When I was in graduate school, I knew several doctoral students who had been working on their degrees for more than the regulation ten years. They dawdled over finishing their course work. They changed their dissertation topic. They had writers' block. They edited . . . and edited . . . and edited. They applied for extensions and took a year off to earn some real money. And why? Not because they were broke, and not because they didn't know their stuff. They dawdled because they were afraid of failure.
In my first tenure track college teaching job, I met a scholar -- a real scholar -- who was several years ahead of me in terms of experience. He was writing what promised to be a really important book, but he couldn't get it finished. He wrote . . . and edited . . . and re-wrote . . .and reorganized . . . and did some more research . . .and lost his job. He failed to get tenure because he had not published a single piece of original work. The last time I saw him, he was a paper-pusher in a huge government office, working in a small cubicle somewhere hidden in a huge windowless warehouse. And the light had gone out of his eyes.
The same unfortunate experience affects writers. How many people do you know who say they are going to write a book but never start? How many others have a drawer stuffed with manuscripts that no one has ever read? How many spend years waiting for an agent to offer to represent them? And how many people actually publish a book and then never try to promote it? How many failed writers do you know?
It's a common human failing. From an early age, we are taught to fear failure, and in too many cases, that translates into the faulty assumption that it is better not to try. You can't fail unless you take a risk, unless you try, unless you finish what you've started. Right? Wrong! You can't succeed unless you take a risk--try--finish.
I started this morning's rant because I came across this exchange between two members of a writer's group I follow.
Person # 1: "Does anyone know how to make your book the best seller on Amazon?" (Hidden attitude: "I can't do it. There's a secret nobody is willing to share.")
Person # 2: "Well, you can either: 1) Hire a marketing consultant to promote the book; 2) Learn how to market yourself by spending the necessary hundreds of hours reading material on the subject, attending seminars, webinars and the like, and working your butt off, the way the rest of us do; or 3) buy ten or twenty or fifty thousand copies yourself." ( Hidden attitude: "You're right. It's hopeless. It can't be done. It costs too much. There's no way.")
Person #3 (Me!): "My new book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How to Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing, available on Amazon in both paper and Kindle editions, has several chapters on this very question. You may never crack the paper or hardback "best-seller" list, but you certainly can do so with a Kindle listing. And it doesn't take "hundreds of hours" or working your butt off. I sold over 47,000 copies of a novel with almost no effort, and I've taught several other people to do the same. It'll cost you less than $10.00 to find out how. Why are you still dawdling here on the internet?
One of my favorite sayings came from a church sign: Don't tell the person who is doing something that it can't be done."