out of the way, fear

The past two weeks have been unexpectedly stressful. Early on, I visited the doctor for a very overdue physical. While he examined me and ordered a battery of standard tests, I finally took the opportunity to also get tested for a particular health concern I’d been worried about for years. Until that day, fear had always prevented me from getting checked. Fear that the truth might be horrible. Fear of what that could mean for my life. After all, I hadn’t exactly made the wisest choices when it came to my health. And there had been certain symptoms that were potential indicators.

So I got tested. The days passed. I tried to focus on other things. It wasn’t that hard, really. Life goes on and so forth, right? Plus there have been very good, exciting things happening right now. Manuscript progress. Production company progress. Meetings with new people. I’m really thrilled and surprised by it all. But as I drew closer to my follow-up appointment, I was reminded more and more of the step I’d taken. If something was wrong, there would be no more chances to pretend otherwise. God. I looked back on all my crappy decisions with regret.

Finally, the day came, and I no longer had any idea how I ought to feel. Hopeful? Pessimistic? Blasé? What did it matter, really? The results were the results, regardless of how I faced it.

Bless my doctor. He wasted no time and began with those results. First he said it, then he showed me. I was in the clear. All negative. It wasn’t until then that I realized the enormity of the anxiety and doom I’d wrapped myself in.

It’s been a revelatory experience, feeding not just the storyteller in me (as most experiences do), but forcing me to reassess a lot of things in my life. In a good way. But the doctor wasn’t’ done with me. After running through the rest of the lab results (I’m in surprisingly great shape, given my appearance), he threw me a curveball with an unexpected diagnosis. And while it’s not nearly as serious as what could’ve been, it’s still a bit of a game-changer that demands some radical changes. I’d already been on the road to change, but now there’s a real necessity to pursue it a little more aggressively.

A co-worker told me to consider it a wake-up call and not something so negative. My mother agrees. They’re right, too, though it’s harder to apply that perspective than it is to agree with it. Despite all that, I’m incredibly lucky. What surprises me most, I guess, is that I actually feel lucky.

have courage

Synopsis update: My mom has decided to help me out. She shocked me with a one-paragraph effort that is not terrible. So. It seems I finally have a place to begin.

 

Most of us know that it takes courage to start something. To take that first step, to be the first (or one of the first) to speak up.

Why is it so scary, though? Because those actions bring change. Change makes me anxious. Of course, change can be a great thing. Sometimes change is a necessary thing. Sometimes comfort isn’t what’s best for us. Sometimes.

Shortly before I finished film school, I had ideas regarding the future. A move to LA, the hunt for a job, the quest for a career in TV or film–writing, either way. Sadly, I didn’t take the necessary steps to develop those ideas into a plan. So when graduation finally came around and it was time to leave, I decided instead to return home to Chicago, relax, do a victory lap (celebrating my graduation), work some, save some, and move to LA soon after.

That was three years ago.

To be fair, I planned on taking about a year, so I’m really only two years behind schedule. 🙂 But as a friend recently pointed out to me, it doesn’t appear that I’m going to be ready anytime soon. I haven’t saved enough. I haven’t really saved anything. Not that I’m a spender, just that my job doesn’t pay enough to cover my bills, pay for food, and leave me money to save. And psychologically… I think I’ve regressed, just a little. I feel less independent than how I felt at film school. It was an exciting, scary time. Life today really isn’t that exciting.

When I was little, I thought a lot about what I’d do as an adult. I had different career aspirations then. A doctor or musician or President. I was on a good track to become a musician… just not the kind of musician I actually wanted to be.

I ended up taking a lot of unexpected detours after my dad died. I’m not trying to lay blame, except on myself. Out of all my reactions, the one I think that I never paid attention was fear. I became afraid. Of life, maybe. Oh, I’m not a wuss. There are a lot of things I should be afraid of that don’t concern me. But there are a lot of things that I shouldn’t care about that, on some level, terrify me to my soul. Failure, rejection, risk… they scare me. Not in all things, which is why I can securely say I’m not a wuss. 🙂 I think, though, it’s failure at life. Rejection at life. Risk at life–not the physical kind–but the other kind.

