If I had to encapsulate the sum of my writing and publishing experience in one theme it is this: overcoming fear. There are other themes, of course, but truly in twenty years of writing and trying to get published, and then getting published—this is the overarching element. Face your fears or quit.
Fear of rejection, fear of failing, fear of being inadequate to complete the task, fear of not measuring up to whatever expectations I or the world sets for me. And always, the refrain: face your fears or quit.
This quote lives on the wall above my desk. What fears are you facing right now? What giant stares you down and crowds your vision, until all you see are your inadequacies? I have a few of these lumbering specters filling my creative horizon currently, but I’m going to tell you about the one I crashed into most recently. The one I still wear bruises from. If it had to name this particular giant—it would be Daunting.
Daunting crept up on me (yes, even these largest of giants can slip into our lives and catch us unawares,) when I was drafting the sequel to FLASHFALL. More specifically, Daunting made itself known about the time I realized that writing Book Two was not at all like the experience of writing book one. The words didn’t flow, they trickled through cracks in the barren wasteland of my reluctant imagination. I sat at my computer, days on end staring at all that blank space . . . and saw Daunting staring back at me.
I tried music, change of location, taking breaks, reading—all the things we are supposed to do to “fill our creative wells”, but all I could hear was a voice, growing louder day by day, “You are not up to this. There’s no magic. You’re more likely to fail than succeed.”
That blank page was my nemesis. It filled me with dread. And so I began to avoid it. (Not good for a writer with a book under contract.) Ignoring Daunting wasn’t going to make my deadline disappear. There it was again: face your fears or quit.
Two things happened.
I went to a YA book festival, desperately hoping for assurance and inspiration--that illusive spark to my creative wick. Instead, I encountered one negative experience after another, and they crushed me. It was like all my fear giants came out to play Let’s Show Jenny How Inadequate She Is. They dogged me for two straight days at the conference, and I can still see some of the scars they left. However, I managed to hear something past my crippling self doubt that weekend. An author on a panel shared about the hardships of writing and the old adage: “You can’t fix a blank page.”
I’d heard the saying before—so often repeated at writers’ conferences that it’s almost trite. But that weekend—on that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day—I heard it past all the other crap my subconscious was screaming at me. I heard it from a wounded place, a fearful place, the highest peak of Doubt Mountain. It wasn’t a cure, or any kind of silver bullet to knock out Daunting and his pals, but it was . . . a start. To something. A shift of focus. A believing that maybe, I could.
The next day I stared at my computer, determined to at least put down words, even if they sucked. I had created an entire world for FLASHFALL, filled with characters and problems; I had brought Orion and Dram to life and then made their lives horrible with one conflict after another. Why was this time around so. freaking. hard?
I went for a run. I veered from my normal path, aimlessly plodding through neighborhoods, my steps mirroring my chaotic thoughts. I wrestled with plot points—all met with walls. I raked my fingers through the sands of my imagination for anything—one granule of a good scene. I prayed. Where had my muse gone? Was I dried up before my first book had even made its debut?
Suddenly, I was jogging over a child’s art, a design that stretched across the pavement in bold strokes of sidewalk chalk. I smiled, momentarily rescued from my self-absorbtion. Here was something good. Art in its purest form. And then my attention was caught by letters scrawled at the top of the design. One word. Start.
I took it as a Sign From The Universe. A little echo of the author’s words from the conference. Start. Begin. Take the next step. You can’t fix a blank page. So I did what I typically do in these instances, and got out my phone to take a picture and Instagram it. That’s when I noticed the rest of the picture: a stick figure with a name beside it. Orion.
My main character’s name. The girl whose story I’d been struggling to find. And yes, ladies and gentlemen—I cried. But these were happy tears. Here was proof of magic. And magic—even a little—trumps fear giants every time. Daunting receded to my periphery, and “I could” became “I would.”
I would like to say that I sprinted home and words just poured onto my keyboard. They didn’t. That desert still remained. I wrote some sucky scenes. But I STARTED. The next day was only just a tiny bit easier. Daunting wasn’t gone completely, but every step I made took me a step farther from hearing that giant’s voice.
We all have our giants. This life is filled with them, and this artistic, writing life—even more so. What voices are you listening to? Do you have a Daunting of your own? Take a step. A step closer to your goals. We can’t always make our insecurities disappear, but we can choose to shift our attention away from them. Sometimes we just need to start, take the next step. If you’re finding that difficult, imagine my voice, shouting above all the other noise, saying, “You can do this. Your words matter.”
It’s the truth. Even if you have to remind yourself of it every day.
So what goals are you going to conquer?
I’ve waited months for my editor’s revision notes. Truth? I’m nervous. I took some risks writing that draft. Book Two was born from a desert, the words pulled from cracking earth. But I’ve grown some writerly muscles I didn’t have before, and I’ve got the knowledge that—whatever specters I face in the revision cave—I can find the courage to forge my way through.
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Where to find FLASHFALL: Amazon | Goodreads