I talk about spending eight to nine years writing my novel Toilet Bowl, but that's not really accurate. It wasn't like I was waking up every day for almost a decade putting in a consistent three hours of work.
There were spurts, then gaps, then spurts again. Two years ago I developed more of a strict everyday regimen, but truth be told I could have had this thing done and out on the market by November of last year.
The final barrier had nothing to do with writing. It was all about fear. A long list of reasons why I shouldn't hit publish.
I want to spend this post listing them out. There are probably more. But here are my fifty shades of fear and then how I got passed them to finally hit publish.
- What if only like 10 people buy the book?
- And how pathetic would that be, to spend that much time on it for that small result?
- What if that hurts so much I become depressed, never want to write again?
- What if I missed a pretty big grammar mistake or formatting mistake?
- For a big chunk of the book, my main characters are high school guys, what if some of Mark's dialogue is considered to be sexist/misogynistic?
- Or what if it's too clean. If I overcorrected. What if people are like, "Teenagers don't talk like that."
- I used 'frick' instead of the f-bomb. I'm almost 30-years-old and I still refer to it as the f-bomb
- What if co-workers find out about the book and make fun of me?
- What if people from my hometown make fun of me?
- What if friends make fun of me?
- What if I made a big mistake by making the setting my hometown?
- Will some people interpret characters as being people they know? How can I prevent that?
- The book is written first-person, will people assume Tim is me? How can I prevent that?
- What if two years from now I would have seen all the flaws in the book and could have written it better?
- What if all first novels just suck? Isn't that what they say? The first one is always bad, it's best to keep it under your bed? Locked away. Never released.
- And what about going self-publishing, will people look down on that? It's not a real book?
- What if I will never be able to get a literary agent or traditional publisher in the future because I chose to self-publish this one?
- What if I get sued for using brand names? How does all of that work? Can you say he drove a Chevy or do you have to be like, "A blue sedan."
- What if I set the price too high?
- What if I set it too low?
- Inside Out also made characters out of internal emotions, will Tim's trolls be viewed as copying that?
- There's already a book out there called "The Worry Trolls." I can't call them worry trolls anymore (this one I actually did change to "The Bartleby Trolls).
- What if Tim's too much of a whiner? Readers get 10 pages in and are like, "Come on dude, man up!"
- What about that first bad review. That first 1-star. That first "you suck" Tweet
- What gives me the right to write a book? Talk about an ego trip. No agent picked me. No publisher picked me. What am I doing?
And pause for air.
Actually, I'll stop there. If you want to see the rest of the list, happy to email it over, my fear is it's getting too long for a blog post (add another worry on there - what if this book is too long?)
Fears and worries always feel legitimate. That's why they are so upsetting. This airplane could crash. This speech could go terribly.
And so each one of those fears above seemed to always warrant my full attention. And it would upset me. Delay things another week.
Until I started to realize a common thread.
Each worry appeared different on the surface, but they all had the same root. What if I fail. What if people don't like it/me.
In the book I refer to these worries and fears for the main character, Tim, as his trolls so I'll use that same analogy here. My own trolls' #1 agenda was to keep me from publishing Toilet Bowl, to stay safe, to not take any risks.
It's like a mom not approving of her daughter's boyfriend because the boyfriend is the "bad boy." She'll start making suggestions, "How about Karl from church? Or Michael, I heard he helps out at the soup kitchen. Or what about Chris, I heard he's got a nice little blog that he writes."
She's not arguing for any of those other kids directly, she's arguing against the bad boy. It's the third-party, anyone but him vote.
Fear a lot of times is well-disguised pride. The root of not wanting to fail, I think, is because that would present myself in a different light. People seeing me "at my worst." There's a reason a Facebook photo is usually from a nice event, perfect smile vs. just rolled out of bed, unshowered, McRib sauce on my shirt.
Toilet Bowl was about this bathroom company, the family business, sure, but the driving force were two things: A book about worry and a book about friendship. One of the biggest messages of the book is we all have our own shit, none of us are perfect, and so the best relationships aren't where you always have things put together, the spotless bathroom, it's the people who know your flaws, have seen you at your worst, and love you anyways.