It’s a tragic irony that I’ve set my sights on an industry that’s loaded with all of those possibilities.

My friend asked me last night how ready I would be to go with him to LA next spring. I spent a long time trying to determine my answer. The best, most honest response I could finally come up with was I don’t know. Fear makes it hard to think, difficult to analyze. Fear takes the truth and stretches it out of proportion. Fear can lie. Fear can blind.

Courage is the natural answer, of course. But courage requires will and strength. If you’re unaware of your strength, of where you may find it, or if you even have it, courage is a difficult thing to possess. Another friend of mine says that when all else fails, just fake it. Yeah, I’ve faked it before, but I’m not sure I ever realized at the time that I was faking it. My mom says a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yeah. There’s truth in that. We all tend to do what we have to do.

It’s come back again to know what I want to do, what I need to do with my life. That hasn’t changed, thankfully, or perhaps not thankfully. It might… might be easier if I turned my thoughts to something more mundane like a 9-to-5 job, settling down in the Chicago burbs, and didn’t think about writing ever again. But I can’t do that. Writers know they can’t do anything else except write.

Is there courage in knowing that? I hope so. I could use a little courage right now.

over the hump

Part of me wonders if this should’ve gone along with my thoughts about fear, because I suspect it has a lot to do with fear. And perfection. And the fear of not creating something perfect.

Btw, I ended up sort of taking a break from writing. Instead, I’ve been stressing about writing.

We all want to write our best, and we want people to read our best. We want it to be perfect. (At least I do.) Maybe for pride, maybe for self-respect, I think maybe to convince us that all the hell we went through taking our story from beginning to end was worth it. Why else spend weeks/months/years toiling over something?

I’m having some trouble pulling the trigger on my book. The reasons appear to be valid, and yet… I wonder if there are always going to be reasons. I mentioned my problem to a friend. She took some time and helped me work through it. I feel a lot better.

Now I just need to do my research for an agent/publisher. It’s deceptively complicated. In some ways, it’s as simple as visiting writersmarket.com (if you have a subscription), querytracker.net, or agentquery.com and finding someone that’s looking for what you’ve written. But I think it’s more involved than just spamming your search results with a query letter. Over the last couple months, I attended a few seminars on the various stages of writing and publishing. Some of the success stories were too unlikely to model my own pursuit after, but I did gleam some wisdom from them. Finding an agent is like finding a significant other. It’s a committed relationship you’re looking for, built on the trust that the other person wants what’s best for you and will strive to help you achieve your dreams. So you could try to speed-date your way to a successful match. Or you could be more deliberate and reach out to those you feel might really understand what it is you’ve written and what you hope to do with it. Last year I sent out two query letters. They both met with standard rejections. Before I tried, I was worried how I’d react to a rejection. Well. I was fine, and I got the proof I needed to realize I will be okay if/when I get rejected again. That fear is over.

There are a lot of websites describing the incredible perseverance of many popular, critically-acclaimed writers to make their first sell. Go look them up. It’s crazy, but I find it encouraging. Don’t give up, right? That’s the moral of the story there. The writer that gives up never gets published, produced, or representation. For those of us who’ve gotten as far as finishing a book/script, we soon realize that that was the easy part. Selling it is the hard part. The research, the query, the waiting, the rejection. Sometimes even hearing that someone else we know achieved success. (I’m not bitter, honest.) You know, the whole “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” thing.

