Being a professional fiction writer is not for the faint of heart. It’s a poor fit for people who don’t have a strong masochistic streak and enjoy spending anguished nights staring at the ceiling of their darkened bedroom, turning the same thought over and over in their head: should I have made just one more revision before submitting my work?
I got absolutely no sleep last night. The entire day I spent putting the final polish on not one but two new short stories, going over them both with a fine-toothed comb. Finally, after reading each one a last time with the kind of laser precision borne out of the neurotic perfectionism that can easily be mistaken for OCD, I decided that they were as good as they were going to get. I bundled them both together in an email and sent them off to my publishers, safe in the knowledge that I got drafts and revisions done well under deadline by a massive margin.
As soon as I wrote my cover note to those modern Brothers Grimm, Chris and Craig Gabrysch, over at Twit Publishing, attached the two files, and hit send, a feeling of calm washed over me. That was it; I was done. My submissions sped at the speed of light down the tubes of the interwebs – too late to call ’em back, not without some time on the large hadron collider to hitch a ride with some FTL neutrinos.
The more time I spend thinking about it last night, the more quickly my calm evaporated. It wasn’t long before I was a gibbering Xanax-popping wreck, like an investigator that just stumbled around the corner of an abandoned warehouse and caught an eyeful of something from a Darkest of the Hillside Thickets song. I kept second-guessing whether or not I had made the right decision in submitting my work. Should I have taken another glance at it? I thought feverishly, as my mind began sprinting like a Kenyan after downing an entire bottle of Powerthirst. What if both stories are shit? I asked myself, as the possibility of sleep that night slipped away on little cat feet, leaving me staring blearily at my computer monitor well past 3 in the morning before exhaustion finally drove me to bed.
You have to be a special brand of crazy to continuously put your work out there for validation. It’s a completely harrowing experience, one that can only be akin to that flutter of anxiety you get when you ask someone you have a crush on out on a date for the first time, but magnified a thousandfold. You’re scared of failure so bad, even your flop sweat has flop sweat; soon you find yourself not only worrying about it in your waking hours, but being plagued by dreams of inadequacy and failure in your sleep as well.
Yet people who are serious about getting their work out there keep doing it, even though it’s like being dragged through a hallway, past the comforting murals depicting Mediterranean scenes and right towards the rotating knives every time; it’s like Einstein’s definition of insanity. Still, you keep doing it, don’t you?
Like the poet said, what matters most is how you well you walk through the fire, not how well you avoid getting burned. Professional writers don’t do it because they want to; it’s because they have to. They’ve got to get this stuff out of them and down onto the page before it claws its way out like a xenomorph sporting a straw boater hat and a cane, leaving you nothing but a bloody, eviscerated husk sprawled across the lunch counter.
Well, that, and one day I’d like to be able to quit my day job. Then again, who wouldn’t?