I apologize if that last paragraph read like a stoner in a philosophy class (dude, we're like, all bathrooms man), or if what I'm about to write will read like a poor man's Gary Vaynerchuck, but if you are a writer, aspiring writer, or if writing is just a side hobby you love to do, then your message is way too important to let fear or pride win. Whatever your book, blog, article is, it's too important to not get out there.
And it doesn't have to be some big philosophical, life is like a box of bathrooms thing either. If it's just a funny story, or if it's an action packed sci-fi thriller, don't let this final fear stage derail all of your hard work. Spend time on the writing, sure, the editing, the revisions, working with people to help make it better, yes, yes, and yes, but please, please, don't let the trolls win or delay you as long as they did for me.
You will never look back ten years from now and say, "Boy am I glad I didn't finish that book!" More likely it'll be, "What took me so long?"
Plus, here are three things I've learned from the "after publishing" side.
I forgot how nice people are
I don't know exactly what it is, maybe it's a mix of the online bullying headlines + how intense political back-and-forths get on Facebook, but I think I forgot how overwhelmingly nice people are.
People from my hometown have sent congratulations, have said congrats to my parents, I've gotten a few emails from people I haven't heard from in years who are saying they'll buy the book.
This idea that people will laugh at you or look down if it's self-published, I don't think that's a legitimate concern. People are really supportive.
And people have busy lives
I think I also forgot how busy everyone's life is. Game of Thrones can get millions of people to stop what they're doing and tune in for an hour.
My book? Not at all the same.
There's this weird polar opposite attack that the trolls use against writers (another example to why the worries and fears shouldn't be listened to, they can't even agree on an agenda.)
One side: What if no one reads this.
Other side: What if everyone reads this.
I wasn't as worried about the "everyone" side when I wrote a few shorter ebooks or these Medium Rare posts. These aren't personal enough, so if "everyone" reads it, hurrah, party! Clicks and views babay.
I think it was a bigger deal for Toilet Bowl because it was a much more personal book. Far more vulnerable.
But again, people aren't putting their lives on hold to read this book and then deeply analyze the author.
Like you know how you meet someone, they give their name, and just like that you forget it? Well, we are on the other side of that equation too! I worry what will other people think of this book, of me, when in reality a lot of time all they're thinking is, "Now what's that guy's name again?"
And, if the worst case scenario happens, who cares
The bad review. The mean comment. If people are saying bad things about the book behind your back.
It's not a great answer, but really so what.
Adam Corolla talks about this in reference to building an entire car. You can't just start at that step. You have to start with much smaller ones over years, decades, of practice. All the way back to being a kid working on a model car. Then a high school auto shop. Each step gaining a few more skills until you're ready for the big one.
The first book doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't even have to be great. I've never read an author's work and said, "Wow, that was great, but I don't know if I like it, they did write those absolute stinkers 20 years ago."
Because if I didn't get to the finish line with Toilet Bowl, I never would have learned how full of crap my trolls are. I would have still had my Fifty Shades of Fear list and believed those reasons to be legitimate. Now that all of that is in the rear view mirror, I'm about to save a ton of time on the next one.
Toilet Bowl is available as one full book on CreateSpace, Amazon.com, or Barnes and Noble. You can also split it up with Book 1: Meet the Godfreys and Book 2: Tour de Bathroom. Ebook and physical books available for all titles.
What's the story about? Check out the book trailer below.
Other stuff - if you are a basketball fan, I have the spinoff site "Medium Rare Basketball." We've got the "Fast Break Lunch Break" podcast and in the early early stages of this kind of bizarre podcast show about the Sacramento Kings. We also just started some college basketball writings and are looking for more volunteer superfans. Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Missouri, and Michigan State are taken but if you're a die-hard fan of another university, and can put together a quick 3-4 thoughts/notes/observations on your team's games each week, send me an email. We'll get you started.
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