Going Home, Thinking Too Much, and Debut Author Anxiety

15 Oct

Tomorrow, I fly home for the first time in eight months.

I’ll be able to see my mom and my brother (and my dog!) after what feels like an eternity of New York adventures and long phone calls and homesick tummy-twists. And, most exhilaratingly, I’ll be able to drive on Texas highways! Which, by the way, I cursed often and viciously, once upon a time. Now, though . . . well, let’s just say if it wouldn’t imperil my life, I would plant myself in the middle of I-35E and hug that uneven, pothole-ridden concrete like . . . well, like some kind of freak who hugs highways, that’s what.

Today, in preparation, I am packing, putting together a presentation for my Texas school visits, and thinking.

I am, as ever, thinking way too much.

Tomorrow marks seven weeks since Cavendish‘s debut. Seven weeks of happy, proud, well-meaning friends and family asking me things like:

“How’s the book doing?”

“Do you know what sales numbers are like?”

“So when’s it going to be made into a movie?”

“How does it feel, now that you have a book on the shelves?”

These may seem like innocuous questions, and I’m sure they were meant as such, but for a debut author who is constantly second-guessing herself and her work, they mostly just make me nervous. Anxious (even more so than I normally am, which is a lot).

Guilty.

“Nervous?” you might say. “Anxious? Guilty? What for? I mean, I understand that it’s nerve-wracking, having a book out in the world, but isn’t it also a joy?”

Yes, it is, an overwhelming and remarkable one. But the experience, for me, has also been riddled with nervousness and anxiety and guilt–that I’m not doing enough for my book, that my writing isn’t good enough, that I am making too many rookie mistakes.

Logically, and on my more optimistic days (and there are a lot of those! Just so you don’t write me off as some sort of crotchety old pessimist), I know that my writing is quality, and I can feel good about it.

But as autumn tumbles on, and the glow of the launch period fades, doubt settles in ever more wickedly.

And it’s tricky, talking about this. I hesitated to write this post because, as a published author, you never want to seem like you are complaining. I mean, Past Claire, if she could have seen what the future held in store for her, would have been turning cartwheels up and down the UNT Library stacks, causing all sorts of joyous ruckus on the quiet floor. She would have felt so fortunate and blessed and overjoyed to know that she would in fact achieve her dream of becoming a published writer, and she would take a look at my expression right now and probably punch me in the face.

“You should be grateful,” she might snap. “Look at all you have. I don’t have that yet. Others don’t have that.”

And she would be correct.

I am fortunate, to have a book on the shelves. I am fortunate, to have sold three more books besides that, to have an agent and editor I adore, to have the support of a major publishing house. I am fortunate, to have people reading my book and enjoying it. I mean, I worked hard for all of these things, but yes, I am fortunate, as so much of publishing success rides on timing and chance.

But, still, there is the doubt.

The presentation I’m preparing is one I will use in a few days when I address hundreds of middle school and high school students. In this presentation, I will talk about writing and my past as a band nerd (complete with mortifying pictures).

I will also talk about dreams.

I will talk about working hard, about resilience, and about failure, and about how the hardest part of failure is not the act of failing itself, but rather getting up after that, and trying again, and again, and again.

As I prepare this presentation, I find myself struggling to absorb my own information.

It’s not that I have failed on paper, per se. Far from it. I just released a book! Three more are on the way! I’m writing full-time!

Rather, it’s that the world of being a published author is one permeated with the successes of others, with flashy advertisements and glowing reviews that are not for your book, with numbers and rankings that reduce the thing you’ve poured your soul into, the thing for which you’ve sacrificed bits of your personal life and loved ones and sanity, to a slot on a docket.

“Well, stop comparing yourself to others!” you might say. “Who cares how others’ books are doing or what some ranking says about you? Just keep working! Keep learning how to be a better writer! Keep experimenting with promotional activities and networking and commiserating with author friends over waffles and Disney movies!”

