I’ve been working with a friend and first-time author, editing and supporting her during the past year on the road to publication of her memoir. She sent an email yesterday saying her publisher has just shipped advance copies of her book, adding: “So far, the only people who have read my book is you, my best friend and the publisher. I had no problems when I was writing and trying to find a publisher, but now that it is a done-deal, I am terrified. Don’t ask me why, but a lot of doubt has set in. Did anything like this happen to you with your first book?”
Advice to a Debut Author
Yes, I have worried that the quality of my work isn’t worth promoting. I’ve tried to counter my doubts by giving myself permission to be human and fallible and imperfect, and then moved forward with the process of bringing my stories to readers. I’ve felt this way even after winning awards and receiving glowing feedback. Sometimes I can’t imagine how anyone would take the time to read the drivel I’ve produced. Other times, I say to myself: “Screw it. It is what it is. I’ve done my best. Take it or leave it.”
I told her writers need to create emotional distance from their work and develop a stance toward what they’ve produced. You are not your book. You are much more than that. And, you still need to brush your teeth and pay the utility bill. Paparazzi will not stake out your apartment, eating fast food at all hours of the day and night, lying in wait to snap a photo of you appearing with lipstick on your teeth.
Here are some ideas I offered my client for maintaining perspective:
Act as if — You are an author; act as if you’re an author until you become one, really feel it with calm assurance. Confidence is an inside job.
Step back — Get some emotional distance from your book, your work. If you’re gnashing your teeth about what someone might say about your story, accept that criticism is often more about the person doing the criticizing than the subject at hand. Be prepared to give people space to react to your work and your accomplishment.
You are not alone — You are not the only person in the world who suffers from occasional, crushing self-doubt. Share your feelings and seek it from others who will understand.
Make your ego porous — Poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said: “Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” Get balanced, get right with yourself. Get your hair done for God’s sake, take a nap, go for a walk! Do not obsess. Your are not an idiot.
Don’t be afraid to bloom — “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin. Your book is on its way to the world. You’ve done all you can. You’ve opened yourself. Now allow yourself to flower. It will happen in ways unexpected and that is the glory of this work and this life.
Stand Aside — It is not your responsibility to judge yourself or your book. Those jobs belong to God and your readers. Stand aside and let them do their work. Prepare to let the world know your story exists, your book is ready, and then step aside.
Although I tried to reassure her with this advice, there’s no easy cure for debut jitters. Writing and publishing is a risk and I honor writers willing to take their work to the precipice of public opinion and toss their books in. I honor readers and respect their kindness and judgement as they catch us in the leap of faith that is publication.