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March 12, 2015

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

A raccoon looking stuck in a tree with text: Feeling Uncomfortable?

I’m a perfectionist. That’s not news to any of you who have been reading my blog for a while. *smile* But that meant I had to get over a lot of my own issues to be able to publish my stories.

Those of us on the traditional publishing path have (or will have) an agent, an editor (maybe several editors), and a publisher acquisitions team all chiming in about when our story is ready. Those authors also don’t have to learn retailer accounts or the millions of other little things that authors on the indie path need to do themselves.

Those of us on the indie path have to find other ways to reach the “it’s ready” stage and have to do a lot of jobs we feel unqualified for. For indie authors who are also over-thinking perfectionists? Well, it can be a struggle. *smile*

Many steps along our writing path can make us uncomfortable: querying, sending out to beta readers, drafting a story that isn’t quite as good as it seemed in our head, revising a story that we know isn’t right, pushing publish on our stories, etc.

I’ve struggled with feeling uncomfortable many times, but nothing was as difficult for me as taking the step of publishing. In fact, I never would have been able to publish if I hadn’t pushed myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Truth #1: It’s Uncomfortable to Be Less-than-Perfect

I was lucky. As a romance author, I had access to contests galore to get outsider input on when I was in the right ballpark quality-wise to think of publishing.

Even so, it was easy to think one contest win or final was a fluke, or that the competition must not have been as fierce for that contest. Note that it took me 9 contest wins and finals to get over my “it’s a fluke” stage. That’s a perfectionist for you.

But I still wanted to make my stories better. Three editors later (developmental editor, line editor, and copy editor—just like the big publishers), I have to accept that I’ve made each story the best I can make it…at this point in time.

“At this point in time.” That’s a killer to a perfectionist because that admits our story would be better if we waited a month, a year, ten years. But if we listened to that voice, we’d never publish.

Everything we do in life is “the best we can do at that point in time.” From our schoolwork to redecorating a house to raising a child—everything is simply “the best we can do.” Never perfect. We have to be comfortable enough with our imperfection that we move forward anyway.

Truth #2: It’s Uncomfortable to Not Know Everything

My over-thinking style also didn’t want me to “jump” until I knew enough about indie publishing to be comfortable with all aspects of it. *cough splutter weeze* Yeah, after reading everything I could on the subject for a year, sometimes there’s nothing quite like actually doing it to force a feeling a comfort.

My writing buddies reached the point of asking me every couple of days if I’d picked a release date yet. One of them, the wonderful Angela Quarles, finally stepped in to do my formatting—I suspect so I couldn’t use needing to learn that skill as my next excuse.

While my short story was being formatted (i.e., the last stage in the publishing process), I still found myself asking oodles of questions and saying, “What? How could I not know that?” on a regular basis. We can study a subject for eternity and still not know as much as actually taking action on said subject.

Now, I’ve published on multiple platforms, including GooglePlay, which many self-publishers avoid because it has a reputation for being tricky and intimidating. I managed this feat mostly because I tried.

You know that saying about how you can’t succeed unless you try? Totally true. *smile*

Truth #3: It’s Uncomfortable to Have to Rely on Others

As soon as we start sharing our work with others, we run into the issue of having to trust others. We hope our beta readers or critique partners do a good job and don’t miss telling us about the huge plot hole that would embarrass us if others saw it.

We might have to trust our agent to do the right thing for our story. We have to trust our editors to push us further than we think we can grow and our designers to provide quality cover art.

Unless those of us on the indie path do our own editing and cover art (which isn’t recommended), we need to trust our team no matter our publishing path. Those on the indie path have the power to hire and fire, but we often don’t know enough to judge quality until it’s too late.

Whatever path we’re on, we often have to blindly trust that people will do their jobs at the best level they can do. That can be uncomfortable, and yet we have to do it anyway if we ever hope to make progress with our writing, publishing, and career.

