It’s not like I haven’t seen a little stress before. I’ve driven an 18-wheeler worth 50 million dollars on the LA freeway during rush hour, squinting through dense clouds of smoke from raging forest fires right next to the road. I was deployed to Kuwait on 9/11, within mortar range of Iraq when we didn’t know who was behind the attack yet, and carried a chemical warfare defense ensemble around with me for months. I even gave graduation speeches (mankind’s greatest fear — public speaking!) for professional military education courses in front of colonels and generals and suchlike.
A little stress here and there. Sure.
But those things were just things. They were part of the job, and they had to be done, and I did ‘em, ‘cause that’s what you do. But to write something, right out of my own self, and just put it out in front of the whole world? Whoa, dude. What am I thinking??
Writing my novel was like stabbing myself in the heart with that pen and bleeding my soul out all over those pages. That’s me, right there. You know that, if you’re a writer, ‘cause that’s what you do. And when your naked soul is sitting there waiting for you to offer it to the world, whether it’s in a novel or a poem or a song or a screenplay, you’re afraid of what the world is going to do to it. And you.
What if it sounds stupid? What if nobody likes it? What if they laugh at me? What if I can’t find an agent? What if no publisher wants anything to do with it? What if it never sells a copy? What if nobody else thinks it’s nearly the marvelous thing that I want it to be?
So I finally figured out what happens if any of those things come to pass: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. If any of those things happen, or if all of them happen, you’re going to be exactly where you were before you tried. Your family won’t disown you, your dog won’t bite you, and the utility companies will still send your bills just like always.
But it might also mean you didn’t achieve your dream. Guess what? If you didn’t try, you also didn’t achieve your dream. But you, yourself, took away the chance you had to achieve that dream.
And guess what else? There are thousands upon thousands of other people who are afraid of the same things. And thousands of them will talk themselves out of trying because they’re afraid. So who wins? The ones who realized they really had nothing to lose, especially those utility bills, and gave it a shot.
I gave it a shot and found out I’m not quite a Hemingway, or even a Patterson…yet. But you know what’s the cool thing about it? You get an unlimited number of shots.
It’s your turn.