Why publishing my book didn’t make me happier (and how I dealt with the tears and fears)

Today I cried. “Sobbed” might be a better word. And while crying is not unusual for me (I will even cry at commercials, and not just the ASPCA kind), these tears were different. They felt like they were pulled from my deepest insecurities and spilled my emotional guts all over my work desk and my lap.

I’ve never been a terribly confident person, but I have always been confident in my skills as a writer. Let me tell you something — if you are confident about your writing and want to preserve that confidence, DO NOT WRITE A BOOK. Well, go ahead and write it, but really think about putting it out into the world. The reception you get may very well undo all your hard-earned confidence and undermine your pleasure in putting thoughts and truth on paper.

I self-published my book, Images of God, last December and letting people know it was out there was one of the scariest and most exciting moments of my professional life. Waiting for feedback from those who say they are reading it has been torture. Several people have started to read it, but have not said a word about what they think. (It’s been weeks — GIVE ME SOMETHING, I AM A RAGING BALL OF INSECURITY AND ANXIETY.) I have had some wonderful feedback from friends, and I need to cling to those comments and sentiments. But right now, all I can think about is the inevitably negative feedback I will get from some specific people, and that dreadful anticipation is bringing up some really ugly feelings and thoughts:

  • What makes him think he has anything useful to say?
  • Why doesn’t she try writing a book and then pass judgment?
  • I gave him a great review and encouraging words about his work; why is he being such a critical jerk to me about mine? Mine’s much better than his.

So loving. So gracious. So understanding.

There are things I already know I’d like to do better with my next book. (Yes, even now, in the midst of this desperate hopelessness at my ability to succeed at anything–REALLY HEALTHY, MY BRAIN– I still want to continue writing and self-publishing.) But now is not the time to plan or “intellectualize” my way out of this.

This is the time to sit with my feelings. To let myself feel all the feelings, to feel afraid about failure, to feel despondent about my future as a writer, and to identify some of the ins and outs of what I’m feeling to try to understand what is going on in my head and heart when I receive honest, if not particularly kind, criticism.

I wrote a lot about fear last year in my book, about how it is the overarching quality of our false selves. And now here I am, choking on a huge knot of fear about myself, my writing, and, if I’m being honest, my value as a human on this earth. (This is the culmination of a very emotionally-fraught and professionally-frustrating couple of years, so it’s not a melodramatic as it sounds.) So I’m going to do what I said we should do in my book: sit with the fear, try to understand what the fear is rooted in and telling me, and try to figure out what is actually true about the world and myself, things that my fear is probably lying about.

In my book I wrote about what I saw as being true about humans and the world. I filled it with as much truth and grace as I could. I need to remember that my writing won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s ok. My own reading tastes are far from mainstream, so why should I expect my writing to be any different? I don’t want to write to please, I want to write to tell truth. So some day, maybe not today, I’ll be proud of my book again, regardless of whether or not the general consensus is “great!”. And then I’ll write a second book and go into it prepared for the emotional tumult that caught me off-guard the first time around. And I’ll get feedback earlier in the process and also along the way, because I see that is very important.

Being a writer is much scarier and uncertain than I expected it to be, but that’s ok. I just need to learn how to navigate this sensitive, bumpy, not-so-fluffy world. I’m going to work on moving forward with a strong, clear-headed, grace-filled, accepting-of-my-imperfections-and-imperfect-output-from-my-sincere-heart-and-mind perspective.

But for now, I have a roll of toilet paper next to me to mop up the stragglers of these pesky, dripping fears. And tonight I may even give myself some chocolate. Because sometimes a little chocolate is just what life calls for.

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