We think a lot about horror and fright this time of year. Read an interesting article this week by Neil Strauss, who is someone I follow when I can. He discusses the difference between Fear and Anxiety. He's been doing some studies on this with members of the scientific community and has come to some interesting conclusions. Some I've listed below, and I've added my notes about them.
Most of what you call fear is really anxiety.
He suggests that being willing to enter the doorway of no return, or facing fear head-on, is a precursor to achieving great success. Consider the number of people who go through near-death experiences and then discover in themselves some magic and walk away changed forever. Or pushing yourself to high performance, to the point of failure, without fear, to achieve a high degree of competency. We look to the BUD/S training our Navy SEALs go through, where less than 10% of the class actually graduates, where the recruit is tested mentally as well as physically. Part of the success of that training is in pushing to the limit while setting the fear of failure to the side.
Good decisions are made from this place.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is debilitating, and it is the response to uncertainty.
Uncertainty is so uncomfortable, most people will make bad decisions to create the illusion of certainty.
Uncertainty is defined as something that is unknown or doubtful. The opposite to this, of course, is certainty, or knowing something. And that requires, as a method for ending uncertainty, that something become known, studied or understood. We run away from uncertainty when that will only enhance it. Finding out about what is troubling is the path to diminishing the effects, eliminating the anxiety. We embrace the knowledge of the cause for it, rather than withdrawing from it.
Bad decisions are made from the state of anxiety.
I used to beat myself up about writing things at the last minute, when I actually love writing that way. Not everyone can, but I enjoy it. I call it Fierce Writing, writing with my hair on fire. Inspired writing. If I were writing memoir or poetry, perhaps I would take a lighter approach, do little bits and pieces every day to keep the muscle developed.
But writing fierce is feeling the story like an extreme movie in your head, where all the characters in your tale work together to create that play. Unexpected things sometimes happen and they thrill me. Other times, if I don't feel the intensity of the story, I lay down tracks and then go back and polish the jewels to make it great. But for me, there is no great writing done until I feel the intensity and am actually living in that story, occupying the space right beside my characters, and in some cases inside their heads. I lose myself. I push my limits. I risk the point of no return.
Writing Fierce is also writing without worry. This is why Nanowrimo works for some writers. We write like our hair's on fire for 30 days. We write intense, we embrace the fear and bust through the anxiety.
We would rather not lose than win.
Safety is not always safe. But we'll do lots of things to “feel” safe, including lying to ourselves. We get excited when we gain something (except weight) but we don't like the fear of losing something. Strauss talks about making sure we crunch the numbers, look at the upside and downside of the possible outcomes before making a decision, especially if we are coming from the place of anxiety. He also suggests that if we can't make a decision, we haven't found enough people to hang with that are divergent in their thinking. We could be spending too much time in the “group polarization” process with like-minded people. Change should be embraced. Or too much time is spent on outside forces we have no control over, like the internet or TV News. They tend not to give a person knowledge, but instead help a person feel small. He advises killing your TV. See the world through your own eyes.
I've just completed an exercise where I took a big step and decided to deal with an anxiety I was having about my writing. I had been worrying about it now for some two months. I finally decided to do the old Abe Lincoln investigation where I'd list pro's on one side, and con's on the other, and then look at the whole grid to make my final decision.
Surprising, even to me, and I've done a lot of this in my lifetime through all my careers, was how simple things looked when I took a good, close look at it. It made a couple of decisions I was worrying about much easier to accept, and I took action. I made the decisions with knowledge. I put into motion something that I needed to do. I called several people I trust, I asked questions and listened. I noticed the people who went into hiding and didn't participate, and I kept researching until the answers came to me through my own eyes.
In the relative absence of fear. Amazing.
I'm writing this now at 30k feet, flying into SFO in a couple of hours. I got up early, so my apologies for not having this post out there sooner.
It was fun to get my batteries charged up. Funny how the attention of fans makes one feel excited, even more excited about the craft than we normally do. We hear those stories about what our books have meant to people, help celebrate other people's successes. I look at covers, and marketing and SWAG.
I came away thinking I need to be very choosy about where I go next year. I've already committed to some good ones. Some are new, some repeats, some I will skip for a year. My time is valuable writing. Those are my most expensive “billable” hours. I need to protect it at all costs. There's always that writing retreat, book signing, author event that looks too good to be true and tempts me. Especially when all my friends are going. I'm going to exercise the word “no” a lot more.
Naughty Nashville was good for me. So was the Unmask The Passion event in Valley Forge earlier in the month. I liked them mainly because everyone was so excited and happy to be there. There wasn't much in the way of drama (that I saw), and readers showed up not to browse, but to buy. So, attending those will require I say no to others, and I will. Valley Forge gave me a taste of history, which I loved as an added bonus.
