Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Ch 3.3 Fear of the Dark

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 3.3 Fear of the Dark

As I was about to release the first episode of my serial, Debt Collector, I had a sudden bout of anxiety that had nothing to do with the normal release-day-jitters. Or the story itself. In fact, I was in love with the story! Obsessed with it, one might say. But I was afraid of what (some) people would think when they read it.

You see, it was the darkest thing I'd written to date.

Joanna Penn has a fantastic post about Writing and the Fear of Judgment that landed in my inbox just before I published. Do you ever feel like someone wrote a post just for you, right at the exact time that you needed it? That was Joanna's post for me. She talked about how, when we write darker elements (the swearing, sex, violence, and just shudder-worthy scenes and characters), that we sometimes hold back, self-censor, and don't go there. And she said how it was important not to do that - to tell the stories that need to be told, especially the darker ones. Exactly what I needed to hear.

(Caveat: I'm not talking about gratuitous sex and violence here. I've read stories that had blood spraying by the discount gallon and felt unmoved. There's an entire genre devoted to sex-driven stories - erotica - and I'm not talking about that either. I mean the stories where the darker elements are an integral part of the story, a necessary part, to fully explore the promise of the premise.)

Debt Collector isn't a YA series; it's intended for adults. And the subject matter is intrinsically dark. It's a story about a man who is a debt collector - someone who sucks the life energy out of people when their debts exceed their future potential contributions to society, then delivers it to someone else who will put that life energy to better use. I still get chills every time I think about the premise, and I dreamed it up, for heaven's sake.

The main character kills an old man in the first chapter. It's dark. And it gets darker.

When I was writing the first Debt Collector episode, I didn't hold back. I wasn't sure if I had the guts to actually publish the thing, but I couldn't stop myself from writing it. Only on revisions, when I faced the spectre of releasing this story into the wilds, did I feel the fear of judgment that Joanna speaks of. I found myself wondering if I should cut certain scenes, simply because of that fear. Then I realized that's the exact opposite of what writing is really about. Stories are entertainment, but they are also how we (safely) explore the horrors that life holds, in order to define how we truly want to live it. If we don't explore the darkness, define it, understand it, then we can't know the light when we see it. Some stories compel us to look more deeply into the dark than others, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't write them.

It goes back to one of the beliefs I listed at the beginning of this section: I believe that authors should take risks in their craft and their careers. 

Debt Collector was a risk in more ways than one: it was dark; it was a serial (an unfamiliar format); it was a technical challenge to write and publish it on a tight schedule. But I leapt, and now that the first season is done, I can see the benefits that were clouded by a haze of fear beforehand: I learned to write faster; I discovered that embracing the darker side of my writing helped free my storytelling; I found the serial format was indeed a harsh mistress, but it also honed my storytelling skills like nothing I'd experienced before.

Overall it was worth the leap. But you never know that ahead of time, do you? The next chapter, How to be Brave, gets closer to the heart of why some decisions like this stoke the engines of fear inside us, and how to see that fear for what it truly is.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

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