The Anxiety of pre-Launch Week
Or, why do we sometimes struggle to accept success?
Let me start by explaining the quasi-churlishness of this title. The very fact that I have a pre-launch week to be anxious about means I am a very lucky writer. I am fundamentally not complaining—am in zero position to complain—about my good fortune to be launching my second published novel a few days from now. I know (and if you’re reading this, you also likely know) countless amazing writers who for one reason or another have not had the good luck I’ve had. To become published by a press other than one run by yourself, you need precisely one person who wants to go to bat for your book. Two, if you have an agent. Finding that person to match with a good writer requires a high degree of serendipity.
Before I published my first novel, I would have given anything to experience the anxiety I’m experiencing now. Even though, once the novel did launch, it came at a terrible time in my personal life when even this extrovert had to work very hard just to show up anywhere in public. Even then, there was joy. How could there not be? I was getting to realize my near-lifelong dream of becoming a published novelist.
Fast forward to 2022 and the launch of Terra Nova. I had plenty of joy this past summer as I looked ahead to my early-winter launch. I had plenty of joy this fall as I counted down the less-than-handful of months remaining. I was even joyful two weeks ago about my launch date on December 6. But now? Less than one week out? I’m anxious.
I keep trying to draw on my sports experience to find a way to manage this anxiety, but I can’t find anything that works. I’m basically in the middle of the worst pre-race taper ever. If you follow this analogy, I’m supposed to be resting, coasting on my already-acquired strength as the big day approaches. After all, I’ve done my training—in the form of writing the first draft, the second, third, and who knows how many more. Now I should feel good about the day my novel officially comes out into the world. I should feel ready.
But this is maddeningly not like a race. And I’m having to come to grips with the fact that not everything we aim for in life can be explained through some sort of sports experience. (Dammit.) In sports, as a race approaches on the calendar, you can feel confident in your own ability (assuming you’ve done your training). You’re in charge of your own performance, even though you can’t control your competitors. Don’t people say to only worry about the things you can change? Well, leading into a race you’re trained and healthy for, you should have nothing to worry about at all.
Here’s an awful thing about writing: there’s a huge part of your performance as a writer that you don’t control. Yes, sure, you’re the one who makes the story and the prose as good as you can possibly make it. But after that? Who can say! There are readers! There are reviewers! And they seem to have minds of their own, who knew. In fact, because you can’t control the audience, you absolutely can’t look to them for reward. That would be like asking your competitors to stop in the middle of their 10k and applaud for you.
As I think about this, I’m realizing that I’ve been thinking about publication day all wrong. It’s not publication day that’s the race. The moment your book is done—the moment you and your editor agree that it’s ready for the copyedits—that’s when you cross the finish line. You’re running a race that doesn’t even have a taper.
So what is the launch day, then, in this sports analogy? It can’t be when race results go up on an easel or a bulletin board or a website, where everyone can see how slow or fast you were. That public exposure happens after people have read the book—and, thank goodness, if they don’t like it, they usually won’t tell you. (I mean, who shouts out to a passing runner, “Dude, you’re really slow!”?) No, I don’t think I should think of launch day as a public assessment (even though it kind of is). Maybe launch day is the post-race party? Yes, it’s the post-race party for a race that ended months ago.
If I think of it that way, I can manage. I can look forward to this Tuesday with excitement and mostly unalloyed joy. (Well, who are we kidding: we writers know how to alloy any joy with the stronger metal of impostor syndrome.) I’m always encouraging my students to create positive-feedback loops for themselves, and to not be embarrassed to claim success. Don’t be a jerk about it, I remind them. Be a good sport. But it’s ok to pump your fist in the air when you feel you’ve done something well.
Don’t be a jerk about it, I remind them. Be a good sport. But it’s ok to pump your fist in the air when you feel you’ve done something well.
I need to take my own advice and forget about all the very many reasons to worry, and focus instead on the party. I’ve finished the race. I’m pleased with my performance. Now let’s have a beer.
How do you respond to your own successes? Do you have a hard time embracing them or are you able to take pleasure in your accomplishments?
You have finished the race indeed! So happy and excited for you and can’t wait to read my copy ❤️Thank you so much for all that you do for aspiring writers like me. You are awesome Henriette, congratulations again!
Henriette, this is a great post ! I think lots of people would like to read it who aspire to publish their work, or publish a second time, because you're sharing a personal understanding of what that experience can feel like. It sounds like it's different from what you might have expected, and challenging in interesting ways.
Thinking about your question,"why we sometimes struggle to accept success," of course some of it may be due to your individual wiring, and some may stem from the nerve-wracking enterprise of writing, But I think it also fits particularly with the mind of an athlete. After each triumph, don't athletes often seek out new and challenging situations? In that sense, each victory is seldom "enough," even though getting there is everything, right?
The story of how your journey of persistence and faith to attain this triumph is a great one, and this is an important moment in that story. You are generous to share it with readers. And in the end, I suspect there's a good chance the anxiety will turn out to be part of your hyper-efficient healthy process of "getting the accumulated pressure out of your system ahead of time," before Dec. 6th when your book is released into the universe. As that day dawns, I'm betting your adrenaline will make a U-turn, stop working against you, and kick in to carry you forward and help you soar. Wishing you a great, wonderful first night at the Harvard Book Store!