Fighting Fear

Once upon a time, I knew a guy who spent three years in law school, but when it came time to take that last class to graduate, he just didn’t bother. His employer gave him time off to study for and take the bar exam, but although he took the time, he never took the exam. Because, of course, he couldn’t. He was a smart guy, very knowledgeable in the field, but he never took those final steps to become a lawyer. I always wondered why. My ten year old just read this paragraph over my shoulder and answered the question for me: “I think he was afraid.”

I think so too. You can’t be called a bad lawyer if you never finish law school. And you can’t be called a bad writer if you never finish a book.

I typed “The End” in my manuscript seven months ago. I need to add a couple of scenes and it requires some serious editing, but the bones are all there.  And yet I cannot seem to finish it. I even started another book, and although that is going well, I am being haunted by the first one.

Generally speaking, I am not a risk-taker; I never have been. When I graduated from college, I cried for two days because for the first time in my life I had no idea what to do next. When I started my own law firm I was so freaked out I didn’t eat for three weeks and lost about 15 pounds.  Both involved leaving a safe cocoon of support and certainty. To me, a manuscript is a bit like that. When it’s in your own head or on your own laptop, it’s safe and secure. You can imagine that it will be perfect, that everyone will love it.

So I suppose it’s understandable, if pathetic, that the idea of pitching and querying the book scares the crap out of me. I squandered a recent opportunity to pitch at the NEORWA conference, and didn’t participate in a query workshop I took a few weeks ago. I told myself it was because the book wasn’t ready, but I was lying: the truth is that I was terrified.

This morning as I had both the old and the new manuscripts open on my laptop, I thought about that guy who never finished law school, who as far as I know still works in a cubicle doing the same thing every day. I thought about how I went abroad for my junior year and it was an unforgettable experience that inspires me to this day. I thought about how I left my cushy life for law school, and I graduated cum laude. I thought about how I started my own firm, and it’s doing fine. And I realized that I actually am a risk taker when it counts.

Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” So every day I will do something scary, or at least a little difficult. I will write a logline, a pitch, and a query letter. I will shelve the new MS until I finish the old one. And then I will send my baby out into the world.