The Fruits of Fear and Failure

Several months ago I had a conversation with an acquaintance about why she didn’t drive.  I had assumed her lack of car and devotion to public transport, and specifically taxis, was an ethical position, but her explanation was more surprising , that she was only prepared to try things at which she would excel, and at her age she thought she’d be no good at driving, so wouldn’t attempt it.

I think about this conversation quite frequently as, although there is a momentary respect for a person holding out against the general trend, driving is rather a life skill that comes in handy in all manner of situations.  And while I have some sympathy with that desire to only excel, there are many things that I’ve enjoyed and experienced only because I tried something new and unknown.

It also begs the question of how you know how competent or otherwise you’re going to be at something until you try.

The conversation came to mind a couple of times while I was on holiday recently.  I’m not particularly confident swimming in the sea; I think the product of watching too many horror and disaster movies of people being dragged under the waves, or running aground on rocks, and an over-active imagination, but I was persuaded into the sea in a large pool area off Speightstown.  It was enjoyable mainly for the cooling properties of the water, but, as my confidence grew, I swam further away from shore and enjoyed it more.

What stalled me from further exploration was the fear of the rocky reef that protected the swimming area, but then, on my last day in Barbados, I was persuaded to attempt snorkelling out beyond the rocks to see the fish on the other side.

‘It’s OK to be afraid.’ my friend said, and held my hand until I had swum over the rocks, pointing out the multitude of little fishes that there hiding there on the way.  It wasn’t far, but it felt like a milestone of sorts.

At the same time, for the last few months I’ve been sending out my first novel trying to find representation for it.  In the round of rejections it’s received thus far, I’m learning resilience, as well as finding amusement in some of the outrageously patronising and self important things some people say and write.  (My current favourite is an instruction in one literary agent’s submission guidelines not to send them any manuscripts which have been widely rejected already.)

On a good day it makes me redouble my efforts.

But it’s OK to be afraid.

Leave a comment


  1. kathyandrew

     /  September 30, 2011

    Yes it is ok to be afraid. In all sort of situations.
    What a rude literary agent.
    My favourite has been not in a rejection, but on their website, to say that they aren’t participating in a ‘beauty contest’. As if as writers we are supposed to sit at home and send them out one by one, wait 2 months , then send out another. I’d say, they feel they already won the beauty contest, and didn’t have the balls to come right out and say so.

    Good luck with the next round of submissions Rowena.

    • Thanks Kathy. I have to keep reminding myself that although they are effectively the gatekeepers to traditional publishing, agents are essentially tiny owner managed businesses who, in a period of rapid change in the industry are developing a siege mentality.

      I’ve not given up on this route just yet, though.

      I hope yours is going well.

  2. Rowena,

    Your fear of swimming out to the rocks is a perfectly reasonable one, entirely human. Your friends fear of driving, well, methinks that could be a far longer discussion.

    As to the novel, have you considered self-publishing? Arguments have been raging about that of late and it’s clear there are major changes going on in that area. Advances are a thing of the past, and as that was the only thing worth having about the whole biz of agents and pub when you think about the terrible contracts, phooey:)

    Self-pub, I’ll buy.


    • Thanks Brendan. Self publishing still feels like the fall back position, but is something I am increasingly thinking about. Thanks for the link.


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