When Will Your First Book Be Ready?

A good friend asked, yesterday, when my first book was coming out. Of course, I answered with a, “When it’s ready” answer.. Isn’t that what everyone that’s never published a novel answers? “When it’s ready.”

But here’s where things get different. With me, “When it’s ready,” may translate to “Never.” It’s an anxiety and depression thing. It’s a war with myself thing. A conflict I’m all too familiar with, and have struggled with all my life. These days, when I think of writing the 2nd and 3rd drafts of “White Witch”, then getting beta readers, and finding an editor to help me clean it up, an artist to help me with the cover design, and learning what I’ll need to learn to publish my book, I panic.

Yes, I panic.

And until now, this morning, sitting here, writing these words, I’ve never admitted I panic at the thought of completing my first novel. But I do. Every symptom, every signal, shows. My fingers vibrate like the tines of a tuning fork. My left wrist does its “I can’t support any weight” number. My chest constricts, all the muscles in my neck, shoulders, and chest behave like I’m lifting a five-drawer file cabinet over my head. My pulse rate pushes up to near 3 digit levels, and I have to force myself to take full, deep breaths, to breathe normally.

See. I know. I just don’t talk about it. I hide it, and pray it goes away. I pray everything goes away. As I have all my life.

Because I want to fail.

Yes. You read that correctly. I want to fail.

It’s a hard thing to explain to people. A thing that makes no sense to anyone, except me. It’s not a refusal of responsibility. It’s something deeper, much more complex that not wanting to grown up and be responsible. Because I am a grown up, responsible adult.

It’s a fight even I have trouble finding the words to explain. The only words I’ve ever found are, “I want to fail,” which doesn’t really explain what I feel. So, let me explain a bit more.

In October, 2010, my last career came to a spectacular end, with me out on medical leave for 13 weeks. If you’re not familiar with the story, perhaps I’ll explain it someday. My doctor will tell you I wanted out of that job, and my subconscious did what I had to, to get me out of that job.

Here I am, in 2014, back at full-time work status, in another job. One I wasn’t even working to get. It just kind of happened. Like the last job I had. Like things always have. I’ve explained countless times, “I don’t have to look for work. Work always finds me.”

I know why this happens. It happens because I’m good at what I do. I’m not top ranked, far from it. It’s one of those things my Doctor and I have talked about many times (after 4 years of therapy, I’ve lost count of how many times). I’m damn good at what I do. Whatever I decide to do, I do it well. This past week, my doctor explained it to me this way, “Mark, if the best people at this are in the 99th percentile, you’re in the 97th, or 98th. Your not the best, but you’re damn good. Exceptionally good.”

Yeah. That’s the problem. Everyone knows that. Everyone who knows me knows that. And I can’t escape that. I can’t escape people knowing I’m good at the things I choose to do. And it’s not just in the land of computers, and computer software. Things would be far simpler if I had such limits.

I write, too. As more and more people are finding out. I write. And I’m not bad at it. To the point where I’ve been told, and have lost count of how many people have told me, I’m not bad at it, and should write a book.

I take pictures, too. With a $400 (US) Canon point and shoot camera with a 840 mm optical zoom lens. Not even a real camera. A point and shoot camera. A camera a lot of people look at, and laugh at, because it’s not a “real” camera.

Yet, even with that “toy” camera, I take pictures people like. I’ve heard many times, “You’re a photographer, right?”

Wrong. I’m not. I just take pictures. Snap-shots. I’m not a photographer.

I’m not a writer.

I’m not a computer genius.

And I struggle, every day, with the idea, the thought, that I am, and that people think I am.

Could I start a computer services business? Yes. Easily. Would I be successful at it? Almost certainly. Then why don’t I? Because I want to fail. Because the thought of meeting those expectations leaves me gasping for breath, and needing to take a long walk to make it through yet another panic attack.

