Coming to grips with the worst-case scenario for my writing career

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about worst-case scenarios. Any reader of my blog has to have noticed that I’ve had a fair amount of writing success lately (and there’ve been other great things that I haven’t mentioned, like a revision request from an editor; an invitation to submit to a closed anthology; and another super awesome thing that I will hopefully post about in a few days [not, unfortunately, a novel sale]). And all this success has been great!

But it’s also seriously stressed me out. Before, I was pretty sure that every submission I sent out was going to end in a rejection. Now there’s this constant uncertainty! It could sell! It really could! Recently, I had a submission at The Magazine of Fantasy And Science Fiction for 90+ days (I even queried by email at sixty days and was told that Gordon Van Gelder was really considering it for real and everything). Now, that’s awesome. A year ago, I’d never gotten anything but form rejections from F&SF. Now, they’re thinking about buying a story from me? It was really awesome. But also very nervewracking. Since I know that Gordon is pretty much the only editor who accepts stories by snail mail, the hope that I’d sell to F&SF was alive and well until pretty much the moment that I opened the envelope.

Well, I didn’t sell that story to them. It wasn’t so bad, but the whole thing did take a very real emotional toll on me. And this is the same emotional toll that I suffer from every near miss. When I had no success, I felt like I had nothing to lose. Now, I feel like I am putting my reputation on the line with each submission. It’s definitely better than being uniformly rejected, but I had learned to deal with uniform rejection, and I haven’t yet learned to deal with this.

Which is why I recently read Dale Carnegie’s self-help guide How To Stop Worrying And Start Living. This book has a lot of good advice (although I think it might work better for people with a less morbid disposition than myself), but one thing that I took away from it is that when a person is worrying about something, he ought to clearly outline the worst-case scenario. Without a clear worst-case scenario, the dread is very generalized and all-encompassing. But once we have a worst-case scenario, we realize that it’s not that bad.

With my writing hobby / vocation / career, the worst-case scenario is surprisingly bearable. Under the worst case scenario, I suffer a few years of declining success (i.e. I recede from my current high point) and realize that this isn’t really going to happen for me. I slowly downsize my writing commitment and start producing just a few stories a year. I go to graduate school and major in something practical (like Economics). I get a solid public policy or private sector job. I start looking for ways to achieve success in my job (rather than my current strategy of downscaling job commitments to focus on writing). And, as a side benefit, I get way more time to catch up on my video games.

It’s definitely not what I want, but it’s also not something that I need to be terrified of. And that’s good. I think that in some cases terror can be a goad to greater effort and productivity. But I also think that terror really has the potential to kill off my creativity. Right now, I’m still trying to find the right mindset with which to approach my neo-pro status, but I have confidence that I’ll figure it out eventually.

Comments (



  1. Debs

    The pressure we put ourselves under.

    But, Rahul, if that’s the better worst case scenario, what’s the worst worst case scenario?

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Oh, the worst worst case scenario was that I didnt see any success but I also didn’t quit. Instead I just became steadily more angry and embittered and it poisoned my odds of happiness. But that seemed like an unlikely scenario to me, so I left it out of the post. Also, I am not sure that embitterment is a real thing, I feel like people are just naturally bitter or naturally not bitter and that there is very little lifetime crossover between the two groups.

      1. Debs

        Ah, yes. That would be bad.

        Errr, sorry for asking. But I think you’re right, you’re either bitter or your not, so it’s not a big worry for you.