Fear of Success?

Things have been going really well with my novel, except for the actual writing part.

I have agents (plural!) who said they’d like to see a revision. I have worked with a story editor and I think I have figured out why it hasn’t been working. I have a plan for fixing it and it’s not an overwhelming amount of work. I have time. I’m even kind of excited about the changes, which is a rare thing when you are some years into a project. And yet no writing.

A friend suggested fear of success, which at first seems odd, since I have been so driven for the past few years, but I sat with that thought for a while and I think she is right. Everything seems like it’s about to happen, except that I am not making my part happen.

It doesn’t quite feel like Imposter Syndrome. I don’t feel any doubt about belonging, or feel like I don’t deserve this. I do deserve it. I’m a good writer, and I have been working towards this. I have no doubts about who I am as a writer.

Yet at the same time, I am a kid from Scarborough with immigrant parents; we don’t write books. We get degrees and jobs and marriages and enjoy our outward trappings of success. That’s still me even though it’s not me.

I was thinking about this in the car, getting a bit teary-eyed, and then Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” came on the radio, and I started crying harder since apparently well-placed bubblegum pop music has the power to be emotionally overwhelming.

When I was a teenager, I remember reading Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, which came out sometime in the 90s. It was a major Canadian literary novel, and it contained characters who looked like me. They weren’t exactly like me, since they lived in Mumbai and I’ve only been there on brief visits, and the time period was different. But there was enough familiarity in the novel that it felt like someone was starting to explain my own family to me. Not completely, but the some of the parts around the edges were starting to fill in. There were other authors like this in the 90s. Shyam Selvadurai. Arundathi Roy. Vikram Seth.

I am no Rohinton Mistry. I am not an imposter, I belong, I deserve this, but do I deserve to deserve this? If I feel like an imposter anywhere, it’s not among writers but among those other children of immigrants, born in the suburbs, who went to a good school, got a degree and a marriage and a well-paying career in IT Marketing, and then tossed it all away for a different marriage, a different degree and a burning ambition to not have a job. Who the hell do I think I am, writing a book?

I never actually dreamed of being a writer as a teenager; that idea seemed so wholly unrealistic. This is not one of the five careers South Asian kids are allowed to have. But it’s the dream I would have dreamed if I were allowed to have dreams.

I’m not naive. I know Canlit is not standing out there with arms wide open to welcome a brown girl. We’ve had a number of raging dumpster fires that make that clear. I had one agent reject my book because there were a lot of strong books by South Asian writers recently, and apparently only white people can publish mediocre novels.

Still, I don’t know if there’s a teenager out there who will see themselves in my book, but I know there are some GenX children of immigrants who might What will they think? Are they going to see me as some sort of self-hating ABCD? What happens when people start looking for my life in my book? What if I say something on Twitter and an onslaught of trolls come out of the woodwork to tell me my book sucks?

Will everything change if this all works out? My gut says, no, probably not, but my fear says what if it does?

I am okay if the book comes out and sinks into oblivion. That doesn’t bother me. I’m okay if no one publishes it; that doesn’t mean anything except that publishers make mistakes. The book is good, or at least, it will be. And if it isn’t, the next one will be.

But as long as I don’t actually write it, I never have to face the question of what happens if this succeeds?

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One Day

One day, I will not be afraid. One day, I’ll be successful. One day, I will write a beautifully crafted novel in three drafts. One day, I’ll be able to justify the time I spend on this endeavour in a way that no one can question, including me. One day, it will not take so much time. One day, I will have a reason for writing that doesn’t sound pretentious or selfish or like something other people would laugh at. One day, I will not feel like a fraud. One day, I will believe I am a writer all the time. One day, I will not be surprised and puzzled when other people think of me as a writer. One day, I will sit at my desk to write and not be tempted to check Facebook first. One day, I won’t have doubts. One day, I’ll have more publication credits than my nemesis. One day, I won’t feel like I am wasting time. One day, I won’t feel like the opportunities have passed me by. One day, this won’t take so long.

One day, this will be easy.

That’s what it all comes down to, really. Why isn’t this easy? And then convincing yourself that if you make the next milestone, you get this one story published, you finish the draft, you get an agent, you win a contest–if you can do that, afterwards, it will be easy. That particular one thing is the only thing stopping you.

But eventually, you get past the one thing, and it’s still not easy. It’s still hard. Not coal mining-hard, but harder than you can admit to most people. You still have no idea what you’re doing or if any of it is working. You still have no idea if this is worthwhile in any concrete sense. You use up huge reserves on this giant act of faith that is just doing it, and then afterwards you wonder why it’s always so daunting to start.

This is your hobby, your dream, your profession, that one thing that satisfies your soul and makes you feel like your you-est self, and you keep shying away from doing it, and then kicking yourself, because it’s not easy. You chastise yourself for complaining that it’s not easy since it’s not coal mining.

But you know it’s not easy. You talk with other writers about how it’s not easy. Even for the ones that make it look easy. But somehow you think it should be different for you. That it’s supposed to be easy for you, and you get worn down because it isn’t easy.

You scorn the people who think it’s easy–they aren’t writers–and yet, you wish it wasn’t so damn hard all the time. Or worse, not all the time. Because those days when it goes well trick you into thinking that maybe on all those other days you did something wrong.

You start thinking, one day, I can quit. I will do this one thing, and I am done. Forever. I would like to do easier things. At least when I clean the floor, at the end of the day I will have a clean floor.

In your heart of hearts, you know you can quit right now. You don’t have to wait for one day. One day can be today. And maybe you do, for a little while.

And then one day you think, I had something. Maybe it could really be something. One day.