Right smack in the middle of my debut journey, I began to worry. I can’t even tell you why, but I did. The worry seemed to fold over and over on itself like a thick blanket that got bigger every day. It became heavy to carry. And what were these concerns based on? Beats me. It was like I stood on solid ice but refused to believe it was frozen. Waiting to fall through. I began worrying about things that my head knew were not worrisome, but my heart refused to believe. And it was powerful and seemingly unshakeable.
At the time, I have to tell you, I was really confused by this person that I had become. Because, from the time I was able to walk, I have been a fighter. A scrapper. A disheveled kid who often had snarls the size of golfballs. Either bullied or ignored and, oddly enough, in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Teachers had no expectations of me. I mean none.
But, like a good book character, I had big dreams. And a fair amount of grit. I was much smarter than my teachers gave me credit for. I was observant, and I was a planner. I wanted more, and I swore I’d find a way to have it someday.
I don’t share this to garner sympathy. Honestly, I don’t. Because, in some very crucial ways, I was a beyond-fortunate child. I share this because it made this “new me” so much more of a puzzle. I was disgusted with myself, as it felt like I had been braver as an eight-year-old. As a soon-to-be-published author, I had become such an insufferable wuss. Worrying about success?! Honestly, I’m surprised that my pre-published writing friends didn’t chip in to have me…you know… disappeared.
Looking back on it, though, I think I understand. At the beginning of my writing journey, I chased publication as if I had nothing to lose; that’s because I didn’t. However, by the time the Worry Monster bared his teeth, I had more to lose than I’d thought possible:
I had a budding career as a children’s author, which would give me the opportunity to get out and talk to kids about writing and how it does get better and about making the choice to build a happy life no matter what hand you’re dealt; this means a great deal to me, as I know what it’s like to feel like the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit. I also know that the very things that make you feel so different as a kid can become your greatest gifts as an adult.
My editor of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS is far better than any idea of an editor I’d ever dreamed of. I have the fantastic Agent Erin who is helping me build a long-term career. And agent mates and writing colleagues that I cherish. I mean really cherish. Who make that kid in me feel like I am a part of something special. Finally.
Now this…is an awful lot to lose. I mean, I’ve always been a big dreamer, but all of this was more than I ever dared dream for, I think. Could that same eight year old grow up to become an author? I don’t think any of my early teachers would have taken that bet.
This Worry Monster sunk its teeth into me in late March. By August, I was just so weary. This is when I attended the fantastic Blueberry Fields Retreat in Maine where I spoke with Executive Editor, Mary Lee Donovan, from Candlewick. I had gotten to know her well at the SCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat months earlier, so I already knew that I liked and respected her immensely. She complimented me on being, “a confident, successful woman—sure of herself, etc.”
My response came from my own mouth yet was a complete surprise to me. I replied, “But, I’m really not.” Immediately after those words fell from my lips, my scrappy eight-year-old self stomped her foot inside my head and asked me, “What the hell are you doing?” I felt the shift within me. That’s right, I thought. What the hell am I doing anyway?
Why did the shift occur then? Mary Lee is a talented, down-to-earth, giant in the industry. I respect and trust her opinion. But she’s not my novel’s editor, so I had no worries of disappointing her. I also learned some things when she discussed an editor’s expectations as part of her presentation. It made me consider what conclusions my own editor could be drawing re: my nervousness—and the messages I could unintentionally be sending her.
Okay. That was it. I came home, having had enough of this “not-improved me” and ready to claim all that I had accomplished. To focus on the things I had–the things I already held in my hands. I would not think about losing them. I refused to worry. I took action.
I’ve come to know that *action* is the Worry Monster’s kryptonite. In fact, anything worth having in life requires action to thrive, doesn’t it? So, decide on your own plan of action(s) to slay your Worry Monster (or any of its nasty cousins). Decide in a focused, stubborn, I-got-this-thing kind of way.
Get worked up. Scramble a little. Send out queries. Get feedback. Take chances. You’ll stand taller and your craft will benefit. There’s a lot of power in knowing that you are actively trying. Besides, the hurdles you are jumping now will make excellent, “How I made it” stories later. 😉 Believe it!
I am at peace these days, but it took me a while to get here. The worry monster makes its occasional appearances but never stays anymore. Never will again. Meanwhile, my scrappy eight-year-old self is never far away, reminding me what I’m capable of.
And I’m happy to have her back.