I also learned that readers are inundated with free books, ARCS and overcommitted to Street Teams and Reader Groups. They're more overwhelmed than the authors sometimes! Reviewers are running behind. Readers avidly want to meet new authors, get surprised with new genres, books and series. My job as an author is to attract new readers, while giving my “one-click” readers material they'll devour.
I don't think there is such a thing as a One Size Fits All way of being a successful author. I see things I like and will try. I see some things that don't work and I don't have to spend time or energy trying. Success is one thing to one person and another to another. Even my own definition of success has changed several times this year.
But when the day is over and I head off to bed at night, the only thing I want to say is, “I did the best I could.” That means I wrote my best, edited my best, said thank you more than I received praise, was kind to people I want to throw my computer at, and kept myself focused. I didn't gossip, envy, complain or make excuses. I did my job. and my job–my only job–is writing.
If I do my job well, then I get to spend more and more time in my fantasy world of my own creation. I'm happier there. It's safer there. It's the stuff of magic, and creating magic is what I'm all about. Give me make believe over anything REAL any day.
Some day I'll go there and stay forever. But in the meantime, there are a lot of stories to tell, tales to spin, and people to delight.
What a glorious job that is!
Last weekend I attended a book signing at Valley Forge, at the Freedom Foundation Center building, hosted by Renee Fisher and A.L. Wood. I'd never been to Valley Forge before, and it moved me greatly.
I trust my gut instincts when it comes to events. This one was on my list because I have a lot of readers in the area, and I'd never been here before. I try to switch where I go so I can network with readers. As next year comes around, I will be cutting back, or hopefully so, so I'm going to be careful with my time and money. But Renee and I began emailing back and forth, and I found a new, warm friend, and one who I hope to get to know even more as the years go by.
As events went, it was wonderful, especially with all the planning Renee and her team did. Awesome fans, and people helping her. But the whole area was what made it even more special to me. Cloaked in history, I found myself so moved, it was hard for me not to cry as I toured the State Park and looked at the history of my country.
Remember, politics is completely separate from love of country. I wish it wasn't so, but especially this year, it is. Somehow, as a country we muddle through, because of the foundation that was laid nearly 250 years ago now. I was struck with the sacrifice, not only in terms of life, but title, fortunes lost and titles or privileges removed, including the impact the Revolutionary War had on Native Americans, who fought with either side. Their fortunes were caught up in the war as well. It happened again in the American Civil War.
It's been said more than once that we form an imperfect union. And yet, this union has withstood the battles of nasty elections, strife, intrigue, treachery, greed, and the life blood of the nation, a belief in a principle far greater than all of us combined: freedom. The quote that comes to me when I think about walking around the Valley Forge center is: “I never said it was going to be easy. I said it was going to be worth it.”
In California, we don't have these types of monuments to honor our history of this time period. We have very few patriotic displays in California. Our local post office just repainted their lobby, and they took down all the pictures of the men and women serving in the military, some of whom bore gold stars, which was erected after 9-11. How things change, go back to the way they were before. I see fewer and fewer American flags and more and more bumper stickers for campaigns. I haven't had a political sticker on my car since I had the “Reelect Nobody” back in the 1990's. “Wag More. Bark Less” is another one I had for years.
As I had my tomato soup in the bar at the hotel after the signing, looking at the celebrations of two wedding parties, the glasses crushed, hugs given and kisses shared, the loudness of people celebrating and just going on with their lives, I was pulled back to what George Washington would think if he were sitting with me.
I don't know that I would have an adequate explanation for how our country has fared, except to say, we've made it this far. I hope we will continue. We continue to right some of the terrible wrongs of the past, we continue to try to hold up our system of laws and government that has proven to be the most stable in the whole world. I was reminded about what a special country we have here, how it's bloody roots were hard fought, and how much I appreciate the sacrifices. And just like the fallen heroes, the best thing I can do to honor them all is just to go on. Not give up. Keep the memory of the miracle that is this nation alive in my heart. And maybe to remind others.
Valley Forge is a place everyone should see. 10% of the men who wintered over here that third year into the war were diseased and would eventually not see the spring. Another 10% didn't even have shoes to wear. Dissertions were high, expectations were at an all time low. Our Commander In Chief knew that even in the worst of times, it was the time to prepare. The outcome of the war was uncertain. Philadelphia had been lost. Washington looked across the Delaware, and envisioned a country and it's freedom.
And he decided it was worth it. All those men did. They trained. They healed, those who could, and they got equipment and clothing, often having to seize it from local inhabitants who also needed the clothing and equipment, and sometimes at gunpoint. Loyalties were tested. The army of Washington faced a better armed British army, larger and better trained than our rag-tag Patriots in the Spring. And the Patriots eventually won.
It took 7 years. Even years later things were not stable. I complain about our political season lasting so long. But those woes are peanuts compared to what was fought, and lost during those 7 precious years. Families who were lost, sacrificed, interrupted by something bigger than themselves.
In the end, it was worth it.