Truth #4: It’s Uncomfortable to Not Be 100% Ready

Even with all my reading, studying, and preparing, I didn’t feel ready to push Publish on my stories. I felt like I was drowning in a confusing mess of information. In fact, each day I felt less qualified and ready to take the step than I did the previous day.

Any of us who have been through a big life experience—from moving away from home or buying a house to getting married or having a baby—know that we’re never going to feel 100% ready for what’s to come. We’ll always have lingering questions or concerns.

Yet many of those experiences come with deadlines that force us to go forward—ready or not. Our publishing career is often the same way.

Many steps involve questions and concerns that we won’t even know to ask until we’re in the thick of it. And we often need a deadline to force us to take the next step.

It’s uncomfortable to feel like we’re not ready for what’s to come. But that feeling will never go away, no matter how much we prepare—we know that from our other life experiences.

Sometimes we have to force ourselves to jump and trust that we’ll be okay. And as with many things in our life, after we jump, we might turn around and think, “Gee, that wasn’t so bad. What was I worrying about anyway?” *smile*

Do you have any additions to these “truths”? What makes you most uncomfortable about your writing or publishing path? Are you able to force yourself to move forward anyway? Do you have any tips for how to take that step? Or do you simply make yourself comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable?

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Angela Ackerman

This is me in a nutshell. I am *cough* a bit of a control freak, but the deeper a person gets into the business of writing, the more outsourcing becomes necessary. The fact is, we can’t do it all alone, not if we want to continue to bring quality to the table. So, a person has to get comfortable with trust. (And not get jaded, because life isn’t a Match.com ad.)

As an author, you will choose formatters or proofreaders or other agents of industry that turn out to be, well, duds. Sometimes, you will waste time because you tried to save time (ASK me how I know, lol!). But good people are out there, and it is always worth the time and effort to let go and keep trusting…you will find them. 🙂

Melinda

Hi Jami,
Love love love this post. Are you in my head? These truths hold this perfectionist back on a daily basis. I really love how you explain why we need to push past the discomfort, especially if we want to get better. My family’s in the process of buying a house right now and as soon as we were in the thick of the loan application all my little doubts started welling up. P.S. they are all little things that I’m being nit-picky about. The house is wonderful.
I have another truth for you:
Self-promotion is uncomfortable, or at least can be.
I hate tooting my own horn. It seems like it’s a fine line between promotion and spam. The more I learn the more I feel that there is a *huge* difference between promo and spam though.
Thanks for the great post. Now to put it to action and push past my comfort zone *gulp*.
Melinda

Carradee

Oh, I’ve been wanting to make 2 particular types of cookies for a few MONTHS now, and I’ve been too overwhelmed and anxious about the prospect to do it…but I can go dig my car out of 6 inches of snow to pick up my friend from work. –_–

Of course, then I have to recuperate, because my adrenal gland doesn’t work properly.

Starting things is difficult. When I notice myself starting to feel anxious about something, I intentionally kick myself into starting it…when I can. I don’t always have the ability or energy, which means the anxiety gets worse and then I have to expend even more effort later, to do it.

The issues are at least partially reactionary—I’m chronically deficient in vitamin D, and my endocrine system is wrecked by a genetic disorder + years of stress, and my need to gain weight surely doesn’t help.

But as anyone who has anxiety attacks knows, they get you caught up in “What if?”s and “But”s, and sometimes all you can do is remind yourself you’ll cope with that when and if it happens, but you HAVE to do X now.

Davonne Burns

Chronic health issues can make us feel as if we’ll never reach any goal we set for ourselves, never mind being perfect. But I appreciate that Jami’s advice holds true no matter the situation. It can be just as uncomfortable to realize our limits as to try to push them.

Carradee

That’s true, Davonne. I’m still figuring out how to even plan things to account for my health issues, because my family pretty much… Well…

Oh, soap thins out your skin and makes it hurt to touch things? Tea tree oil makes your skin blister and peel off? So what? Life hurts (and it isn’t as if I also, in other circumstances) pitch fits about how high your pain tolerance is)! Now stop complaining and being lazy! Go wash those dishes and clean that bathroom!—even though I’ve refused to stop buying that tea tree oil body wash. It isn’t as if the tea tree oil uses residue that eats through the vinyl gloves you have to buy yourself while using all the soaps you also have to buy yourself—and you have to get these things done between the times of X and Y, which is also when you’re allowed to work.

