Publication Anxiety

Tonight, when faced with the option to stay in or go to a Steelers bar with a group of friends to watch the pre-season game, I opted to stay home. I wasn’t feeling the bar scene, and I’m not a Steelers (or Giants) fan. Ultimately, after sitting in my room for an hour, I decided to take myself on a date to Barnes & Noble.

If you’ve ever read Truman Capote’s iconic novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (or if you’ve seen the toned down, Mancini-infused film adaptation), you know that when Holly Golightly has a case of “the mean reds” (translation: unlike having the blues, it’s when you’re feeling down but you don’t really know why), she heads to Tiffany’s to window shop. She doesn’t believe anything bad could ever happen to you there. I had a case of the mean reds tonight, and Barnes & Noble is my Tiffany’s.

When I got there, I browsed around the new fiction and nonfiction. I looked at the best sellers and the summer suggestions. I picked up and put back down a number of classics. My normal BN method is to roam up and down the fiction aisles for an extended period of time before moving on to other areas of the store. That didn’t work out for me tonight. After checking out the tables of books (does anyone else feel compelled to touch them sometimes? I could never use a Nook or a Kindle because I just love the feel of a book too much), I found myself looking at the magazine racks. In particular, I was looking for literary journals. There were too many people, and the magnet in the reference section was especially strong tonight. A few minutes later, after a brief stop to see if there were any new books on the Kennedys that might interest me, I found myself standing in front of shelves of books about writing, how to generate ideas, how to write effectively, how to find work writing, etc. Towards the bottom, I saw the magnet. It was the Writer’s Market 2011 book. If it had hands, they would have been all sassy and akimbo. It would have been raising its eyebrows at me. “You’ll never do it,” it would say. “Remember?”

As more and more of my conversations with friends start to revolve around writing, the topic of publication comes up quite frequently. All of my writer friends seem to view their next natural step as publication. They have the writing (or they’re working on it) and now they want to share it with people. That makes sense. But when people ask me if I’m planning on publishing anything, I tell them the truth: I’ve never really considered that I would. I mostly write for me, because it makes me happy (when I accomplish my writing goals), and I enjoy doing it (usually). I do it to show myself that I can. I mean sure, I’ve had the fleeting thought here and there, but it’s never been something I’ve even thought I could do as freelance work. Why? I suppose it’s because no matter how much I write, I never think it’s any good. I don’t trust myself as a writer, which is either totally horrible to say, or totally normal for most writers. I’m not sure yet. There are pieces that I’ll like, but I’ll never think that they’re worthy of publication. This is probably because I pick up those literary journals, journals like Ploughshares (because that’s obviously the best starting place for someone who is new and yet not to the field *note sarcasm*), and I look at the writing, and I feel as though I’ll never write like that. I’ll never have the kind of quality to my stories that’s required for publication. People I know who are far better writers than I am are frustrated with their rejection letters. Why would I think that I would get anything different?

And yet.

I scowled back at that behemoth of a Writer’s Market book, and, not being one who will seek out one of the coveted armchairs if I have a pressing matter of reading in front of me, sat myself down right in the aisle. I opened it up and flipped through. It was overwhelming, and after a minute or two (maybe three), I closed it, put it back on the shelf, and sat there, avoiding its gaze. I could feel its nonexistent eyes burning into me as I tried to look for something else that might be less overwhelming. “I told you so. You’re not going to do it,” it hissed at me, and then rubbed elbows and giggled with The Idiot’s Guide to Publication. That arm chair was suddenly sounding good, and the more I looked at those shelves full of writing books, the more I started to feel the newly familiar chest pain set in. I’ve been convinced for about two months that I’m just about to have a heart attack, but my mother keeps assuring me that it’s “only anxiety.” I just knew that I had to get away from the Market guide.

I fell into a chair and distracted myself by reading something about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and the ten paces to the most infamous duel in history. My leg was bouncing up and down the whole time. You know that feeling that you get when you feel like someone’s watching you? It’s hard to really settle down. My mean reds had become pure paranoia. I had to get away from that book. Twenty minutes later, I was back at the front of the store. The magazine aisles were clear now. I picked up one literary journal after another. I opened to find their submission guidelines. I read the titles of the works published within. I flipped through the pages, and I could actually start to smell the tiny room in the lower level of the classroom building where most of my college writing workshops had taken place. I was feeling that same anxious feeling, fearing people in the workshop (mostly the “Majors,”) would tear apart my work, not just in a constructive way – which I always welcome and appreciate – but in a cold, callous way. I convinced myself in college that I could never be one of them, and now the thought of it makes me feel like I’m going cross-eyed. Self-confidence be damned! (You too, messed up coping mechanisms.)

On the other hand, the fact that I’ve even looked at those books, looked at submission guidelines, means that my resistance is breaking down. I’m starting to think that maybe publication in some form (I’m not aiming for the next best seller here) is a goal that I really want to consider some day.

Some day, I think to myself. Not yet. There’s still time to procrastinate.

When I was little and used to come home crying because people were picking on me at school, my parents would always tell me to be better than that. Don’t let them get to you. Kill them with kindness.

It is with that in mind that I send this smile over to you and all your cronies, Writer’s Market 2011. Wipe that grin off your face. I’ve got my eye on you.

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2 thoughts on “Publication Anxiety

  1. A lot of the writing blogs I’ve found here on wordpress focus on publication, publication, publication (Am I creepy for blog-browsing, or is that what you’re supposed to do? Please let it be what you’re supposed to do…) I don’t have many writer friends, but from limited reading and contact, in addition to the pressure to be published, there seems to be unspoken pressure to WANT to be published.

    If it’s any consolation, one friend whom I consider to be a better/’more real’ writer than I am once told me he was afraid looking at a blank page. And I thought, dammit, you can’t even find a non-writing-sounding way to explain your problem with writing?
    I think it’s normal to feel that your work somehow falls short of some mysterious standard. I really really hope it’s normal.

    f you’re happy and it feels good to keep up your writing and writing goals for yourself, and occasionally take a look at the market, who says that isn’t the right approach? You’ll get around to it when and if you start feeling like it– maybe a dive into the pool approach vs going in a few steps at a time, you’ll end up in the water one way or another…
    ain’t nothing wrong with a good book and a beach towel, neither. Ok! I’m all done with the crappy metaphors on your well thought out blog.
    For now.
    Take care!

    • Thank you! And I think the blog browsing is normal. I do it too. Although, mine is usually through Twitter, haha. I follow a number of writing-related Twitter feeds that always post links to interesting blogs, so I find a lot of neat stuff that way. Today I found an interview with a literary agent which was interesting to read in light of this blog post. I think that for now I need to keep writing for me, because I agree with you: there is some kind of unspoken pressure to publish. But when it starts becoming about making money, then it becomes a job. Jobs always take the fun out of everything, and I like writing to be fun. I guess we’ll see how it goes. As always, thanks for reading!

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