The catch phrase of the moment at school is ‘risk-taker’. “Be a risk taker!”, they exclaim. My kids are still young. Being a risk taker usually involves trying a banana at snack time or attempting some long division. But I like to think I encourage them to take risks in their every-day life, to try new things, to taste new foods, to read new books and talk to new people. So it’s ironic that while I am encouraging them to venture out and try new things, I am holding myself back from doing the same.
The blog is now almost 6 months old. I’ve got 40 ‘articles’ under my belt and just hit 400 followers (don’t get too impressed, the majority of that number comes from Facebook, which because I publish to my own home-page, counts all my ‘friends’ as followers). And though there is always room for improvement, I feel like I am writing as well as I am going to, given the parameters and the flea market atmosphere of my posts (parenting! ex-pat! knitting!). This weekend, snuggled up cozy in bed with my coffee, (we take turns), I thought I am ready to do this, I am ready to go there. To take the next step, to test the waters in the fiction writing pool again. A vague, soft focus picture of sitting down at my desk in my carefully arranged office cum spare room cum place where I hang my laundry started to form. I thought about buying some fresh flowers, you know, to ambiance the place up a bit. And that’s pretty much where it ended because the very fact that the thought made itself known terrified me to the point of hiding out in the kitchen and doing more laundry, which then got hung in my office cum spare room.
I have written for a long time, as long as I remember. I wrote stories in 1st grade, on wide-spaced, lined paper. I started a hand-written ‘novel’ when I was in 5th or 6th grade, a page torn from a notebook as a cover page, written in swoopy, pre-teen girl penmanship. I was the one that always took the creative writing electives in high school, worked on the school newspaper, wrote bad, angst-y teenage poetry. For a long time I wrote slightly better adult poetry that didn’t rhyme and therefore was taken more seriously. I performed in spoken word readings. I went back to college and switched over to short fiction. I performed more spoken word readings, had work published in the college review, did readings at the school. And then I stopped.
I have boxes of poetry and short stories. I have half-finished stories and random paragraphs and bits and pieces of description and dialogue. Some of them seem ridiculously childish now, written without the kaleidoscope of age and experience to fracture the written world into something colorful and interesting. Some of them are pretty good. A lot of them have a lone sentence or a paragraph of magic, words strung together like jewels in a necklace, hiding out in a mess of dust and grime. Most of it is trite and not worth saving. But words are like babies and it’s hard to throw them out with the bath water.
So why am I scared senseless, petrified of moving on and starting to write fiction again? Because nothing is worse than staring at a blank computer screen. And I am terrified of that. Of drawing a blank, of writing crap, of staring at a blank computer screen. I am confident that I can put words together and make them sound reasonably good. I’m just not sure I have a story to tell. And that is terrifying as well. I have an idea, and it burns momentarily, and then fizzles, like a 4th of July sparkler. All flash and pop for two minutes and then you are left holding a burnt stick.
More often than not, I’m not sure of what I am going to write before I sit down and write it. That works out just fine for a blog. But a novel is different. If I just wrote what I felt like when I felt like it, it would be disjointed and messy and frankly, completely unappealing (so, a bit like 50 Shades of Gray). My husband and I have an inside joke whenever one of us starts a new book. We ask, ‘is it well-written’? I want my book, if there ever is one, to be well-written. But I also want it to be interesting and coherent and a good read.
There are writers that can write gorgeous prose, that can write sentences that make you weep with the sheer beauty of their words, but they aren’t necessarily great story-tellers. And there are writers that are wonderful story tellers, who hit upon a cultural nerve or simply spin a suburb yarn, but aren’t necessarily the best wordsmiths. Then you have a rare few that can make you cry and laugh in the same sentence, that write so wonderfully you are sad when you put down their book, when it has ended and you must say good-bye to the characters.
And of course in my head, unless I can write like that, there seems little point. But that is sabotage of course, it’s how I get out of doing it. It’s how I keep my fear at bay. There’s no way to do that, to harness the way that I write, and produce something worth reading. So I don’t. I stop myself from, as Kingsley Amis said, “applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair”. But I am not sure if it’s the work I am afraid of, the process, or the result.
Write what you know, my professors used to tell us. When I was young and naive and making questionable choices in boyfriends it was easy to write. When I was depressed and felt that words were sometimes the only thing holding me up, it was imperative to write. When I was in school, deadlines and grades and class schedules made it a necessity to write. But now, writing is a luxury. Don’t get me wrong, it feels ‘right’ to write. Writing helps fill a hole which is otherwise left quietly gaping. And yet, I am hesitant to take that to the next level. I’m not sure if I am ready, willing, or able to be a risk-taker.
I like bananas and can do long division though. I guess that’s something.