Coming to grips with the worst-case scenario for my writing career
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about worst-case scenarios. Any reader of my blog has to have noticed that I’ve had a fair amount of writing success lately (and there’ve been other great things that I haven’t mentioned, like a revision request from an editor; an invitation to submit to a closed anthology; and another super awesome thing that I will hopefully post about in a few days [not, unfortunately, a novel sale]). And all this success has been great!
But it’s also seriously stressed me out. Before, I was pretty sure that every submission I sent out was going to end in a rejection. Now there’s this constant uncertainty! It could sell! It really could! Recently, I had a submission at The Magazine of Fantasy And Science Fiction for 90+ days (I even queried by email at sixty days and was told that Gordon Van Gelder was really considering it for real and everything). Now, that’s awesome. A year ago, I’d never gotten anything but form rejections from F&SF. Now, they’re thinking about buying a story from me? It was really awesome. But also very nervewracking. Since I know that Gordon is pretty much the only editor who accepts stories by snail mail, the hope that I’d sell to F&SF was alive and well until pretty much the moment that I opened the envelope.
Well, I didn’t sell that story to them. It wasn’t so bad, but the whole thing did take a very real emotional toll on me. And this is the same emotional toll that I suffer from every near miss. When I had no success, I felt like I had nothing to lose. Now, I feel like I am putting my reputation on the line with each submission. It’s definitely better than being uniformly rejected, but I had learned to deal with uniform rejection, and I haven’t yet learned to deal with this.
Which is why I recently read Dale Carnegie’s self-help guide How To Stop Worrying And Start Living. This book has a lot of good advice (although I think it might work better for people with a less morbid disposition than myself), but one thing that I took away from it is that when a person is worrying about something, he ought to clearly outline the worst-case scenario. Without a clear worst-case scenario, the dread is very generalized and all-encompassing. But once we have a worst-case scenario, we realize that it’s not that bad.
With my writing hobby / vocation / career, the worst-case scenario is surprisingly bearable. Under the worst case scenario, I suffer a few years of declining success (i.e. I recede from my current high point) and realize that this isn’t really going to happen for me. I slowly downsize my writing commitment and start producing just a few stories a year. I go to graduate school and major in something practical (like Economics). I get a solid public policy or private sector job. I start looking for ways to achieve success in my job (rather than my current strategy of downscaling job commitments to focus on writing). And, as a side benefit, I get way more time to catch up on my video games.
It’s definitely not what I want, but it’s also not something that I need to be terrified of. And that’s good. I think that in some cases terror can be a goad to greater effort and productivity. But I also think that terror really has the potential to kill off my creativity. Right now, I’m still trying to find the right mindset with which to approach my neo-pro status, but I have confidence that I’ll figure it out eventually.