A long time ago, a writer I respect told me that writers don’t lose their talent; they lose their nerve. I didn’ t really know what that meant at the time — I guessed it was something about being daring in one’s choice of topic. But now that a number of years have gone by and I’m working on my second career as a novelist — my first was as a thriller writer in partnership with Warren Murphy, and the second is as a writer of YA paranormal books– I think I finally understand.
Today a friend of mine called me to say she’d looked up my book LEGACY on Simon & Schuster’s website (It’s finally going to be released in December of this year– publishers take an age to move books these days) and there were two “readers’ reviews” about the book. Weird, but I guess S&S sent bound galleys to some designated readers. Anyway, my friend told me that the reviewers (known only by their first names, “Barbara” and “John”) gave me four stars out of five.
So of course I flipped out. Why didn’t I get FIVE stars? And then came the downward spiral: If it’s not a five-star book, then maybe it will vanish, and take me with it. Maybe I’m out of sync with what’s selling these days. Maybe S&S won’t want to give me a series. Maybe I’m just kidding myself, even though I’ve written 30 published novels, including three bestsellers and received lots of awards, not to mention rave reviews. Maybe I’m not tough enough to compete. Maybe I should have written something along the lines of The Hunger Games instead of a funny, multifaceted novel with a lot of subplots. Maybe, maybe, maybe . . .
That’s when I understood about writers losing their nerve. When you’re just starting out, you don’t know anything about the business of publishing, so all you do is write. Usually you write badly, so you keep writing until you get better. That’s actually the secret, although you don’t know that at the time. But anyway, you publish a book, a few books, you speak at a few writers’ conferences, you get some interviews in print, and suddenly you’re not just writing anymore. You’re PLANNING. You’re WORRYING. You’re TRYING. And then you start second guessing yourself. Should I be J.K.Rowling? Cassandra Clare? Suzanne Collins?
Then before you know it, you’ve forgotten who you are. And when that happens, you lose your nerve.
So okay, I get it. However many stars Barbara and John give me, I’m not tap dancing for them. Every book is a first novel, in a way. They’re all filled with everything the writer is. Laugh at me, and it hurts. But it doesn’t stop me. I lie naked on the table every time. I give Barbara and John and anyone else permission to look at me and snigger, puke, point, jeer, or walk away. And I keep writing.
Besides, four stars out of five ain’t bad.