By Brenda Buchanan
In November and December, I wrote about some of the lessons I’ve learned during my first year as a published author. It’s been affirming for me to write them down and share them publicly, and I’m grateful to everyone who has offered comments to date. Today’s post covers the final two lessons: find your courage and your true path, then keep moving forward.
Lesson #5: Look Fear in the Face and Don’t Blink
Everyone is rattled by something. When you’re writing for publication, many things have the potential to freak you out if you allow yourself to dwell on them.
You might not sell any books.
Reviewers will universally hate what you write.
Crippling writer’s block will seize your soul the day after you launch your first book and you’ll never write another coherent paragraph.
None of those particular terrors went bump in my pre-publication nights.
This time last year the dread that had me studying the ceiling at 3 a.m. was the realization that with the April launch of Quick Pivot, I would have to stand up in front of people and talk about my book.
Ridiculous, right? A significant part of my livelihood as a lawyer involves speaking publicly. Years ago I addressed an enormous crowd as class speaker at my law school graduation. Since then I’ve tried cases in District and Superior Court and argued before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
You would think this experience would help. It did the opposite.
The truth was, lawyer-speaking ruined me (temporarily) for writer-speaking. Over the years I’d learned how to stand up, lay out my case and then defend it, because lawyers are trained to peck at each other’s arguments like famished crows. There’s no precedent to support that proposition. Nobody’s going to buy that story. Your client is living in a fantasy world.
Though I no longer try cases in court, much of my workday communication continues to be verbal swordplay. It may seem more like convincing, cajoling or creative coaxing, but at bottom, it is arguing. I want something. The person across the table or on the other end of the phone wants something else. It’s a battle, even if we pretend it’s not.
Late last winter I realized I needed an intervention to help me overcome my worry that readers would come to their local library so they could tell me in person about the shortcomings in my books. To deal with my anxiety-driven insomnia I went to the best doctor in town—the amazing Elizabeth Peavey.
For those unfamiliar with Liz, she is an accomplished writer, brilliant performer and public speaking coach par excellence. She lives in Portland and is known statewide (should be worldwide) for her many talents. Here’s a link to her website, for anyone who thinks they might benefit from speaking instruction or would like to know more about her terrific writing. http://elizabethpeavey.com/
Liz helped me with technical stuff (among other things, I had the voice-dropping-off-at-end-of-sentence thing going on) and offered vital breathing and posture tips (“your body is a bellows” she, well, bellowed). But the primo takeaway was her conviction—which she promised was true—that at my readings, people would not attack me or my work. “People show up for these events because they enjoy being read to and they love to meet authors,” she said. “They’re cheering for you. They want you to succeed.”
Liz was right. The nicest people in the world have attended my readings. They’ve grinned at me from the audience. They’ve asked thoughtful questions. They’ve even applauded at the end. Having adopted Liz’s bellows-breathing mantra, I have never once fainted and I always leave these events feeling like a million bucks.
The lesson? When we’re in the grip of any fear, we forget the absolute rush of finally facing it down. My advice for anyone in my (formerly) quaking boots is to brush aside your night-terrors, whatever they may be, and go for it. You’ll be glad you did.
Lesson #6: Be True to Yourself and Keep Going
Like many of you, I always have considered myself a writer. When I left journalism for law school, that essential truth didn’t change. I figured I simply was going to do something else for a while. Eight years ago—20 years after walking away from the keyboard—I decided to get back to it. It was a transformative decision, reconnecting me with my true, core self.
I was well aware that publication would be a long road that I’d need to walk (mostly) by myself, nurturing the blind, radical faith that I’d make it to my destination.
But when I attained my goal of becoming a published author, my journey wasn’t over. In fact, it had just begun.
We all know the sun does not set in glory and the credits do not roll after Book One. One must write more books or short stories. That part of the writing process doesn’t magically get easier the second (or third, or fourth) time around. Whether you have a one-book contract or a multiple-book deal, you must keep your publisher happy, and the challenge of staying a published writer is real and somewhat intimidating.
This is where the part about being a writer, not just playing at it, comes in. You need fortitude. Grit. Resilience. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to face the most difficult parts on your own.
I have been fortunate in my rookie year to get to know many well-established writers (including my talented MCW colleagues) who have blazed a trail for me to follow. Their advice? Stay on course, but be flexible. It’s guidance I’m taking to heart as I continue to move forward.
I’m hard at work on a fourth novel, though I don’t have a contract for it. There are a few short story ideas I’m developing without an identified market in mind. I plan to keep on keeping on, maintain the daily rhythm of putting words to paper and leave the tether off my imagination while the future unfolds.
My destination isn’t as clear as it was last year when I was working day and night to fulfill a three-book contract with tight deadlines, but I’m cool with that. I know who I am. I’m a writer. And I’ve got these six lessons in my backpack to keep me on course.
I am so grateful for your company on the journey.
Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. The third book—TRUTH BEAT—will be released by Carina Press on February 1. Like QUICK PIVOT and COVER STORY, the earlier books in the series, TRUTH BEAT will be available wherever ebooks are sold.