The importance of vulnerability

Nobody wants to show themselves failing. Yet that’s exactly what Kim Chance did in her latest video.

Let’s redefine that: Kim isn’t actually failing. She’s acquired a literary agent, which means she has a better chance of succeeding than the vast majority of writers whose manuscripts never get accepted. (See my interview with Kim here.) But the feeling of failing is admitting that you don’t have it together, that things might not work out, and that you’re scared shitless.

It takes a lot of courage to say, “Hey, I might not pull this off.” It takes even more courage to take a step closer to success, in front of the whole world — like Kim has on YouTube — and then fall short. We all go through this. But nobody wants to say, “I’m in the middle of the messy part that could be my failure,” with everyone watching. We only want to say, “I made it to the other side, and whew, it was tough, BUT I DID IT.”

Yet when Kim exposed herself — cried on camera, ditched the bubbly-happy persona she usually shows us, and let herself be completely vulnerable — she sent a message that was way more powerful and inspiring than any “We can do it!” speech. Because she showed us we’re not alone.

Of course, we all realize other writers have doubts and anxiety like we do. But to actually see that? Totally different.

“I guess what I lie awake thinking about is, what if it doesn’t happen?” Kim said. “What if [my book] Keeper doesn’t find a home? What if it doesn’t get published?”

She said, “I’ve been on submission a couple months now, and I’m scared. I’m really scared.”

That wasn’t the only fear she shared. She challenged herself to write the first draft of a new manuscript by June, before her baby is born. But she admitted she’s made no progress since that announcement.

“I am crippled with this fear that I can’t write a book. Isn’t that dumb?” she said. “But I just have this fear that I’m a one-hit wonder. I wrote Keeper and that was awesome, but what if I can’t do it again? What if that was it? What if that was my bout of creativity there in that one book, and now I’m trying to write the book of my dreams, the book that I would absolutely die to write, and what if I can’t do it?”

Yes, yes, a million times YES. I recently finished my second book last year and started querying it, and I’m already paralyzed by this fear. How can I move on to begin another project after this last one took two years of my life — hundreds of hours of time and energy — and nothing might happen with it? And that’s the norm. How do you find the motivation to do that all over again while facing rejection after rejection, or no response at all, from agents about the last book you wrote? How do you not get defeated by that? How do you not judge yourself by each and every “no”?

Kim said, “What if I let everybody down? What if I let [my agent] Caitlin down? What if I let you guys down? What if I let my family and my friends down? What if I let myself down? What if everything I’ve been telling myself is a lie?”

The stakes for Kim are even higher than they are for many of us. Personally, I don’t often share, outside of the internet, that I write books. That I spent night after night, week after week, working on a manuscript. Because as soon as you do that, people expect results. They don’t understand that the normal process is very slow-moving, that some authors don’t get published until their third or fourth or tenth book — and others, never at all. People think no news or bad news is a sign that you’re doomed to fail, that you’re a hack writer, that you’re chasing an impossible dream. And it’s hard not to believe them.

Kim said, “I know that somewhere out there, there’s somebody watching this who’s shaking their head, saying, ‘That’s me.’ I don’t want anybody to feel alone during this process. So as defeated as I feel right now, I’m gonna tell myself … I’m gonna keep telling myself what I’m always telling you guys. That dreams don’t work unless you do. And that no matter how hard it gets, you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to keep fighting.”

Every part of a writer’s journey is tough, she said. And it is. It absolutely is. “Writing a book is hard,” Kim said. “Querying a book is hard. Writing a sequel is hard. Being on submission is hard. Being a writer is hard, guys! … But it’s one of the best jobs in the world. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. And I’m so glad to be a part of it.”

Me too, Kim. Me fucking too.

Even famous authors like J.K. Rowling deal with rejection

Cuckoo's Calling

Rejection is the scariest part of anyone’s writing journey. It’s at the core of why we procrastinate — we’re afraid of what people will think. That they won’t like what we’ve written. That we won’t even like it. Rejection is synonymous with failure … right?

Wrong.

Rejection is just an agent or publisher saying, “Sorry, dude, not our thing right now.” It’s not an indelible mark that your story sucks, or that no one will ever want to buy it. Even if they were to tell you that outright, their word isn’t law.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone has the guts to tell another person that they shouldn’t be writing, or that their work belongs in the trash. THIS IS NOT TRUE, and it’s both immature and unprofessional. Plenty of the world’s most successful people were told they wouldn’t make it, but nobody gets to make that call for you.

With experience, you’re going to get better. Anyone who tells you otherwise is making an extremely biased judgment based on what they see at that exact moment. They’re not considering how you’re going to improve in a month or a year. And chances are they’re just projecting some insecurity about their own writing.

Rejection is just another step in the process. It’s the Magic 8-Ball telling you, “Sorry, try again” — you’ve got more work to do. The next best move is to keep querying (and polishing your query letter) and keep editing your manuscript.

Even big authors like J.K. Rowling have to deal with rejection. It doesn’t go away no matter how successful you are. What’s important isn’t whether you’re rejected or not — it’s whether or not you can persevere in spite of it.

At some point, you’re allowed to shelve the project and move on to writing something new. But be sure that’s what you want and not something you feel cornered into doing because you’ve accumulated a pile of rejection letters.

As long as you believe in the story you wrote and you’re still excited about it, keep trying.

Has someone ever told you that you wouldn’t succeed? How did you deal with that rejection? Let me know if the comments!