your editor.”

She’s right. And while I certainly care what people think – don’t we all? – the bottom line here is that my concern about meeting expectations was almost paralyzing me. I’d start thinking about book edits and feel nauseas and then start having a panic attack.

Don’t laugh. I know it’s a bit extreme (when am I not?) but I have always been the worst at putting the highest expectations on myself when it comes to the things that are important to me.

And this is very important!

But at the end of the day, if I can please myself, please my editor and know that I've done my very best on this book, that is the only thing I have control over. And I'm going to focus on what's within my power, and trust that that's enough.

Joke courtesy of JT Ellison – don’t forget to check out her post today on Murderati!

Last week was my birthday and I didn't feel very well waking up that morning. I went downstairs for breakfast hoping my wife would be pleasant and say, "Happy Birthday!", and possibly have a present for me.

As it turned out, she barely said good morning, let alone "Happy Birthday." I thought... Well, that's marriage for you, but the kids will remember. My kids came in to breakfast and didn't say a word. So when I left for the office, I felt pretty low and somewhat despondent.

As I walked into my office, my secretary Jane said, "Good Morning Boss,
Happy Birthday!"

It felt a little better that at least someone had remembered. I worked until one o'clock and then Jane knocked on my door and said, "You know, it's such a beautiful day outside, and it's your birthday, let's go out to lunch, just you and me."

I said, "Thanks Jane, that's the greatest thing I've heard all day.
Let's go!"

We went to lunch. But we didn't go where we normally would go. We dined instead at a little place with a private table. We had two martinis each and I enjoyed the meal tremendously. On the way back to the office, Jane said, "You know, it's such a beautiful day. We don't need to go back to the office, do we?"

I responded, "I guess not. What do you have in mind?"

She said, "Let's go to my apartment."

After arriving at her apartment, Jane turned to me and said, "Boss, if you don't mind, I'm going to step into the bedroom for a moment. I'll be right back."

"Ok," I nervously replied.

She went into the bedroom and, after a couple of minutes, she came out carrying a huge birthday cake... Followed by my wife, kids, and dozens of my friends and co-workers, all singing "Happy Birthday".

And I just sat there...

On the couch...


*Quote from Fred Shero, former Philadelphia Flyers hockey coach


JamesO said...

Someone who never feels any self-doubt, never worries about what other people thing about them, never gets anxious about the world; that person is a sociopath. (I'd better sashay over to Trace's place and add that comment)

It's only natural to panic from time to time. As writers we open ourselves perhaps to more criticism than others, and we have the luxury of long hours at the keyboard to agonise over what other people might think about us. I always jokingly say 'nothing ventured, nothing lost', but it's very easy to start believing that. I shall instead adopt your much more positive aphorism.

And I liked that joke; it made me chuckle to myself, which is high praise indeed;}#

Cornelia Read said...

Oooo, I like the expectations quote! But I'm still terrified...

Great post!

David Terrenoire said...

Someone once said, a good review will sell five books and a bad review will sell five books so it really doesn't matter what critics say, although a tough review will hurt, no matter how thick-skinned you are.

Fortunately, I am universally loved and admired so I wouldn't know first hand about those bad reviews.

Trace said...

I was having that conversation with somebody myself not long ago. All my favorite writers have the same kind of anxiety while they're writing a book.

Me too. It's really frightening. You just don't know how people will react.

But I don't think you have anything to worry about. Your book is fucking awesome and anyone who doesn't think so is a drooling idiot. *Grin*

Brett Battles said...

Writers get anxious? Scared? Suffer from self-doubt? Worry about what other people think?

Boy, that sounds like the profession for me!

Sandra, we all feel it. Some of us every single day.

You are not alone.

James Lincoln Warren said...

Review? What's a review?

Erik Ivan James said...

Great post, Sandra. I suspect all of us can relate directly, to at least some degree.

anne frasier said...

i've gotten that aren'tyouexcited question too. i never know how to respond because in truth i'm always ulcer-ridden and terrified. was i able to translate my idea to the page, or is it still locked in my head and i just don't know it?

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, sashay over to Murderati and tell JT! She's funny.

And I'm glad you and Cornelia like that quote as well - when Linda said it, I said, "I have to write that down." She did it for me. She's so great.

David, I hope one day to be as loved as you. Just not by as many women.

Ha Trace, you're too kind!

And thanks Brett. I think the best thing about blogging is that you can open up about your fears, and everyone tells you you aren't as strange as you think.

And you can't see them snickering so you believe them!

Sandra Ruttan said...

JamesLW - hah! But then, you are also universally loved!

Anne, we'll drink milk and take ulcer meds together then! I know exactly what you mean.

M. G. Tarquini said...

But...but...aren't you excited?
*ducks, runs, evades*

For The Trees said...

I'm bipolar. When I'm depressed, EVERYBODY'S on my case, in my shit, lecturing me and running me down.

When I'm manic, I don't give a shit WHAT they say.

It's when I'm in the middle, and can actually think, that it's bad...then I hear them all saying, "Nobody wants to hear that kind of thing, nobody wants to read that kind of thing, all this sex in this book is pure wasted effort, you could have written such a great book if it weren't for all the sex, nobody in their right mind would read a book like that..."

And I haven't even GOT an editor yet!!

So it's universal: angst and agony. There's an old Greek story, Same-same Agonystes, tells the same same old story...Nothing new here.

Then why the hell's it still clutching me by the throat?

JT Ellison said...

I agree wholeheartedly -- panic, fear and mind-numbing terror are the leading emotions in the Ellison household this week. But, I just had a moment. I was in a shop and a woman had a JD Robb book. The shop owner is a friend and I shared my news, then boldly pointed to the woman's book and said "Hey, if you like that, you might like my book. It'll be out next fall." She asked my name, I gave her my card, and we talked books for 20 minutes. She's exceptionally jealous that I'm going to meet Lee Child next month. And I now have a reader who will look for my book when it comes out. I honestly don't know what came over me. Here I am, ridden with guilt, panicking about writing more so fast, and I'm out selling myself. Hmmmm.... what's the lesson there?

Lisa Hunter said...

I'm having similar panic attacks with my book -- not about reviews but about sales. For those of us who didn't get a two-book deal (ahem), the sales will determine whether we ever get a chance to publish another book. And since so much of the marketplace is beyond the control of the author -- well, let's just say I haven't been sleeping so well.

Sandra Ruttan said...

JT, you go girl! I mean, if it works, it works! And as long as you feel comfortable. But I know you're going to kick ass. I have complete confidence!

Lisa, when is your book coming out? I've had my head half in the sand lately with Spinetingler, and I'm feeling dumb for not knowing, but I'd like to spread the word.

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

I think we all feel that no matter what we do. I make jewelry and I feel that all the it good enough, will anyone like it, oh my gosh it sucks! Like when I was asked to do a local show. I was like who me? My stuff isn't good enough...are you crazy? But I did it anyway and the people there liked my stuff so it was ok. Although there weren't many people there since it was July 4th, 110 degrees and you could fry an egg on the sidewalk or my head. But hey that's a whole nother story. :0

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thank God, we writers haven't cornered the market on self-doubt!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Gloom, dispair and agony on me...uh, oh...okay so that's a song, but i can claim it if i want to!!LOL!

That joke was too funny!

M.G. I still get the feeling that you're about to give me a pitch about buying a house! LOL!

Lisa Hunter said...

Thanks, Sandra. The book comes out at the end of October, so I'll miss all the August/September art fairs that would have helped market it. We'll see if my background as a publicist comes in handy or not!

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