For the people terrified of the audience

2019-12-04

When I was younger, I knew a writer. She read some of my stuff and tried to convince me to submit some of it to a publisher. She told me I had a unique voice and people should hear it.

I was flattered in a way that I’m not sure I made her understand. That could have something to do with the drop-everything-and-hide terror that the idea of hearing a publisher’s feedback caused to shoot up my spine. We were talking about a publisher. Like, someone real. Someone whose opinion mattered. They would never like my stories. My stories were just this thing that I did sometimes in my spare time. They weren’t real.

She thought that was dumb, and she told me so, and she was right. But it was the way I felt, and what can I say, sometimes my feelings are dumb. She couldn’t help or even understand, because she had never felt that way. She tried, but in the end she gave up. I was quietly relieved. Even more quietly, I regretted it.

If I could send a message back to myself at that time and try to make myself listen, here’s what I’d say. Not that I would have listened, and not that I’ve even overcome that particular fear. But here’s what I think now.

  • Assume everyone else is a better judge of your work than you are. This is a core tenet. Whatever your opinion of your work is, it can’t be fully trusted.
  • Show it to some people you trust. Tell them you want to hear the brutal, honest truth. Believe what they say. If you trust them, their opinion is worth more than yours.
  • People who respectfully dislike your work will mostly forget that they ever saw it. You have nearly infinite chances to impress these people. This category includes all publishers.
  • People who dislike your work and are disrespectful about it are living painful lives and taking it out on you. You can’t arrange your life around avoiding people like that, so don’t try.
  • Rejection may simply mean that it’s wrong for the person who looked at it.
  • You stand to lose literally nothing by trying. Trying is a good use of the only resource it will really use: time.
  • A reputation which doesn’t exist yet is valueless and therefore cannot be ruined.
  • When in doubt, practice. If this one wasn’t a home run, maybe the next one will be.