And I say these things too, although I don’t listen very well, or at least, I find it hard to believe myself.

And, please understand, this post is not to say that I’m unhappy with Cavendish or with my writing or with myself. I’ve grown so much over the past few months, both as a writer and as a person, and I’m proud of that, and I’m also proud, unbearably so, of my creepy, strange little book.

But sometimes, I’ll pass a bookstore. I’ll want to go inside and see if they carry Cavendish . . . and yet, I won’t. I’ll be terrified that they won’t have it, or that it will be shoved into some inconsequential corner somewhere, or that there will be too many copies left on the shelf, as though people just pass it by without so much as a glance. And the little bundle of bookmarks I keep in my purse at all times suddenly feels like this stupid, silly weight on my shoulder, like a scabby-kneed kid trying to look sophisticated in her mother’s clothes. And I put my head down and walk on past.

All this to say . . . it’s hard, being a published author.

It’s hard, being a writer at all, but having your book out there, this real, living, to-be-purchased-or-not-to-be-purchased piece of yourself on the shelves, and having expectations hovering over you, whether they are real or imagined, and never feeling like you are doing enough to make sure that those bookstores do have your book, and that people do grab it off the shelf . . . that is a whole new level of hard. Intellectually, I knew it would be like this. But experiencing it firsthand, experiencing the emotional tumult and logistical struggle of working, and working, and working, and always wondering if that work is actually doing anything . . . all of that has been so much more than even my imagination, in all its fondness for spinning worst-case scenarios, had ever thought up.

So, I sit here, preparing my presentation, and I struggle.

I struggle to imagine myself standing up in front of those kids in a few days and infusing them with the positive, excited energy that I know they want and need, that I so desperately want to give them. Because right now, I feel weighted down by this ineffable feeling of inadequacy, of not enough.

Perhaps I’m just impatient; perhaps I long for a level of success and security and confidence in my work that simply takes a while to develop. Maybe there are lots of other authors out there who feel the same way but are just better at hiding it or, even more impressively, better at transforming all that negative, anxious energy into positive, productive energy. And I should say that, most days, I’m good at doing that myself. In the midst of all the Cavendish hoopla, for example, I completed revisions on one book and completed the first draft of another. Success!

But, as I sit here in front of my half-finished PowerPoint, I still feel very alone in my not enough-ness, as though the whole rest of the world is bright smiles and pithy tweets much pithier than any I could ever write.

Maybe going home tomorrow will help me turn this crisis of confidence into a triumph of confidence. Maybe seeing my family, hugging the highway, and getting up in front of those kids to talk about dreams and resilience and that everything will be all right, even if that everything doesn’t unfurl as you imagined–maybe that will help me remember my fortune once again, and accept things I can’t change, and work even harder to affect the things I can.

Maybe, after this trip, people will ask, “How does it feel, now that you have a book on the shelves?” and instead of shoving past the nervousness, the anxiety, the queasy, guilt-ridden numbness to give a bright smile and a chirpy answer, I’ll actually feel that brightness when I say, “It feels like a dream come true.”

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11 Responses to “Going Home, Thinking Too Much, and Debut Author Anxiety”

  1. Kit Grindstaff (@kitgrindstaff) October 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Omigosh, Claire – that sounds like quite an Odyssey, being away for so long. As a soon-to-be-rookie author, I really appreciate your candor about the conflicting emotions, knowing what to expect – and as an ex-recording artist (very ex) totally relate to the well meaning questions. Arg!

    Many congrats on CAVENDISH. I haven’t yet read it but it’s high on my teetering tbr pile, and I’m Very Much Looking Forward to its creepy deliciousness. All the best with your homecoming!

