Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Facing Fear and Uncertainty

After six weeks of writing and revising, I finally submitted my story “The Jay Bird's Funeral” to the editors of Daily Science Fiction. What happens next? Besides waiting for the response, well, fear and doubt, that's what.

As artists, we live in a world where a common concern in our life involves questioning if we used the best choices for expressing the main point of our artwork? Things are not simple choices of black and white. There are infinite shades of gray to contend with.

Will people feel strong emotions after they take in the experience of the creation? Or will they move on two-tenths of second later and forget you even existed? In other words, we struggle with the fear of facing the double-edged sword of failure.

Each of us has experienced emotions such as fear from uncertainty which cause us to procrastinate. We hem and haw as we make up excuses on why something isn't ready for prime time. We'll rework our art with the intent of improving it. We want to move people in emotional ways but we are taking a huge risk in doing so. After all, it's a window onto our soul. And so, the fear of "what if" sets in. But eventually, we have to make the decision to either put it out there for the world to see or relegate it to an Indiana Jones-style warehouse for archival where it usually becomes lost forever.

When it comes to motivation, we've all had people repeat the mantra, “Just Do It!” It's easy for others to tell us to jump in when they have nothing to lose. But from our perspective, we fear making a costly mistake. Perhaps it's a one-shot scenario when we display our work. Either you catch the public eye or you walk away unnoticed and empty-handed from the scenario. Or maybe its a fear of being viewed by society as creating something valueless, harmful or completely distasteful.

In the case of the latter scenario, powerful piece doesn't always make friends. Look at the controversy swirling around artists like Robert Mapplethorpe with his sexual charged photographs or Douglas Edric Stanely with his Space Invaders vs the Twin Towers creation. While both artists achieved a level of success  in the form of recognition, they also acquired their share of enemies. And having numerous enemies is rarely beneficial for the emotional state of well being.

Let's back up and take a look at the former example. To help explain the one-shot concept, think about it from an author's perspective. You spend weeks (months or maybe even years) working on a piece polishing, revising and tweaking everything to fit your vision. But as with anything artistic, a vast number of variations exist and you could tweak it forever. You question whether you have it close enough to your vision or do you need to go that last extra mile to get it there? The hydra of uncertainty raises its head and bites like a rattler. The results are painful and paralyzing.

Those fears arise when we must send out work out to editors and publishers for review. What if they reject our work that we've spent so much time on? Many publishers have a “don't resend anything you've sent us before” policy. So if you blow it, the door is closed for sending the story in regards to that publisher.

What it comes down to is some days you have take a path knowing failure awaits along the way. You don't get over the fear, you simply find ways to cope with (or leverage it if you're really motivated). It's going to plague, torment and haunt you. A prime example of the “never-ready” paralysis happened to me with the revision-remorse I felt after clicking the submit button to send my story to the editors.

During the tense final hours, I rewrote the ending paragraph in an attempt to return to the grass-roots atmosphere of the initial rough draft. It had a hint of mystery to it. Numerous edits had morphed the ending into something with a different flavor. After the rewrite, I stared at the submit button for a few seconds then pressed it. Five minutes later, my stomach churned and my fears hit me like a baseball bat. My mind had one thing to say: “You ruined the ending by adding one sentence that said too much.”

Will one sentence torpedo the chances of success for my story or am I simply suffering from nervous jitters? No. I seriously doubt it. Most likely, it cheated the reader of the pleasure of a “less is more” experience. Oh, the Heisenberg-ness of it all. Uncertainty wins today. But hopefully not tomorrow.