evannichols (evannichols) wrote,

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lenser once told me a story of his Army days, when a soldier died during a live-fire exercise. The soldier had been separated from the rest of his unit, and crawled too far ahead, into an open field. The machine-gun teams were directing cover fire ahead of the advancing troops, shooting at pop-up targets. When the soldier stood up to figure out where he was, he was promptly shot. A tragic mistake, but at the distances they were shooting, he was indistinguishable from a pop-up target.

I was reminded of this, and had a moment of personal insight about the conflict between what I learned at school and my writing career, while reading Barbara Sher's "I Could Do Anything, If I Only Knew What It Was."

lenser and I agreed that the lesson from this unfortunate soldier's death was "Don't look like a pop-up target." That made sense to me. I had already learned that growing up in Prescott.

From grade school through high school, my academic achievements pleased my parents and teachers, but it didn't impress my peers. In fact, being brighter than most of the boys in my class made them a bit resentful. It didn't help that I was also smaller and not terribly athletic. This combination meant I was vulnerable to the ubiquitous atmosphere of harassment generated by concentrations of teen or pre-teen boys. I have memories of being shoved, tripped, ridiculed, hit, threatened, and otherwise lightly tormented, as these abuses left no marks, and if done infrequently enough, weren't sufficient to warrant reporting.

I know; we're supposed to face up to bullies. My older brother was more aggressive in confronting any assault and that often repelled bullying, but it sometimes attracted it. I wasn't that confident, so my coping strategy was to fly under the radar. I learned how to be quiet and unobtrusive. It didn't always work, but I was mostly left alone. And I made it through to graduation without ever getting beaten up, so I considered it pretty successful.

So yesterday I'm reading a section of the book about Fear of Failure, and it segues into a discussion of Fear of Success. Now, I've thought a lot about Success, particularly in terms of selling large quantities my writings to hordes of adoring fans, and I don't think I'm afraid of it. I rather like the idea of being successful that way. But as I'm reading about it, I start thinking about why I haven't aggressively pursued the steps between here and having adoring hordes.

And I realized I can't do it without looking like a pop-up target.

At least, that's the way my brain sees it. And it won't tolerate it. Those self-promotion steps mean drawing attention to myself. I honestly do want to move forward, but as I prepare to send out manuscripts or make phone calls to editors, the self-protection circuits kick in. Not clanging alarm bells or panic attacks, but subtle, quiet anxiety. "Danger," it whispers, "Bad things will happen. Step back." My progress grinds to a halt. With the perceived threat eliminated, the tension vanishes. I eventually realize I'm not making progress, and the desire for success pushes me forward until I bump up against the protective barriers again, and it all repeats, the ebb and flow of a psychological tide. The annoying, vexing, damnably awful thing about it is that I defend myself so well, I'm not aware when I'm doing it! It's not until I look back and see the zigzag trail does it occur to me how many times I've covered the same ground.

I've known for a long time that it was my way to avoid conflict and perceived risk, but yesterday was a flash of clarity on how gently, but powerfully, my self-defense mechanisms work. They're good at what they do. But the skills that got me through junior high aren't so applicable in my world today. To make progress, I need to tone down the sensitivity of this mental DEW line and adjust to the concept that attention is actually desirable. Editors are probably not going to try to stuff me in a locker.

Of course, there's always the risk of rejection. Actually, rejection is about the only thing that's guaranteed in the writing business. And while I appreciate the willingness of my mental defenses to also protect me from the pain of rejection, they're eliminating the chance of acceptance. I may still get criticized, insulted, jeered or flamed for my work, but I bet I can handle it. And I'd like to think that the emotional distress from any negative comments will be outweighed by the pleasure gained from having readers who are inspired, entertained or amused by my writings.

So I've got some work to do. Putting this out in LJ is just one step. Thanks for reading!

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