*twiddles thumbs* It wasn’t explicitly said quite like that, of course, but that’s one of the causes of the “years of stress”.

Speaking of the effects of that, I just started feeling a little dizzy. Query to self: Have I eaten? Answer: No. *sighs and goes to make something*

Carradee

(Note: I’ve discovered that often, when I have the sickly feeling I’ve had frequently for as long as I can remember, eating something or eating more will help or alleviate it entirely. Make of that what you will.)

Amanda

#2! #2! I’ve been reading articles (Janice Hardy’s are particularly useful), I joined 2 Yahoo loops for self-published authors, and I STILL feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark right now. There HAS to be something I’m missing, or that I’m not fully understanding, or both. Likely both.

I’m also going to point you toward a handy post I found, by Bree Bridges: http://www.breebridges.com/formatting-tricks-1-search-replace-in-word/

I didn’t want to have to shell out an additional $150 to have someone format my book for me, not when my costs are already more than I can afford (I calculated how many books I’d have to sell to make it back. I shouldn’t have done that.) I followed the steps in Bree’s post, then the user guide in Sigil (the ebook formatter she recommends). Because I was paranoid, I tried it out on a short story…and it worked. It took some finagling, and I still don’t have the process down pat, but it worked. So if you ever want to exert even more control over your product… 🙂

I liked not having to wait for someone to fit my formatting request into their schedule, and while I imagine the first few times it will take me several hours to produce even a rough-around-the-edges epub, I really, really liked not having to pay someone to do it. You can do it, Jami! It’s not that hard, just time consuming 🙂

Tamar Hela

Wonderful post, very encouraging, and just what I needed to read today! Thanks so much for sharing, Jami. 🙂

Laurie Evans

Oh yes, all of this!

Killion Slade

Hi Jami! Great post! Knowing that the manuscript isn’t perfect is always a looming bomb. I think what bothers me most about it is this … as authors we grow with every release and unless we release the piece, we don’t learn any more to make the next one better. I know many authors who cringe over their first releases after many years of publishing as their craft and skills have grown.

If you look at the difference between Christopher Moore’s first book and his latest, they are day and night. We just have to take that leap of faith, surround ourselves with talented, smarter editors, and take the plunge.

Basically, if you wait until it’s perfect one of two things is going to happen.

1) Someone will find a mistake right off the bat and you’ll cringe with defeat.
2) The manuscript will never get published.

So write the best story you can, edit it as best you can afford, sit on it and edit it again, and then release it. 🙂

~Killion – great post as always!

William
William

My computer sits in the basement upon an old dining room table with a middle extender leaf added to make the table longer. Unless the monitor is positioned exactly between the width of the table extender leaf…Unless the pen holder is placed to the right of the monitor…Unless the keyboard is free of unsightly smudges…You get the idea. It’s ridiculous, and I know it. “and yet, I can’t look away…” Truth is, I think I may invent certain discomforts – and may even seek them out – for all the reasons you mention, including reasons one usually associates with Vincent Van Gogh. Thanks for this post! You are so right – perfect is never going to happen. Therefore, my book will never happen. And who will write the thing, except for me? Such is the dilemma of a (hopefully) recovering perfectionist.

Julie Glover

My husband used to laugh at me when I was in graduate school and hated that moment of turning in my papers. He thought I’d be happy to finish and have them out of my hands, but I’d answer, “But now I can’t make them any better!” LOL.

I’m also a recovering perfectionist. I still go above and beyond what might be necessary at times, but I’ve learned to let go and be happy with the best I could do. (Honestly, blogging helped a lot with that. I got used to clicking Publish there and letting it go.)

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[…] are emotional hurdles to writing, as well. Jami Gold explores getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and Sarah Enni tells us to try something radical: accept […]

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