On Friday morning I sat in bed with various empty chocolate wrappers around me and two dozen drafted emails on my laptop screen. After years of work on THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND, I was finally ready to go: book completed, literary agents researched, queries typed, email addresses copied, and files attached.
There was nothing stopping me from taking this next exciting step in my life – except for me.
I couldn’t press send.
I am a woman of inaction. I’ve always suffered from social anxiety, which means I spend my life feeling acutely aware of what could go wrong and how embarrassing it could (or rather, will) be. It’s paralysing, because the obvious response is to bury my head in the sand and not do anything at all. Because if I don’t go to the shops, I definitely won’t try to pay for a jumper with an old movie ticket, or fall over in the street in front of everyone, or bump into a person I really don’t want to see.
My inaction is a form of self-preservation. It’s preventative. My mind says ‘Oh hey! Here’s all the bad things that could happen to really embarrass you!’ and my body responds by shutting down or carrying me away from that situation. It’s how I end up hidden in dark rooms at parties or walking straight past the shop I specifically came out to buy something from.
And it’s how I ended up in a panicky, shaking sweat with my cursor hovering over the send button on Friday.
For a writer, putting yourself and your work out there to be judged is about as daunting as it gets – but throw in a large dose of social anxiety to the mix and it’s full-on terrifying.
I struggle with this enough on the smaller scale of tweets and blog posts, as I’ve written about before. It’s the old ‘Why would anyone care??’ self-destructive spiralling that I’m so prone to, where I abandon social media posts because the fear of putting myself out there and getting nothing back is too much. And despite saying countless times that I’ll tweet more, blog more, live more, I always find myself back in the same place: silent, too scared of what could go wrong to try.
So what I felt with my cursor over that button on Friday was my usual self-preservation instinct kicking in: if I don’t press send, I can’t get rejected – and my dream of getting an agent and seeing this book in print remains alive.
But — obvious irony aside — it didn’t make sense.
Unlike lame tweets and half-written blog posts, I know this book is good. I love it. It’s a novel I meticulously planned, that’s been drafted and redrafted, read by many people, tweaked, changed, read again, proofread, polished, prepared. The first chapter was even shortlisted for a competition run by a top literary agent. While it won’t be for everyone and I’m sure I’ll get a big stack of rejections, I truly believe it will be for someone. It’s a product that I’m proud of, and one I want to share with the world.
So why the inaction?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since Friday, and I’ve managed to unpack that fear. It’s the same sickening jolt I get when my phone pings with an auto response email or a withheld number flashes up.
Leaving the slush pile with nothing but rejections is a real, valid possibility for every writer – but there’s a much bigger fear for me:
What if someone says yes?
There’s a human, social element to all my inaction. I’m hiding from people, avoiding sales assistants, worried about who I’ll meet outside. That’s what scares me most, and that is what I was worried about.
By sending these queries out, I’m asking for social interaction. I’m offering myself up for slaughter. It’s like drunk-texting all your exes or sitting in the middle of the front row at a comedy show: there’s no escape.
If an agent sends me a rejection, I get to cringe and/or wince and feel awful because a real person didn’t like my book. But if an agent does like it, their initial request for more material could snowball into emails, phone calls, conversations, representation, face-to-face meetings, events, book deals, book signings, conventions, a career…
With just one email, I open up the possibility of a hundred even more terrifying social moments.
So that’s the fear. Despite desperately wanting to be a published author and being fully aware of how hard that is to attain, it’s actually my regular, normal, everyday social anxiety that’s making me too scared to try. What keeps my cursor from clicking that button isn’t a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence in my work, and I’m not simply scared of the things that could go wrong. I’m just as scared of what could go right.
When I break it down, my biggest fear is the simple act of initiating social interaction with a stranger, regardless of what happens next.
That’s social anxiety for you: irrational, stupid, and a massive roadblock in my life. It’s huge, impossible to climb over or get around. It’s a thick brick wall of ridiculous, sick-making fear between me and something I want to do, or say, or achieve, and there’s only one way to get there.
I have to push through it.
Anxiety makes me fear a moment, a moment that’s yet to come, but the reality is that the negative emotions exist in the moment before it. The anxiety around an event is what is so unbearable, not the event itself. The walk to the pub for a first date makes me want to pass out, but I’m clear-headed as soon as I say hello. My mouth goes dry when I’m trying to make a phone call, but I can talk just fine once it starts. Once I’m in the moment I feared, I no longer have anything to fear.
It’s kind of like jumping off the 10m diving board as a kid, I guess. Once you’re in free-fall, you can react and adapt and enjoy the exhilaration — but when you’re up there on that platform, all your instincts are telling you not to jump.
My natural instinct is not to jump, to avoid, to bundle myself up in a blanket and drink hot chocolate. This inaction keeps me safe and secure — but it also traps me in perpetual discomfort and shame, because I’ve merely delayed something I have to do eventually. My anxiety becomes what feels like a physical manifestation — the brick wall — between me and my goal, and it convinces me I’ll never get past it. It’s too high, too thick, too strong, and it’ll take a Herculean effort to even get close.
But as I’ve discovered by forcing myself to go on dates and make appointments and do things generally, the truth is that it only takes one little step to push through that entire wall and send it crumbling to the ground, no matter how heavy it looks.
So on Friday afternoon, after I’d spent a good few hours plucking up the courage, I finally took that step. I pressed send on those emails, even though every part of my anxious self was telling me not to.
And I opened up a possible pathway to the career I’ve always wanted. 🙂
For another example of this wall of anxiety I’m talking about, take this post itself. I wrote it four days ago but didn’t have the courage to post it. I kept rereading it, rewriting it, tweaking, fiddling, thinking I should just trash it because nobody cares and posting it will just be embarrassing for me and everyone who sees it…
I suppose there is something fundamentally attention-seeking about blogging, but posting here often feels like I’ve marched into a silent library with a megaphone and I’m shouting ‘LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME‘ at a smattering of pissed-off readers who just want to be left alone. But, as always, I’m trying to be good, and brave, and not an anxious wreck, so this thing that I spent a lot of time on is getting posted.
I’m really going to do it.
Any second now.
All I have to do is press…
3 thoughts on “Just Press Send”
Very good, Luce. Who do you think you are? Bryony Gordon? 😂 M x
On Tue, 26 Mar 2019 at 19:25, Lucy Goacher’s Blog wrote:
> Lucy Goacher posted: “On Friday morning I sat in bed with various empty > chocolate wrappers around me and two dozen drafted emails on my laptop > screen. After years of work on THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND, I was finally > ready to go: book completed, literary agents researched, querie” >
You are very talented and brave! I would love to read more. Please keep blogging!!
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Well done, Lucy. I feel your terror – and your braveness. Great things ahead for you.
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