Performance Anxiety

Back in the days when I did theater, right before the show was about to open, I would have these moments of anxious expectation.  I don’t think you could exactly call it stage fright since nine times out of ten I was the director of the show and not an actor.  But there I’d be, sitting in the house as the lights went down, holding my breath and waiting for the magic to happen … or for it all to go terribly wrong.

Ever been on stage and had that feeling?  That feeling of “Well, here goes nothing!”  It’s a lot of anticipation, a lot of build-up, and then the show starts.  It all gets released as the play unfolds.

Not so with publishing a novel.

Did anyone else ever see the movie The Cutting Edge?  It was one of my favorite movies when I was in high school.  For those who don’t know, it’s about a pairs figure-skating team made up of a difficult prima donna who keeps firing her partners and an ex-hockey player who takes up pairs skating after an injury.

There’s a great scene in the movie, right before they’re about to skate in competition for the first time.  Doug, the ex-hockey player, is puking his guts out right before they skate out onto the ice.  Kate, his partner, is freaked out by this.  She panics.  Doug tells her he’ll be fine.  He always gets nervous and pukes right before a game.  But he reassures her that it only lasts about fifteen minutes and then he’s okay.  She turns to him and says “But our routine is only three minutes long!”  He blinks and replies, “So twelve minutes after we’re done I’ll be fine.”

Every time I’ve published a novel so far I do not react like I used to when the curtain went up on a show I directed.  I react like Doug.  The panic sets in right before I publish … and it sticks around way, way after the fact.

Ever wonder what an author thinks when their book comes out?  It goes something like this:

“Oh dear Lord, what have I done?  I’m going to make a complete fool of myself!  Is the book really ready?  Sure, it’s been through eight drafts, a professional editor has weighed in on it and I listened to her and made the changes.  My trusted beta-readers have said it’s just fine.  But dammit, there was that one part that didn’t seem quite right.  Did I fix it sufficiently?  Are people going to buy this premise?  Is there a good balance between the plot and the characters?  Does the bloody thing make any sense?  I’ve completely lost perspective on the whole thing.  What was I thinking?  I should have stuck to writing as a hobby.  Gah!”

Yep.  That’s about the size of things in a writer’s mind.

I’m fairly certain that the same thing applies to any artist.  I bet my dancer/choreographer best friend Kristine has a moment or two when the stage is dark, right before the lights come up, when she thinks “Did I interpret the music correctly?  Will I remember all the steps?  Did the other dancers in the piece get what I was going for?  Did I pick the right costumes for the piece?  Will people like it?”

I bet my artist aunt has had moments right before a gallery opening where she’s thought “Did I arrange the paintings in the best way?  Should I have showcased other pieces?  Can people tell that I didn’t quite capture that tree the way I wanted to?  Will they notice the brush strokes on that apple?”

You get the picture.

I think it’s human nature to doubt ourselves when we’ve accomplished something.  Perfection is not natural, nor is it human, and yet we worry ourselves sick over how close we’ve come to achieving it.  I think it’s particularly hard for artists because we pour so much of our soul into our work.  It is a piece of us in a way that I’m just not sure an airplane wing is a part of an aeronautical engineer’s soul.  Then again, I could be wrong.  There could be aeronautical engineers out there thinking “Have I reduced the drag enough?  Is it as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional?”  Who knows.

I have a cousin who is a movie director and poet who once said some very wise words to me on the art of writing.  He said “A writer never finishes their book, they just abandon it.”  Very true.

And so, with that said, I officially announce the abandonment and publication of my latest novel, Our Little Secrets!  It’s the first in a new series set in Montana starting in 1895.  It’s a four book series, the last of which takes place in 1900 and is my very first M/M romance.  There’s something to look forward to!  The other three books in the series will be out in 2013.  (I need to finish and publish the third book in my Medieval trilogy, The Courageous Heart, before writing the rest of the Montana series).  Cast your eyes upward to the top left-hand corner of this page.  Yep, the cover image is a link to the book on Amazon.

But enough about me.  What about you?  Please tell me I’m not the only one who has these post-book release jitters.


4 thoughts on “Performance Anxiety

  1. An actor or in fact anybody active on the boards that portray the world who does not feel “performance anxiety” or “stage fright” as some say is a very singular person. At my age I do not feel that any more, at least not before a speach. But that is not so frequent any longer. Only when I have written something and must read from the script I do get that feeling. strangely enough. But not when doing a speach impromptu. Largely because I do not get the time to think too much 😉

  2. I used to do plays and sing at open mike nights, yes, its that butterflies in the stomach feeling! If it didn’t happen, then I would feel I wasn’t doing it from my heart! I think you feel like that when you care about something, so its a good thing!

  3. I definitely felt this way with The Emotion Thesaurus. There was this huge pressure, because so many liked the blog version of it, and all I could think was, ‘What if this isn’t the resource they were hoping for? What if it doesn’t meet expectations?’ I felt like such a fraud.

    I don’t think I let go of that until reviews started to come out–reviews by people I don’t know, so I knew they weren’t sugar coated in any way. I’ve let go if it now, and have something new to jitter over–teaching based on The Emotion Thesaurus.

  4. You’re not the only one, every writer yearns to have readers and then fears what the readers will say. When one puts something so personal and into which so much work has gone, up for scrutiny it’s a bit like baring one’s soul.

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