The number one reason budding writers fail to publish is fear.
“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
—FDR, Inaugural Address of the President, Washington D.C., March 4, 1933.
The quote above is one of the most famous lines uttered by a president. Franklin Deloro Roosevelt uttered the phrase during his inaugural address on March 4, 1933. (The Twentieth Amendment changed the inauguration date from March 4 to January 20, a practice that came into effect in January of 1937 and continues to this day.) It’s a memorable line, but there’s more to it. The full sentence reads: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Fear is a powerful force. It nails our feet to the floor when we so want to march to our future. It dissolves resolve, erodes commitment, and dilutes dreams. Some of the top things we fear is death, public speaking, and rejection. It’s that last one that trips up creatives of all stripes. The thing about being a writer, or painter, or actor, or any other kind of artist is that we expose ourselves to rejection. And rejection stings. People tend to avoid things that sting.
For about six years I served as the director of a large writers conference that met each year in North Carolina. It had many enjoyments and a few disappointments. My greatest disappointment came when I learned that most conferees would not send in a book proposal even though an agent or editor asked for one. Why? They got cold feet.
Don’t take my words as judgment. I get it. I sail the seas of fear frequently. I have a personal motto, a mantra I have to chant from time to time. It comes in the form of a one-sided conversation that I have with myself. It goes like this: “Al, shut up and send it in.” (I’m pretty blunt with myself. What am I gonna do—beat myself up?)
I continue to teach new and upcoming writers. Lately I’ve been wondering if I should design a class to help nervous writers put a little steel in their spines. It was while teaching a class on writing the novel that I formulated my first and most frequently cited Al’s Axiom: “No one ever hit a home run from the dugout.”
There it is: truth wrapped in a pithy saying. A baseball player is not a baseball player until he comes out of the dugout. When he steps to the plate him might get a hit, but more times than not he won’t. If a batter has a .300 batting average he’s consider a solid player. A .300 average means, however, that he only got three hits out of ten visits to the plate. There are strikeouts in the future of every player, and there are rejection letters for every writer or other creative. There are also some home runs too.
You can’t be a working writer if you don’t submit. I can dress in a baseball uniform, but if I don’t come out of the dugout, then I’m just a guy in a baseball outfit.
Grab a bat and come out of the dugout.