Summer Woolly Mammoth Moon
Spent most of yesterday on submissions. I revised School Spirit, taking 2.0 down to 2,700 words from 4,800, and submitted the revision to Mysterion. I developed a table in Word to track my submissions. It has these columns: submission, work, publisher, response, rejection, acceptance, contract, published. Later on today I’m going to begin revision of Superior Wolf, which I want to get out as soon as I can get it where I want it.
I now have an Evernote file for Novel and Short Story markets which contains 25 new markets and I will build that file. I need another log to track reading periods, periods when a particular market opens to submissions. They are often only a month long, so you have to both have work that fits their interests and know when to send it. Once I get a rhythm going here, I’ll get back to agent submissions, arguably more important than submissions to markets.
So, I’m facing my fear, not only that, I’m leaning into it, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and saying, “Come on, now. Message received. Stop already.” This is partly mussar driven, the practice I wrote about on July 6; but, it’s also driven by self talk that long preceded mussar, though ineffectually, and even a bit by the shame and embarrassment.
What, exactly, has the fear been doing for me? It’s tried to protect me, fence me off from disappointment and failure. It feels the pulse of shame before it rushes through me and says, go another way, that feels bad. Just keep your head down, don’t poke it up, make yourself visible. And, of course, in spite of that self-protective urge, the result has been that for 30 years I’ve felt disappointed and I’ve failed at publishing because I never took the risk.
Fear, like doubt, is good. To not fear the fall from a high cliff is stupid. Getting a flu shot makes sense because fear rightly says the flu is worse. Slowing down around a mountain curve? Sure, fear tells me I’d fly off into the void otherwise. But fear is pluriform, it responds to many things. When on the Savannah, a fear of vulnerability probably sensed a predator nearby, or an enemy. Pay attention. Hide. Be ready to defend yourself against death. Having a red light moment is adaptive, until it isn’t.
Publishers and editors and agents, even critics and readers, are not lions or hyenas on the veldt. The fear I’ve allowed to rule me for the past three decades however has believed them so. The shame then is a complicated emotion which recognizes the self-deception and self-protection. It knows I’ve chosen the critique of intimates, why hasn’t Charlie ever published, to the critique of possible readers. That’s embarrassing, but it’s where I’ve been for a long, long time.
Now, however, a strange, new moment is on the rise. In part I got tired of the narrative I’d been telling myself, been telling others. “I’m just not good at marketing.” I call bullshit on that. In part I read this article about setting a rejections goal and this time it made sense to me, a sort of akido move, use the power of your adversary against them. In part it was this month’s mussar practice of facing fear in order to learn about trust.
Yesterday, for the first time I can ever recall, I felt like I was getting down to the business side of writing. Yes, I’ve made submissions before, but I have never made as organized and concerted an effort as now. It feels good.
But, if I’ve begun to push the fear, tried to educate it that this is not an arena where it’s helpful, which I have, I’ve begun to wonder about it, too, from the mussar perspective. If I face the fear, face it down, then does trust appear? If the student is ready…
I know that fear vitiates trust. If we’re afraid of another person’s motives, we’ll never get to know them well. If we’re afraid of public speaking, no one will hear us. If we’re afraid of our own motives, we’ll take few risks. In these cases, if we face the fear, listen to it, talk it down, choose to act differently, then we may find love, may discover that people want to know what we have to say, may open ourselves to the world’s rich opportunities.
I’m starting from the fear, however, not trust. If I eliminate the fear, if I continue (and I’m pretty sure I will) to organize, revise, submit, and create new work, will trust appear? In what? The question I’m asking is this, does eliminating or modulating fear create trust, always? If so, in what?
In this instance, for example. If I have pushed back the fear, acknowledged the shame of constant wheedling about submitting my work, and have finally gotten somewhere with both, in what do I now have trust? That eco-system of publishing and readers will therefore embrace my work? Not really up to me beyond getting my work out there. That I’ll be a better person? Maybe. Since the fear has weighed heavily on my psyche for all these years, lifting it might have, probably will have, a positive effect on my sense of self. Perhaps I’ll trust life more, be less reticent. This would be huge, obviously.
Don’t think this is the heart of it though. Somehow the trust that emerges is, more importantly, in acceptance of vulnerability, trusting that when I’m afraid, or even ashamed, that I can still be in this world. We’ll see, of course, if this is true, but it feels right. Fear, then, can be seen as a tool, an important and necessary one, but one to pick up and then set down. It’s not a tool we want to always have to hand and when it is in hand, we need a plan to get it back in the toolbox after it’s done its work.