Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wisdom of Insecurity

We all want the guarantee. We want the iron-clad, double-your-money-back, lifetime, no-questions-asked sworn promise: The relationship will endure; the kids will turn out okay; the job will work; the martial art will be there when you call it; they will discover a cure for everything in time to let you be functional for eternity, and you'll live happily ever after ...

We know better. But living with the option -- it's all built on sand and all flesh is eventually grass is kind of hard to think about too much without getting depressed.

So, as best we can, we hedge our bets. Can't control it, but maybe we can improve our odds.

Insecurity is a bear with long claws and big teeth, though.

I believe that life offers you the lessons you need to become as much as you can be. Not always easy and sometimes painful, but you get the choice. (Which is the only reason I can see why those of us who are control-freaks go into the arts, especially as freelancers. Surely that's a big one, letting go of that control ...)

All the artists I know of any discipline suffer to a degree from a worry that one day the art police are going to knock on the door and tell them that the jig is up. Party's over, dude -- you got to go out and get a real job now.

How do you get past that? Well. In my experience, you never do. You learn to live with it.

This happens often enough so it's a real worry: The eyes might go, the hands, the ears; Muse might wander off, and you come up dry. No more images, no more roles, no more songs, no more words. Fashions change, the Fickle Publick turns away, and you are done ...

What brings this up, Steve? you wonder?

I shipped a book to my agent before the holidays and she read it and wanted some changes. She's a bright, talented woman, I value her opinion, and we get on well, but -- I'm not going to make those changes unless an editor who is paying me asks, or everybody and his kid sister rejects the novel.

Because it's the story I wanted to tell.

Anybody who is even a little bit self-aware knows that the Pit of Insecurity within us can never be filled. Not enough shovels, not enough sand, the hole at the bottom goes all the way to the center of the Earth. We want that approbation -- but we know that even if we get it, it's only a matter of time until the fill starts to trickle away, and pretty soon, the pit is empty again.

None of us is infallible, certainly not me, but at some point, second-guessing yourself is bad for your soul. She could be right. I could be wrong. But what she wants fixed is stuff I don't think is broken; things I offered up as part of the story I wanted to tell. At some point, you have to trust your own tools, else you risk becoming a robot.

Did I tell the story I wanted to tell?


Did I tell it well?

I don't know.

Is it a story anybody wants to hear?

That remains to be seen.

So I'm having her ship it as I wrote it, the book. It might go down in flames, but if so, so be it.

Because always: The first person who needs to be happy about the book you wrote has to be you ...


Brad said...

Can you tell us the title so we can keep our eyes open for it? Or is, you'll tell us when it's been bought and being published?

Steve Perry said...

I'll keep you in the loop.

Brad R. Torgersen said...

Steve, I found you by way of Dean Smith's blog, and have been backreading your several years worth of posts. It's been enjoyable, to say the least.

It seems apparent that many of the flytraps of publishing are designed to take advantage of our insecurity, as creative folk who wonder when the shoe is going to fall, and people will stop giving a damn.

I'm a young'un at this and the minefield of can-go-wrong sometimes seems so long and so wide, I wonder why I am still trying when, clearly, there are more direct routes to fame or fortune.

I guess I tell myself as long as I feel the itch to tell a story, I might as well try to get paid for it. And I applaud your pushback with the agent, regarding the book. It's still your product, bottom line, and the only people who appear qualified to ask you to change the product, are the ones who write the checks.

J.D. Ray said...

I had a job interview last Friday. I felt it went very well, and I have some specific experience that they're looking for, so I felt very confident coming out of it. They were going to interview other candidates and make a decision on Wednesday. Wednesday night I convinced myself that they probably had late interviews and I would hear something Thursday. Thursday afternoon was really long, and I went to bed convincing myself that the information got bogged down in the administrative process. Now we're well into Friday morning, and I'm beginning to despair. I really want/need this job. I'm fully qualified, know the industry well, yadda yadda yadda. That hole you described, though, is drilling fast and deep. When something you want relies heavily on someone else's opinion, it's a heavy burden to bear.

Christopher said...

Thanks for the post. As a new writer trying to start out I have worried about this.

I have been sending my books to agents and have had some lovely rejections (only in the art world are rejections lovely).

I have been skipping submitting to agents who said they want to work with writers who are willing to work with them.

I wrote the book and maybe it isn't good enough but I am not sure if I would want to make dramatic changes just to get signed by an agent.

Dan Moran said...

Hang in there, JD. Having a business crash down around you is painful, but the scars do fade. I've been at 2 startups that nosedived into the ground from high distances ... the first time was traumatic. The second time, annoying because I wasn't getting enough damn sleep. (My other startups made it, though I managed not to get rich off them.)


Steve, I tell you what surprises me -- that you haven't sold that urban fantasy. I really liked that book. I admit, I don't understand the current market at all.

Steve Perry said...

People like the urban fantasy. A couple of people who passed said they liked the book, they like my stuff, but they couldn't quite see how to market it.

Always the risk when you elect to write something that isn't easy to slot.

Still making the rounds. Maybe somebody will eventually see some possibilities there.

Justin said...

A very timely post for me and where I'm at right now, Steve. Thanks.

You have every reason to be confident, in my opinion. I believe your writing "peak" has yet to be reached. But you don't need me to tell you that.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

I've had the same thing happen to me, J.D. - Constantly. The worst, THE UTTER WORST, is when they call you back for a second, third interview...And then you hear nothing. Ever. It's up to you to call the company and beg someone to give you a straight answer.

These are uncertain times. I don't want to sound like a cheerleader, but you have to keep SWINGING. That's the best advice anyone can give you, if it goes to shit, keep batting 1000. Someone, sometime, is going to notice. I have lost many jobs that I both desperately needed & felt unquestioningly qualified for. If you know what you're doing, if you're any good at what you do, it'll happen.

You might find this particular experience funny:

Apparently, according to a few interviewers, they were worried I just wouldn't "gel" with the company.