Friday, July 27, 2012

Fear of Something

So it's time. My fucking novel's done and now I have to sell it. Which -- the plan right now is to go the traditional route: find an agent, sell to a traditional publisher. That's the plan. And so now that I can't sit here and tinker around (much) with the actual book any longer, I have to get cracking on the next step -- the agent query letter.

Obviously this involves doing a lot of research about agents and agencies and figuring out which ones I think might be a good fit for my novel, and then actually sending them a letter introducing myself and giving the briefest of summaries (about two sentences) of my novel, and then a bit of resume-like stuff to conclude. It's just more writing, right? Yeah, my novel is decidedly longer than two sentences, but writing -- this is what I do. I should be able to whip this shit out in a day or two of hard work. And then I'll send out a shit ton of letters and wait, and follow up on my shit ton of letters, and wait some more.

But let me tell you, this process sends me into a blind panic. No -- not even a blind panic. It sends me into my own personal version of fight-or-flight hell: stomach pain, joint pain, a headache at the base of my skull, flushed skin, elevated temperature. It's ridiculous. It's a reaction not just similar but IDENTICAL TO my physical response to the worst traumas I've ever suffered through. And there've been a few. I mean, I had some shit go down in college. I had a verbally abusive boyfriend in my late twenties -- terrifying shit that I never knew when it might turn into something else. Some seriously painful stuff -- some I put myself through, some that other people put me through. Stuff I don't talk about, because I've worked through it and past it and it's not something that defines me anymore.

Shit, my sister died -- fucking DIED -- last year, and this feels the same.

Does this make me a horrible person?


But here's why: I have this lifelong fear of success. I mean, it terrifies me. Keeps me awake nights.

Normal people, maybe most people, fear failure. This makes sense: you work hard, you don't want your hard work to be for naught.

Fear of success is weirder than that, and (duh) very hard to describe. But it goes something like this: I've never really failed at anything before (maybe a few algebra tests here and there back in high school), but I've never really shone at anything before either. I'm a good singer, but I've never been the best singer. I was a good skater back when I skated, but I was never the best skater. I was a good speller, but I always came in third place in the biggest spelling bees. All through school I was a good student, but I wasn't the best student. In college I studied Creative Writing. I was good writer but I wasn't necessarily the best writer. It continues into adulthood: I'm a good daughter, but I'm not the best daughter. I'm a good sister, but I'm not the best sister. I'm a good wife but I know some of our friends are way better at it than me. I'm a good mom but I guarantee you I'm not the best mom (that'd be my younger sister). I'm really good at my job but I'm not the best at my job. I'm super funny, but I'm not even the funniest person I know.

So I have all these things that I'm good at but nothing that I am the best at. And I know some of you would argue some of these points with me and I thank you for it (especially the part where you're saying "You ARE the funniest person I know!" -- that's my favorite part).  But it's not just a self-esteem issue -- it's all grounded in the truth about who I really am. I am a person who has always been willing to do what's required to meet the expectations others have of me -- my parents, my sisters, my husband, my kid, my friends, my teachers, my employers -- and not really much more than that.

And why? Because I know how to cope with those expectations. I know how to behave in the face of those expectations having been met.

Here's what I don't know how to cope with: being the best at anything. Or having a bunch of people acknowledge that I'm really good at something. And success? Oh dear lord.

Succeeding would change my entire life. Probably, hopefully, for the better.

Some people might think that's a good thing, a great thing -- who doesn't want their life changed for the better? 

And it's not that I don't. It's that when I think about it, I can imagine it so well that I can almost taste it. And the thought of NOT getting there... it kills me. It terrifies me. It eats away at my soul.

And so this panic, this terror -- it's perhaps uncalled for. But it's there. I can't make it go away. It reared its head when I was about halfway through the first revision of my novel. And I had to just keep going even in the face of it. And that's all I can do now. I know this is all what Steven Pressfield calls "Resistance".

But I wish I wasn't like this.