  2. Serena October 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Man, I wish I was there so I could give you a hug. I think Cavendish is wonderful, and I hope that when you go to visit all those schools, these kids will grasp it as a perfect thing to read while munching on Halloween sweets. Take your own advice – you’re living the dream. Your name is on a book. Everything else will fall into place. <3

  3. Jessica Spotswood October 15, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    You are not alone in your not-enoughness, Claire, I promise. I feel that way too (sometimes). That lack of control over sales and reviews and bookstores and the fact that we can always do more, that twitter and blogs are full of writers doing more *right now*, is very hard for an anxious perfectionist like me (and I suspect maybe you?). I’ve had a sort of chill period for the last few months, working on the next book, which I *could* control. And now I’m anxious again about paperback and should I order new swag and set up a blog tour and and and…I suspect there will always be ups and downs in this rollercoaster business. *hugs*

  4. Stephanie Burgis October 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    *HUGS* Sooooooo much empathy. I don’t know any author who doesn’t go through those feelings. They’re hard. Writing is the best career in the world, IMO, but publishing…really isn’t. It’s so full of parts that are out of our control and yet have huge potential impacts on our futures, it’s just designed to create constant levels of anxiety. It’s worth it (at least to a lot of us) so that we can keep on writing and sharing our books…but the emotional side-effects are very real. It seems like you’re balancing them as well as possible, though.

  5. Starr Hoffman October 16, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    You’re amazing and brave, girl. First, to have chosen this life of making your way as a full-time published author? BRAVE. AMAZING. BRAVE-MAZING. Second, to move across the country and try your hand at the Big City Life? BRAVE-MAZING. Third, to share your gut feelings with unabashed honesty? In such a way that shows the rest of us that, yeah, those feelings of inadequacy and doubt and anxiety that we feel? Yeah, published authors of BRAVE-MAZING-NESS get them, too. We’re not alone–and neither are you.

    *HUG ATTACK*

  6. Susan Dennard October 19, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    This post resonates so much with me, Claire. Thanks for writing it. I am in the same shoes, and every other debut author I know seems to feel the same. At first, I thought I was crazy, and I was afraid to talk about it. I’m STILL not comfortable admitting it to family or non-writer friends…but my writer friends–well, we’ve opened up about this a lot. Because knowing you’re not alone in this overwhelming feeling of not-good-enough-ness seems to make it a more bearable. It proves we’re not crazy so much as still trying to find a balance in our writing lives.

    Again, thanks for this post. It’s hard to write about, but you did it beautifully. <3

    Oh, and also, my school visit presentations are on the SAME TOPIC: failure, fear, and perseverance. So. Angsty. But it seems to resonate really well with tweens and teens! Good luck!

  7. anniecardi October 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. A fellow soon-to-be published author friend and I have talked about our similar anxieties and guilt. So glad to see from your post and the other comments that this is pretty normal. Maybe it gets better? But if it doesn’t, I think that’s okay too. Writing is scary. But I’m glad we’re doing it anyway.

  8. Cara M October 20, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    Have you ever really thought about what a dream come true would feel like? Especially one of those dreams where you’re sleeping lightly and grinding your teeth and you’re desperately trying to rest, but you can’t. So yeah, being a published author – like a dream come true :)

  9. mindy November 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    I just read this (late), and I want to hug you and your little bundle of bookmarks sooooo hard. <3

  10. Petre Pan November 26, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    This whole post makes me just want to hug you. I understand!!! I’m not at THAT dream yet, but I totally understand being at what you’ve always wanted, looking around, and saying ‘I’m not good enough for this.’ Standing on a ball like the Cat in the Hat juggling God-only-knows-what, and then realizing AAAAAAH I’M DOING THIS AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO FALL. Even if we don’t know what falling is. Even if, as you say, we haven’t failed on paper, we feel like failures.
    I SO understand! So I want to hug you so much. There’s always ‘better’ than where we are now. And it’s realizing that–and pushing towards that, without diminishing the past journey–yeah, that’s hard.
    Yup, I’m a late replyer, and a new reader. But I just had to say my bit! Because you took the words out of my mouth!

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