“Stop your hand-wringing. Time to shit or get off the pot.”
Ever heard about that tool in the writer’s toolbox where you learn to recognize your crutch words? The easy ones you fall back on during drafts? Well, I’ve discovered a crutch behaviour. I’m supposed to be able to recognize when to push forward. When to jump off that cliff. When to raise that sword and strike.
And yet I dither.
This wasn’t always the case. When I was twelve, I became very interested in getting published. I wanted to tell my stories. I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be recognized as worthy—and let me tell you, for a bullied nerd, that meant more than you can imagine. But I was also a firstborn child and an academic overachiever, so I did a lot of research to find out the average age when most authors were published. Turned out to be 35. And I wanted to do better.
Oh younger self. What great hubris you had. Let’s just say that a healthy pile of rejections cured me of that.
Psychoanalysis time. To put it simply: there have been times in my life where my confidence has ebbed. That’s when the dithering increases. Fear makes me want to hide. Because sometimes the limbo of not knowing, not acting is more comfortable than the risk of harsh reality. What if I get rejected? Or worse, what if I get accepted? Then it’s suddenly real, and— and—
Here’s the thing, though. Have I really just been dithering? I’ve still been putting energy into this dream of mine, even when things have been at their worst. Over the years, I reached out, found the right websites for the level I was currently at, stumbled into the right situations. Volunteering at a library’s book camp as a counselor had me taking notes when the authors spoke. One of those authors noticed and told me I needed to go to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SIWC), a professional event I’ve been attending ever since. From that, I learned that I was quite good at taking notes, and when I found Magical Words and fell in love with that site and found there was a convention where the authors met up, I jetted across the continent and attended that, too. And after a few years, I found kindred spirits amongst the friends I’d made, and that led to us forming a retreat group.
That same group with whom I’m now sharing this blog.
Each year, we’ve worked hard. We rent a cabin by a lake and pay an author to be there with us, to teach us in the craft. Which has been useful beyond belief. The first year was a sort of trial run, yet still filled with useful lessons. The second year (2015), at the end of the week, the author told us frankly, “I’ve taught you everything I know. You should get this other author to come next year instead.” So we did. And at the end of the week this year, the second author also said, “I’ve taught you everything I know.” Followed by the daunting phrase: “You guys are ready.”
Oh. Um. *gulps*
By the way: that “hand-wringing” comment, made by a friend at the time in early 2002, had nothing to do with writing. No, in that case, I’d been crushing madly on a college classmate and, being the socially awkward nerd I was, didn’t know how to approach a member of the opposite sex. Oh, I’d get over it eventually, but those words really stuck with me. Probably because they made me uncomfortable.
Probably because they dared me to act.
Now, nearly fifteen years later, here I am. 942,539. My millionth word fast approaches, if I haven’t already passed it (given that the count’s derived only from what I can find, and I know I wrote other stuff that I’ve lost the files for). But it’s moot. Point is, I’m 34. I’ve been writing seriously with a desire to publish for more than two decades. I’ve had my ups and downs, times when my confidence has every reason to be rock bottom, and this past year has been particularly challenging. I currently have several completely legit reasons (loss, grief, health, stress) to not be capable of managing anything.
And yet at SIWC last weekend, an author I see every year told me she looks forward to having me as a student, because she knows she’ll have something good to read. And she agreed with the sentiment that I’m ready.
Oh. Um. Well, okay then.
My point is, this is one version of the journey. It’s important to seize opportunities when you recognize them, and to get involved with things that interest you, because you never know where they may lead. And to understand that even when you don’t think you’re doing enough, every step you take on your own journey is still forward momentum, and matters, because it’s important to never stop learning. And then suddenly you glance back and realize how far you’ve come, and that’s its own confidence booster.
And then suddenly there’s no more need to dither.