I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I have a great fear of failure. A debilitating, nail-biting, stomach-dropping fear, that comes marching in preposterously early sometimes, and ruins everything.
I began writing my first book when I was 8 or 9 -- an illustrated book about a bear. The illustrations were what gave me the most trouble, as I could never draw as well as my younger brother. I was, even then, too self-critical. Of course, I didn't know then that Tim would grow up to be a professional artist. At the time I just wasn't used to him trouncing me that easily at anything.
At 19, I attempted my first actual novel-length production. I figured out that the project would require extensive research once I'd gotten 3 pages in. I was working at a university, so I went to the library on my lunch hour and checked out stacks of books about Vikings, Celts and monasteries. (I'll let you figure out what I was writing, because lord knows I'm not going to say.) I photocopied and made lists of notes about everything from cooking utensils to religious beliefs to weather patterns.
I got the story to around 150 pages and then, for reasons I don't really remember, didn't finish it. Knowing what I know now about the writing process, I'd guess I had a bit of writer's block, which degenerated into "this is complete crap" (all writers do this) and I should have just pushed through it. I didn't. I still know more about Norway and Sweden circa 800 AD than a normal person should.
I didn't attempt more than poems, essays and stories (I did nothing with any of these) until I was in my early thirties, at which point I sat down and wrote a 430 page novel in about 3 years time, while raising children and during which time I also went back to complete my degree in English. When I finished the book, I read it, saw how much I grew as a writer between the first half and the second (a lot), told myself that I'd accomplished quite a feat just writing a whole freaking novel, and looked upon said novel - in a good way - as That's the worst I'll ever do.
After graduation, I wrote my first YA novel, and I thought at that time that I was starting something I wouldn't stop doing. That I'd no longer relegate myself to the back burner. That I would do whatever it took to give myself the chance to be the only thing I really wanted to be: a published novelist. Surprisingly, I did stop. I still did some writing, but nothing disciplined, completed and submitted.
I don't know what happened, but I do know it had to do with fear. How do I know this? Because I'm struggling with fear again - I just recognize it this time. I'm finding conferences and writing workshops to attend, and then coming up with every excuse not to go. I'm not ready. I'm not at an advanced enough stage in the writing process. I'm not good enough. I'm too old.
Someone once said if you really want something, you'll find a way; if you don't, you'll find an excuse. The problem is, that's not really true, once Fear Itself gets into the equation. Fear Itself is a big life-sucking, dream-smashing monster. The monster replaces what you want with what you're afraid of, and tells you that all the work and sweat and believing in the world won't amount to anything.
Failure, then, is listening to what Fear Itself has to say. I suppose it's time I stop listening, eh?