There’s a Lacuna Coil song called “When a Dead Man Walks” that runs,

In which I think I’m not that confident
A tiny hope that burns into my breath
A bitter smile delights me at the end

But I don’t look back…

This song has been stuck in my head for a couple of days.

Why? On Friday, I finished a fairly solid second draft ofย Shaken and sent it out to about 10 beta readers. (I rolled with sending it to everyone who asked for it, figuring from some of my blog-readers’ experience that only about half of those beta-readers would even finish the book, let alone give me feedback.) I was excited, giddy even, glad to have earned a break from the book and eager to get some feedback.

On Saturday, I woke up at about 7 a.m., sat straight up in bed, and said, “What have I done?!”

I’d sent my baby out to almost a dozen people, some of them practically strangers! It was like I’d sent them all naked pictures of myself or something! I was crazy to ever think I could write a novel! My plot was stupid, my main character too unlikable! I didn’t warn anyone that it’s R-rated, and I didn’t tell my San Francisco-based friend just how much I’d violated the geography of that lovely city! The world will end if someone notices that I put a hotel on a coast that has no hotel!

I’m sure you fellow writers have your own version of that speech memorized.

Terrified, I got up at that unholy weekend hour, only to find a message from one of my lovely new beta-readers. She’d stayed up all night reading the book and had loved it. My ego could go soundly back to sleep… of course I’ve been too nervous about it since then to even pretend I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

By now, I’ve gotten some more positive feedback, but here’s the nutty thing:ย It hasn’t helped.

What if they’re just being nice? What if they don’t know me well enough to tell me they hate it? What if they’ve actually been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by doppelgangers who say only nice things? How can I stand not knowing?!


Suddenly the whole submission process has gotten unbelievably real. Yes, I wrote this book and created this character, but I have to let it and her go out into the world and make her own way. I can’t protect it: I can’t tell people how to read it or what to look for. But like the song says, I can’t look back. If I want to proceed with this, I have to let the book go.

I brought up paranoia because I’ve been doubting the good things I’ve heard, preparing myself for the absolute worst, because I know it’s still out there. Rejection is inevitable.

Is it paranoia, then? Or am I being smart, trying to protect myself from getting hurt? I really can’t say.

To the writers out there: How did you feel when you first let people read your novel? Were you terrified? Confident? What did you do to stay busy while you awaited feedback?

My plan is to work on my balcony-garden, do some beta-reading myself, and start writing the materials for a seminar I’m teaching this summer. That was theย plan. In reality, I’ve mostly been watching Downton Abbey.

11 thoughts on “Paranoia

  1. I’m still pretty far from the point where I can let people read my novel. But I like this book about writing-related anxiety, which seems to affect a surprising number of writers at one time or another:

  2. I feel for ya! There’s really no easy way of letting go of that anxiety. I’m weird in that I thrive on constructive criticism. The more people “bash” a story, the more I feel I’ve learned from the experience. Like you, I don’t trust the positive comments as much as the negative–but it doesn’t scare me, either. That said, of course it’s not easy listening to those comments, and then putting in ALL the work of implementing those criticisms. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hang in there! I’m still reading, and I love it so far! And I’m not an easy person to please by any means. ((Hugs))

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence! This is my first time putting my fiction “out there,” so I’m just not sure what to expect. I suppose having upcoming-wedding-anxiety on top of it just doesn’t help!

  3. One way or another, you’ll get the feedback you need. It may be now, or may be later when you start submitting it. I’m just sorry I didn’t jump on the chance to be one of your beta readers…

  4. Ah, don’t worry so much. It’s not like I’ll send you detailed stories of your characters getting murdered if they displease me.

    That would be silly.

    …yes….. silly…..

    Anyway, I haven’t hit that point yet, but I’m usually pretty open with my work anyway. My short story that got published in my writing journal was enjoyed by some folks, so I’m thankful for that. But to be fair, maybe 12 people ever read it. So I’ve never hit that high-worries of mass-exposure.

    So far, though, believe the compliments. They’re right.

  5. Your angst is understandable and normal. I think we all go through a similar process when others have “our baby” in their paws and have the power to condemn or extol its body, spirit and soul.

    I became a little (not much!) calloused by putting myself “out there” every week when I was granted the opportunity to write a column for a multi-campus college newspaper. It was definitely great basic training. It let people into my head and allowed them to form an opinion of me from what I wrote. Incidentally, people will FOREVERMORE form opinions of us from anything we write, whether it’s a column, a story, a novel, an excerpt on Facebook, a blog, etc.etc.

    The idea of the public reading what I wrote was very personal and scary to me; it constantly made me reach higher and try harder.

    One of the funniest things that happened during that time was a scathing rebuttal the newspaper received about an opinion column I wrote. This man ranted and raved against me. At the end, he used my name; and he did so incorrectly. He called me “Jodi Foster,” which, of course, negated all his earlier comments and made him look ridiculous. I almost felt sorry for him! The newspaper answered on my behalf and told him that since Jodi Foster didn’t work for our newspaper, he would have to direct his comments to her agent.

    Hang in there, Kristin. This too shall pass, and you will be all the more “calloused” for the experience.

    • Thanks.

      That’s HILARIOUS about “Jodi Foster.” Newspaper readers are *nuts* sometimes.

      It’s funny: I was a newspaper reporter for a few years, and despite having my work out there every week, I never really felt nervous about it. Then again, news reporters don’t get quite the same feedback as columnists, so that’s another difference. I also never really felt attached to my reporting-writing as I do to my fiction. There’s a whole new level of vulnerability when you write fiction or opinion, because you’re actually injecting yourself into it, which you just can’t do much when reporting.

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