It’s struck me lately that many women writers are letting one feeling run the show and potentially ruin their writing careers.
I see so many talented women (including our trans sisters) not starting to write the wonderful books which are within them or writing only patchily as their confidence fires and then wanes, over and over.
And, then, if they do finish their project (when 97% don’t get to the end of a book – eek!), they struggle with receiving necessary feedback due to this same anxiety and this can cause potentially career-wrecking behaviour.
It’s this issue that I want to address today as I am on a mission to get more women’s books written, published and out there changing the world, so it’s very important to me that female-identifying authors do not act out in ways which might scupper their chances due to fear.
Feedback is an anxiety-provoking thing, as I know from personal experience, so I deep have empathy.
My first novel, Welcome to Sharonville, took about ten years to come out after the first draft was complete, so I had a LOT of editorial feedback, some of which made me cry with joy and a lot which made weep with despair and I even fought my corner with editors out of sheer frustration over multiple rewrites – though, luckily, I was in a safe space with professionals who knew me and were prepared to walk me through the dark days when I wanted to give up (and, indeed, I did put it in a drawer for two years – and then it was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award, so I guess it was all worthwhile!).
So, as you can see, I’ve basically let my anxiety hold the reins as a newbie writer and made all the mistakes in the book (pun intended) – and now I’m here to tell you how you can avoid my fear-based errors on the road to publication!
Patriarchy means it’s tougher for us to succeed, so let’s make sure we’re not making it even harder for ourselves by giving into anxiety.
1. MORE HASTE, LESS SPEED: The first thing I want to point out is that rushing is actually often counterproductive as rewriting and editing often take more time than the creation of the first draft and writers need to learn to be patient in order to avoid painful rejections caused by simply submitting work too soon.
2. REFLECT OR REGURGITATE THE SAME OLD SHIT: Many writers do not seem to get either that you need to take time to ponder feedback before getting back to a MS or you’ll likely make very little progress with the next draft, as I’ve seen over and over again.
3. DEVELOP PATIENCE: Indeed, it’s good to get your anxiety under control and develop patience as agents may take months to read books and so may publishers.
And, even if you get a deal, it may take a while to make it to the shelves.
Writing for traditional publication is a LONNNNG game.
Be prepared to have people at dinner parties, who have no idea of how the literary world works, say, ‘So you’re still working on that??’
4. DON’T JUST HIT PRINT: Even if you’re going to self-publish and have more control over the publication process, I’d encourage you to wait before hitting print.
Dwell on feedback, redraft and redraft and hold yourself to the highest standard – otherwise, your anxiety could make you publish a book which isn’t your best work because it told you it had to be out NOW.
Not when it’s GOOD.
Indeed, developing patience for the writing road is important as not letting anxiety make you submit or publish before a piece is ready could make the difference between you having a book that flies and one which dies.
5. HAVE GRACE IN THE FACE OF CRITICISM: You have to prepared to control your anxiety so you can gracefully take feedback on your work.
Sadly, there have been clients in my career, mainly guys (ahem), who pay for my expert opinion on their MS and then aggressively refuse to accept any feedback and openly argue with it, even if beta readers have said the same things.
I work with encouragement and respect and I openly say I’m not infallible and to only make changes that resonate.
Indeed, I always say if one person says you’re a horse, don’t worry, but if five people do, get a saddle!
The thing is though, I’ve helped get clients agents, multiple book deals and to create bestselling novels with train posters everywhere, so if you’ve invested in asking for my advice, don’t let your anxiety about learning your craft or having to do the rewriting all of us face on the road to publication let you become bullish.
6: PLAY NICELY: Yup, sadly authorial anxiety can make people rude, inappropriate and entitled. Our privilege can start showing like a worn out petticoat!
And it makes writers forget that peeps like me are also scouts and gatekeepers and that, even if we’re lower down the chain than agents and publishing house commissioning editors, we’re not people to alienate as who is going to recommend the book from someone who’s been pushy and demanding?
No publishing peeps are going to work with people like that when their slushpiles are so huge as everyone wants folks who are easy to deal with and accept notes and often radical textual changes.
7. WRITE FOR JOY, THE REST IS BEYOND YOUR CONTROL (SORRY): Plus, aside from the professional sabotage authorial anxiety causes, it sucks to feel so on edge and desperate – and, unfortunately, publishing trends and the whims of agents, editors and houses are not in our power, so we need to let that stuff go.
Writing should be about joy as uptightness hardly helps creativity, so as soon as you start letting anxiety in, the creative well is likely to run dry.
So, my main message is, sure you’re nervous if you’re waiting for feedback, I get that as I still feel the same, but don’t let that make you do stuff which is out of character.
You’re essentially looking to impress people and make friends from the bottom to the top, so respect editors and scouts and agents and publishers.
Just like you wouldn’t be sending harassing emails about the outcome of a job interview, don’t do that to agents or editors.
The biggest cause of relationship failure is apparently anxiety as it makes people act out, rage, withdraw, punish, defend.
I say this with kindness, but if you want publishing personnel like me to help you to succeed, hold your nerve, lovelies.
What you want is for people to think that not only your work is fabulous, but you are too.
You can read more about getting feedback here.
I am also still offering free 30 minute Literary Sister Book Chats – there’s not much availability ’til July now, but book here, if you need to talk about how to keep your anxiety in check!
I’M DR. SHARON ZINK – I’M A NOVELIST AND FEMINIST WRITING COACH FOR WOMEN WITH BIG THINGS TO SAY.
I’M ON A MISSION TO GET MORE WOMEN’S BOOKS WRITTEN, PUBLISHED AND OUT THERE CHANGING THE WORLD. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ME HERE.