Friday, April 27, 2012

Hopes vs. Fears

Whenever you get a new idea, it'll begin with popcorn kittens: your head will be filled with wild, enthusiastic motion, as ideas beget new ideas and you see more and more opportunities.

But then, after the kittens wear themselves out, and head for nappy time, B9 the Robot starts patrolling around.  At first you start having (well-founded) doubts about some of the ideas.  And then you start wondering which of many options would be best. And pretty soon all those shiny new options are looking a little scary and then downright threatening....

And next thing you know B9 is rolling around in circles, waving his useless arms crying "Danger, Will Robinson!"

Fears partly come from hopes.  You hope to succeed.  That success is only in your head -- a wonderful possibility.  But after a bit, you start to own that imaginary success, to possess it like you already have it in hand -- like it's something you could lose.  And suddenly all doubts become a threat to that imaginary thing you own.

Side story: when I was about five or six, my cousin and I got into a terrible fight.  My aunt came running to ask what was the matter.
"She got more than I did!" said one of us.
"More of what?" asked the aunt.
"More pie!"
"What pie?"
"The pie we're pretending we baked!"

Anyway, here is a look at the hopes and fears I've been experiencing on this planned experiment in serialized fiction.  Strangely, every one of them applies to just about any creative endeavor a writer might take on.

HOPE: To get this story out there.

FEAR: I'll be overwhelmed with the deadlines and the format will turn out to be more difficult and less creative than I thought, and the story will suck or I'll hate it by the end.
Set reasonable goals, and then the only a problem would be if you try to overachieve.  If you rush, slow down.  If it sucks, back off to work with it more traditionally, with skills you already have.

HOPE: This story will find its audience.

FEAR 1: Nobody will find it without tons of promotion, and probably in places I'm unfamiliar with and don't know anything about.
REALITY: And they'll find it in your head?  Besides, if nobody finds it, you don't have to worry about how good it is, do you?  It's a learning experience.  Learning in private is not bad.

FEAR 2: The wrong audience will find it.

FEAR 3: The audience will be put off or frustrated by the format.
REALITY: That's a valid fear.  But that's why it's an experiment. You have to try it to find out if the format suits the story.  If it suits the story and the audience doesn't like it, then see Fear 2: they're not the audience for this story.

Plus, you don't have to offer it in just one format forever.  Or even for now. That's a part of the learning curve -- find the formats and delivery methods that work for it.  Experiment.

FEAR 4: I'll lose my existing audience, because I will do less of what I have been doing and more of something new.
REALITY: This is a major issue for writers. All of us do it, usually without realizing it:  You write for the person giving you feedback.  Even if that person is a teacher being paid to give feedback, or a fellow writer who is ONLY giving feedback because she gets it in return.

I love you guys, but I honestly have no real idea what draws you here or not. I don't know how many of you are even real people, or just server 'bots or spiders checking links across the internet.  Even if some of you express an opinion, I have no idea if I change the content whether you'll love it or hate it, or if the silent majority will be enthralled or run for the hills.

The worst mistake any writer can make is to let an imagined audience limit you.  Heck, not even a real audience.  Seriously.  It's a trap. To quote Ricky Nelson: "You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself."

He wrote that song in response to an oldies concert at Madison Square Garden where people booed him for being different than they remembered.

I think one of the key lines of that song is "If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck."  If you want to be an artist -- or just a happy human being -- you have to have the strength to walk away.

HOPE: This could lead to something big.  This could attract readers. This could be a massive success!

FEAR 1: I'll be successful, and things will grow too fast, and I won't be able to keep up!
FEAR 1: What do you mean, "so?"
REALITY: So how is this worse than not doing it at all, may I ask?
FEAR 1: I'll have made commitments! I'll... I'll let people down. I'll....
REALITY: Be embarrassed?  So nu?
(Have you noticed that Reality is sounding more and more like a Jewish mother?)
REALITY (cont): If you're worried about being too successful, then don't be so successful.  If you're worried about promises, don't make promises.  Look back to the top of this article for the bit about the fear of being overwhelmed.

FEAR 2: What if I get caught up in the success, and go chasing after promotional opportunities and stop writing for the audience that loves this?  Or let it interfere with my writing?
REALITY: You'll get over it.  And if you don't, you'll have to remind yourself stop doing that.

FEAR 3: What if I make a wrong choice, and I miss out on the success I could have had!
REALITY: So you can't try again?  It's an experiment!  You try something, it doesn't work, you try something else.  Why is this so frightening?

This last fear tends to seem very complex when you're in the midst of it -- we have thousands of choices to make, and they seem all so critical. They all seem like a crossroads which will lead you on an inexorable path to somewhere.  But the solution to all of them is really simple: you make a wrong turn, you go around the block and try again.  If you get lost a lot, you will get to know the neighborhood really well, too.

I once had a student aide who insisted on using the wrong software for any task.  He did his word processing, for instance, in Adobe Illustrator, page layout in Photoshop, and his drawing?  He did it in Pagemaker -- with the box and line tools.  In the end, he knew all of those programs way better than anyone else did.

So, when fears rise up, confront them.  Look them in the eye with the flat cynicism of a Jewish mother and tell them to stop being silly and eat their soup.

See you in the funny papers.


Mary Lisa said...

Popcorn kittens, imaginary pie, and Ricky Nelson ... great post!

The Daring Novelist said...


I bring many disparate elements together.