I was having thoughts today about writing and self-doubt today, and I thought I’d share some of them. Is this because I’m trying to write a new book and it’s a flaming pile of poo and I hate it and it will never be as good as the last thing I wrote? Um….no?
Here’s the thing about self-doubt and writing. It happens to everybody. I’m one of the most confident people you’re ever going to meet. Really. I’m insufferable. Ask my wife. But I have doubts. If there’s somebody out there writing right now and they look at their own stuff every day and think ‘oh, this is awesome’ then…well I don’t trust that mythical person. Sometimes? Sure. But no self doubt ever? Please. So it’s a natural thing. Writing is hard sometimes.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with self doubt. Until you let it paralyze you. Until you let it stop you from moving forward and doing the thing you want to do. That you need to do. That, when you really think about it, that you love to do. Self-doubt is fine, until it becomes self-rejection. You know the thoughts that I’m talking about. The evil stuff. The ‘Nobody is going to want to see this. I’m just going to delete it.’ The ‘This is horrible. I’m wasting my time.’ The ‘I’d be embarrassed to send this to an agent. They’re going to hate it and then they’re going to hate me.’
I’d like to tell you there’s a magical answer to that. I promise, if I figure it out, I’ll let you know. But let’s talk about that last one–sending it to agents–because that one I think you can beat. Here’s why.
Ask yourself a few questions:
Did you finish writing the book?
Is it as good as you can make it? (Really — think about that. Don’t rush. If you can make it better, make it better.)
Have you researched agents to make sure they represent the genre and age category that you write?
Can you spell the agent’s name correctly?
Have you looked at some resources on how to write a query and made yours as good as you can?
Do you promise not to be a dick in your interaction with agents?
If you answered yes to those 6 questions, stop doubting and start querying. Because I promise you this: Whatever agent you send your query to, yours will not be the worst submission they get today. It may not be the best (but it may!) but it definitely won’t be the worst.
They might say no. But so what? There is no tattoo of rejection shame that magically appears on your forehead. Yep. It hurts. But when you wake up the day after a rejection, you’re still in exactly the same spot. You’re at the bottom of the hill. There’s nowhere to fall. You have literally nothing to lose.
And they might say yes. I was ready to quit on my book. Somewhere there’s an email between me and Dan Koboldt, after a few months of querying and a lot of rejections and very few requests, where I told him my plans to move on from my book, Planetside. It had been out for a while, and most of the agents who represent adult science fiction had seen it, and there had been zero enthusiasm. I didn’t know why. Deep down I knew that it was the best book I could write at the time, but tastes are fickle and I just kind of figured it wasn’t my time. Dan kind of laughed at me and told me he thought it was a good book, and that maybe I should give it a little longer. And I did, and I sent out a few more queries, one of which was to Lisa Rodgers, who is the best agent on earth (Really. Last night she tweeted me pictures from a bourbon bar. You can look it up.), and a month later I signed with her.
And that’s the thing. You have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. And the only thing standing in your way is you. Make somebody else tell you no. And if they do? If they all tell you no? Write something better and make them tell you no again. Keep making them tell you no until they can’t. Get all of them. All the no. Make yourself a mattress of no and roll around on that thing. Until you get a yes. Then you can take that mattress out and set it on fire, because everybody likes a good mattress fire. But I digress.
There’s this saying–I have no idea where it came from–that you should never accept no from somebody who doesn’t have the power to tell you yes. It’s a philosophy based on the idea that if somebody doesn’t have the authority to say yes, they will always say no, and you won’t get what you want. So don’t accept it.
You know who doesn’t have the power to tell you yes? YOU. So don’t accept no from yourself.