Could I write, and publish, my first book? Yes. For me, it would be surprisingly easy. Would it sell? Who cares? That wouldn’t be the point. Do I want to? Yes. Then why don’t I? Because I want to fail. Because the thought of completing my first book, and publishing it, and putting it out in the world, triggers another panic attack. And leaves me terrified of the knowledge I would publish more stories. The first book wouldn’t be the only book. And again, I end up taking long walks to de-stress myself, and beat back the panic.

There you have it, people. What I’m really saying when I answer the question, “When will your book be ready?”

Me. Screaming at life, trying to run and hide, because I know where that next step leads, and I’m terrified to take that step as a result.

It’s not “when will the book be ready?” It’s actually, “When will I be ready?”

And I don’t have an answer to that question. Other than to look at my hands, and scream at them, “Stop doing that!” and then go walk until my heels bleed.

That’s what terror is.

That’s what anxiety is.

That’s what I live with. Every breath and every heartbeat of every day.

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3 thoughts on “When Will Your First Book Be Ready?

  1. I have this at a lower level, I don’t panic, I refer to myself as Lazy. I could do it, but I don’t really want to and if I’m not really going to put enough effort in then it won’t happen….and there is a part of me that is okay with that – oh and I tell myself repeatedly that I’m not good enough, my writings not, and I use all this ‘evidence’ (my therapist puts it in inverted commas) to back it up. I’m fighting it – you know in that, half-hearted, don’t really wanna win this one because it means I will HAVE to do stuff and, as you say, fulfill others expectations, and encourage future pressures. But as I spend a LOT of time in the fantasy of success, I have realised I would actually like to try and make it real, I would at least want to say ‘I honestly tried’ – to myself, as regret eats at you – watched it in my own father. I have stopped ‘blocking’ the opportunity, and have started (half-heartedly) seeking it, and am getting there. But VERY slowly, in a nice ‘I can stop doing this ANY time’ way. But have I ever termed it ‘I want to fail’? – no, cuz I don’t, I’m just not confident I will succeed, or if I do succeed what that will bring. I’ll live in Limboland thanks very much!

    Great post though Mark, love it.

  2. Great post, Mark. I sometimes wonder if it’s a similar reason my husband doesn’t go into business for himself.

    I haven’t finished my stories for a different reason – the abject fear that they won’t be any good. I could almost quote Miranda’s above statement and it would be true.

    When it comes to my novel-length pieces, I can finish my first drafts, but then I leave the story. I start writing a new one. I don’t go back and edit the completed first draft. I don’t send it off to beta readers. I don’t do anything with it other than wish it was ready and worry that it will never be good enough.

    It’s something I am working on changing.

  3. Mark, I don’t know exactly what you’re saying when you say “I want to fail.” I’m going to make some interpretive decisions and comment on that, but if I got it wrong, please, feel free to correct me. 🙂

    It sounds like your ‘want to fail’ is a fear of expectations – partially those that others may put on you, but especially those you’ll put on yourself assuming other’s expectations. You love doing the things that you’re scared of actually doing ‘for real’. I’ve heard you comment about how much you love figuring out computers or writing a story or taking those beautiful pictures; you do it because you love it. If you choose to do it professionally, then it won’t be ‘just for you’ or ‘just for fun’ anymore. The things that de-stress you and help you to process the rest of life could become a source of stress by bringing you into contact with those things that stress you out. I think I understand that losing the therapeutic aspect to photography or writing would be devastating for you, so your anxiety makes sense to me. It’s not anywhere on the same level as my anxiety in getting published; I have nothing to lose, you do. And your something to lose is huge – it keeps you sane.

    As so, after all that, I just want to tell you that I love that you write, and I love that you take pictures. I love the joy that it brings you. And I especially love that you choose to share some of that joy with us. I pray that at some point you may come to a place where you can share that joy without fear of expectation, but if you don’t, that’s okay. There is no expectation. There is no need to perform. You do what is best for you. We each have different journeys, different goals. Don’t let someone else’s journey force your path – forge your own, and smile.

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