• Wed, Aug 10 2011

Chasing Thirty: The Fear

Andrea is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Thirty-Things.

Tell me if this happens to you. You’re at the gym or driving your car or brushing your teeth (these are the places my ideas tend to strike) and you have an epiphany. All of the things you’ve been letting marinate for months suddenly coalesce and you have the solution: how to achieve your goal whether it’s getting the attention of someone you’ve secretly been pining for or starting a company or spending a year in Paris. You stand for a moment like an animal frozen just between fight and flight. Is this a brilliant idea or a stupid one? You know it’s pretty far in one direction or the other but you don’t know which. And just as you imagine yourself seizing the day and taking that risk; this other voice storms into your brain from God knows where, spouting all of the reasons that this thing you want to do can’t be done, all of the reasons this is a bad idea, a bad time, a bad moon. That voice seems pretty damned authoritative and before you’ve spit in the sink, your nascent little epiphany has been crushed by it. That voice may sound like the voice of reason, with all its talk about bills and practicality and self-preservation but more than likely, it’s just the fear talking.

I began this project in part to help myself overcome the two biggest factors that tend to weight all of us down: fear and inertia. I was feeling stuck in my life and there are times in life when, in order to get moving, one has to do something big. Something scary. And just as Jen talked about in her column last week, conquering smaller fears can help you feel less anxiety about a big one that you face.

This project has entailed many things that inspired a small hit of fear from competing in a dance competition to traveling alone and speaking a foreign language. I’ve done these things with the hopes that as I heard into my thirties, I can do so without regrets and without fear of everything that is heading my way.

When I was struggling to complete my first novel, I had the good fortune of meeting and befriending Polly Devlin, a successful older writer from Ireland. She told me that there were three things holding me back: lack of time in which to write (under my control), my job in the industry (which I needed) and the fact that I was terrified. She advised me to just embrace that fear because it would never go away. So I rallied. I finished the book, I got an agent and I tried to get it published. And it was scary. But I did it.

But it didn’t get published and neither (so far) has the one I wrote after and now I am living with a different fear: that of not getting published ever. This fear has been compounded by what I see every day in my professional life, that is that the publishing industry is in complete chaos: a trend that started to really pick up speed in 2008 when I first tried to get published and has only gone one direction since.

Despite my disappointments, despite the knowledge that the old ways of publishing were heading towards obsolescence and fast, I clung to the vision I had always had of what my dream of getting published would look like. We hold sacred the idea that there is a certain way that things should be done with books, that there is only one way for a book to be real and to mean something. I never thought of myself as someone who would be terrified to think outside of the box and yet whenever someone suggests alternate ways of getting my work into the world, I balk. Even as I encouraged other writers in my professional life to think boldly about ways to disseminate their ideas, I’ve struggled to embrace anything but the outdated model for myself.

I always knew that getting published would take patience, or at least persistence. But I wonder as I come up on thirty, with two novels under my belt and twice as many years trying to get them published, how long do I keep trying to bang down the doors of an industry which I know is crumbling? How long do I sit here longingly like a 19th century opera heroine, staring out into a lonely sea waiting for my ship to come in?

Polly was right: the fear will always be there. So why not learn to use it? After all, fortune favors the brave.

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  • Jessica

    This is such an AWESOME article. I think far too many people feel this way. I know I do.

    • andrea dunlop

      Thanks Jessica!

  • Lisa

    Those blank moments of driving, brushing teeth, showering, lying in bed doing nothing, are when I have my best ideas. It’s when the mind gets to create ideas instead of taking in stimuli, for once (well, a driver needs to keep paying attention, but still…).