It has been a long time since I thought of dragons as mythological fire-breathing lizards capable of taking out an entire city with one sweep, The Hobbit notwithstanding. For me, dragons are the thoughts and conversations I have with myself, those mental hobgoblins that tell you that you aren’t good enough, or that you can’t do something, or that reviewers, editors, agents (insert relevant word here) are busily plotting your destruction.
Dragons are very real, and for writers, who spend hours alone with their own thoughts, they are deadly creatures, capable of stealing your will and your confidence,. They are insidious little things that make you ask yourself why anyone would like to read a book about a fraudulent medium just because you would, or what in the hell makes you think that you can write a paranormal historical young adult novel with a romance triangle when they are dying—yes, dying, even though you read four last week and your own hunger for them never wanes?
These are the demons that tell you that your family will never accept you as a writer, or that Grandma would be humiliated if you wrote that love scene that adds drama and tension and poignancy to your novel, or that killing that dog in your book—OMG! NOT THE DOG!—is not a good idea because, you know … a dog … and everyone loves dogs. Perhaps instead the murderer could flush a goldfish instead because that’s not so mean and there’s still a chance it could live in the city sewers. And what about that story idea you keep having about an immoral unreliable narrator? Don’t you know readers won’t read an unsympathetic character? And that vampire idea that won’t leave you alone—haven’t there been too many vampire books? And what about that editor who said she hated pirate books and don’t ever write one never never never! No matter that the book you’ve wanted to write for twenty years, the book of your heart, is a pirate book?
Dragons are worse than critics and reviewers. They are worse than editors and agents and critique partners. They are the things you tell yourself in the dead of the night, the doubts you have about yourself and your work, every insecurity you’ve ever had coming to roost with eerie and brutal finality.
And you are not the only one who has them. Everyone does. Every writer from the beginning of time has asked themselves what in the hell they think they’re doing. Everyone has said: No one will want to read this. No one will ever buy this. No agent in their right mind would look at this twice.
Vampire books are passé. Really? Holly Black just came out with a kick-ass vampire book that puts a whole spin on the genre, just as Anne Rice did two decades ago, when no one thought it could sell. And as for that huge epic that everyone said not to write because it was so long? Two of the best selling and best reviewed books of last year weighed in at more than 700 pages each. And as for “No one wants to read this but me”—do you really think you are so different, so unique, that no one else in the world will like what you do? My guess is no.
No one might be looking for the next vampire book, or pirate book, or historical paranormal, but a good book is a good book, and that IS what editors, agents and readers are looking for. That 900 page tome you’re writing? Well, if no one can put it down, it’s 900 pages of brilliance. Yes, if you write a huge book, or a vampire book, or something that’s “not done” or “overdone,” it will make selling harder, but if you’re writing with passion, and you’re writing what you want to read, and you’re doing it with integrity and fervor and joy, well then you’re halfway there, aren’t you? You’ve already gone a long way toward beating those dragons.
And about one thing, those legends were right: the pen IS mightier than the sword. Slay your dragons with intention and hope, purpose and determination—because Chesterton was right: they can be beaten.
Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of several novels. The Best Reviews has said she writes “Fascinating historical fiction.” Her books have been chosen for the Borders Original Voices program and IndiBound’s Booksense. A former television news photographer with a BA from Western Washington University, Megan Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. Find her at: http://www.MeganChance.com.