Are you scared?
You should be.
One of the things we talk about here is reaching for our dreams, and how to push ourselves toward our goals–how hard that is sometimes, and on occasion, we’ll even mention the really crappy first drafts, how terrified we are that we’ve turned in a book that’s going to need some serious editing, and the mistakes we’ve made.
The thing is, I think there’s this sort of underlying feeling that once someone has a publishing contract, they’ve reached a point where the fear somehow lessens. That there’s this point of arrival, of success, of finally entering the so-called “club” and I am sitting here, remembering how I thought exactly that same thing. And you know what came as the greatest comfort to me, once I was on the other side of that publishing line? That nearly everyone on that other side was just as terrified as I was. All of a sudden, I found myself subject to people with Expectations, Dear, And You’d Better Deliver. You go from the fear that you’ll never make it to the fear that you’ll screw it all up. There never really seems to be a middle ground of ahhhhhhhhh, relaxed. At least, I never saw that place, and believe me, I looked. And just about everyone I’ve met in this business, many many fabulous writers with awards and accolades and NYT bestselling status… all felt that same thing: fear.
It took me a while to realize that the fear was a good thing.
Because the fear means that you have goals, and they’re not static. It means you’re not in a rut. If you don’t have anything to lose, you’re not afraid. And if you don’t have anything to lose, then you’re coasting, and you’re not pushing yourself to be the best person–fireman–police officer–contractor–dancer–singer–writer–mother–father–chicken wrestler… whatever, that you can be. You have to want something, and you have to want more than what you have right now, in this moment, so that you keep striving for excellence. And you have to want it so much, that to not get it strikes fear into your soul. It takes that kind of fear, that kind of self-awareness, to push yourself through the chores that it takes to become great at something. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to settle for merely adequate. I want to be amazing. I may never get there, and that’s okay. I’m going to keep pushing, trying for it.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the wonderful pleasure of being up in Denver, speaking to the Heart of Denver Writers, and one of the best pleasures was that our oldest son, Luke, was able to drive over from his home to visit. He’s a police officer, and a sniper on the SOU team (their name for a SWAT team), and I think I’ve mentioned my kids here a time or twenty-thousand. I’ll tell you something that you don’t really grasp when the kids are little… is how much you’re going to learn from them as they grow. I think I learned much more from them than they did from me, and I’m still learning. I’m in awe.
I was staying with the wonderful Margie Lawson and her sweet husband, Tom. It amazed me to watch Luke explain what he does and how he practices for his job as they peppered him with questions. The precision that is necessary for a sniper isn’t something that just happens. It’s a constant, systematic practice. A honing of skills. He pulled out his logbook and showed us a sample of the kind of notes he takes every single time he fired a shot through his official sniper weapon. He’ll make notes about things like the type of bullet, the angle of the shot, the distance, the direction and speed of the wind, and any other pertinent conditions. Can you imagine the kind of dedication it takes to record all of the details of every single shot? But it’s something he needs to record in order to know exactly what that gun will do in every possible condition, because one day, someone’s life might be on the line, and he might be the only guy who can save them. He wants to know that he can do that, if the time comes. He strives for excellence and I was in awe. I know all of the guys on that team work extremely hard to be the very best they can be.
And I know that he, like every good cop out there, has a sense of fear of not being ready. They don’t let themselves get complacent and lazy about their practices. Laziness can get you killed. He has to find a balance between extreme confidence that he can do the job–and an awareness of what’s at stake if he isn’t ready. A balance between faith and fear.
In my work, laziness won’t get me killed personally, but it can kill a career. I don’t believe in “good enough.” I believe in “as good as I can possibly make it.” That’s the only kind of effort that matters. That doesn’t mean that I’ll always reach every goal. Even the best fall down sometimes. I have to have utter belief in my voice, in my ability to tell a story, so that I bring life to that story, with a confidence that infuses the reader with pleasure, a feeling that they’ll get as they read that they’re in good hands. But I also have to keep the fear close, and use it, to push myself, to look at the small things and go back, relentlessly, and find ways to improve.
And like anyone in a field of endeavor, there’s a point where you have to let the work stand for itself. You’ll keep improving, and the next work will be even better. But eventually, you have to let go.
I also have gotten to the point where I can recognize how much luck plays into any plan. The only thing I can do is the best possible work I’m capable of doing, but I can’t guarantee that the right editor will see it on the right day when they happen to have the budget to buy it. My work might hit their desk the day after they just spent their budget at auction on another book, and that’s just the luck of the draw. But I do know that if luck should land my direction, I want what hits their desk to be excellent.
So I keep the fear as my ally.
I don’t let it stop me, or freeze me in place–though it’s easy to do. I use it as a necessary evil, as a tool to keep me on my toes, to push myself to the next level. And then the next. And the next. I love the journey of it, see… I love the pushing, the striving, the little moments of victory along the way when I write a scene that I know will make someone laugh or something else that I know will break someone’s heart.
I may fall down, and I may fail, but that’s okay. I’m going to get up, and I’m going to learn from it, and I will grow and be better the next time.
So tell me a goal–doesn’t have to be writing related–that you want to strive for, and tell me the next step you’re going to do to move toward that goal. It can be “learn to bake a cake” and the step is “find a great recipe.” Whatever it is, let me know and everyone who enters will be eligible for a $50 gift certificate from Target or Amazon to spend toward your goal.