Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Fear

"If you're afraid you don't commit yourself to life completely; fear makes you always, always hold something back."
-Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick

I'm not sure I completely agree with that. (And it's important to point out that this is a character's speech, not necessarily PKD's own opinion). There's nothing wrong with a healthy fear, but you have to know when it's worth paying attention to, when it's irrational and when it might actually be something of an unnecessary roadblock.

For a writer there is always the fear of the blank page. Starting a story is hard. Even when you have an idea of plot and character. Of course, this ties in with the writer's other fear - It's not perfect. Of all the varied, wondrous, practical, bizarre and sometimes contradictory writing advice you will find on the internet, one of the most common pieces is to accept that a first draft is a first draft, to accept that it will most likely be bad, to begin with, and that the important thing is to write on, and finish. But it can be a difficult thing to accept. If you know that paragraph is wrong, it will itch at you.

I want to talk about a different fear though.

I am a reader. I am fairly well-read within 'my' genres, although not as well-read as I would like to be (and I suspect I never will be). I like to review the books I read. A symptom of over a decade as a bookseller, maybe. Something exacerbated by my creative writing degree, no doubt, an environment which encourages examination and deconstruction of texts.

And I have to be honest. If I found something disappointing, I have to say. If I think certain elements didn't work in an otherwise excellent book, I have to say. If I think great characters were squandered on a weak idea, I have to say. You get the idea. I can be picky, because I want a book to carry me away, and little things often bother me.

Now herein lies the fear. One day, I want to be published. I will be published. And there's a part of me that fears I will offend a potential publisher.

Take, for example, my review of Dreams and Shadows, a novel soon to be published by Gollancz. And this is a review which is very positive. I say some people will find the book perfect and I finish:
"Dreams and Shadows will blow you away. Beautiful writing, far-reaching imagination, and tragedy that will haunt you long after you finish the book. Remarkable."
But I also mention minor criticisms. And I worry that someone might take note, might react badly (as people are want to do when criticised).

Now, in an ideal world, Gollancz would be my first choice of publisher. I have immense respect for them. I more often find the books I am anticipating, the ones that excite me, are published by them than anyone else. Of course, in making that statement, I open myself to another fear, if Gollancz don't want me when I finally get around to touting a novel (you know, having actually finished writing one, and editing it), then will I have offended another publisher by publicly stating that Gollancz were my first choice...?

Of course, the odds of someone at Gollancz remembering my name, and a not quite 100% review, are slim. Almost as slim as some other publisher reading this and taking offence. But the fear is there nonetheless.

(And it is the fear that prompts me to add that I'm not saying I don't like any other publishers. There are many other fantastic publishing houses out there (I say in genuine sincerity). I'd name some, but there are many, and I'd be sure to miss someone, and well, the cycle begins anew...)

Here's the thing though. I ummed and ahhed about posting the review, as I have with others before that, but ultimately, I posted it. I can't help it, I like to think about things I've just read, and I like to talk about them. And I have to be honest, I have to be true to myself.

And I have to hope that doesn't scupper me before I've even built my boat.


  1. I combine an inability to lie with a strong dislike of confrontation, which renders me speechless (and I'm probably not very good at critique anyway.) When I finally joined a writing group I made up my mind to be fearless (but polite) since, obviously, I'd never meet any of these (mostly American) folk.
    But I did meet them, three years running, and will do so again this year. And the honesty is part of the trust we have in each other. So go for it John - stay true to yourself, and folk will know they can trust you.
    No-one likes criticism, but once over the smarting we can usually see its merit and appreciate the truth.

    1. Thank you, Sandra. That's just about my attitude to it too. =)