It’s really tempting for me to set all that aside and just start working on the next book. My brain definitely wants to go to that creative well again, dive in, swim around… you get the metaphor. And if I hadn’t decided to get really serious about making this my career, that would be fine. But doing that won’t help me keep moving forward. My screenwriting partner likes to give me a lot of grief for, what he believes to be, wasting time on trying to get published. He much prefers I focus on scripts, and I can understand where he’s coming from. But as long as I’m actually pushing myself forward, as long as I’m querying agents, I’m never going to see this as a waste of time. When I stop trying, when I go back to doing manuscripts just “for fun,” that’s when I’ll realize it’s time to let go and get back to scriptwriting. And since I’m not there yet, I really need to put my money where my mouth is. I need to get cracking on agent research. I need to send out those query letters, pronto.

So wish me luck. The goal? Have an update on this by next time. 🙂

something about fear

So I finished my book.

A few years ago, I said the same exact thing. And it was true at the time. I had finished my book. And then I went back to work on it. It’s completely different now. It’s shorter, more streamlined. It’s better. And, I think, in all the ways that matter most, it is done. I started trimming my word count a while ago. It’s a tedious process, and one that’s still ongoing. If I were to continue that, then I guess it’s not finished. But it’s done.

Why am I repeating myself? I think it’s because I’m a little scared about what comes next. What comes next? I’m not sure. I mean, I know most of what I’m supposed to do. Shop it around to agents and publishers, shop ’til I drop. Start working on the next thing, be it a script or another book. I’ve been dragging my heels with a few other projects in my mad rush to get this done. So it’s not fear from not knowing what to do. Not exactly. Maybe a little.

I’ve spent years developing, writing, carrying this story from start to finish, after numerous edits and beta-reads. And my writer’s group. Aside from the word trim, I am done making cuts, adding stuff, reshuffling scenes. It really is time to send out query letters.

I think I’m scared that, in a way, this chapter of my life is coming to a close. My journey with the book isn’t over, no. There’s still the oh-so-wonderful adventure of trying to sell it to someone. But the brainstorming, the fixing, the discussing problems and such, it’s over. It’s time to move on to the next thing. I used to know what the next book would be about. I don’t know anymore. That scares me. The query letter stuff scares me. The unknown kinda scares me.

Maybe so much that I ended up freaking myself out with questions about the validity of my book! Maybe it’s not done! Maybe it’s the wrong book! I even entertained the notion of giving up the goal of becoming a writer. (The fact that one of my best friends and I argued about whether I could, in fact, call myself a writer didn’t help things. Whatever, that’s for a different day.)

This book has consumed most of my waking hours for the last four years. I stayed up into the wee hours working on it. I spent most of my time at work (whatever job I had) thinking about it and jotting down the occasional note. It was sort of like being in a relationship.

Another friend wondered if I was afraid of success. I’d heard of this. I’d learned about it in undergrad. It didn’t make sense to me, and it’s not like finishing the book was the success I was really after. But it felt true. I guess it’s not so rare. I’m hesitant to take another step. I have a decent query letter. I’ve gotten some good feedback on it. I feel good about it. Research is something I’m pretty good at, too. I don’t know. It’s just… I don’t know.

Fear can get in the way of a lot of things. It can get in the way of living. Turns out I’m afraid of a lot of things, and none of them were things I expected to ever fear.

Maybe I need a few days. Maybe even a week. To detox. Take a break from writing. Recharge and get reinvested. I hope that’ll do it. Because fear or not, I am ready.

people aren’t perfect

News flash, right?

Most of the time, I don’t believe in the concept of perfect. A perfectly-prepared meal, perfectly-written paper, perfect performance. You get the idea. Theologically–if you lean that way–perfection is generally unattainable in this life. If you swing atheist… well, I don’t actually know what you’d have to say about it. But I think you’d at least agree that people aren’t perfect.

We know this. Right? This isn’t a news flash, is it? So, then why is it so difficult to accept criticism? I’m usually pretty good at taking criticism, whether I deserve it or not. Film school pretty much functioned on the assumption that if you were there, you were open to others’ opinions. I guess I’m pretty expressionless, because it seems a lot of people thought I didn’t care for their opinions or intended to ignore them, neither of which was true. I listen very carefully to critiques. Whether I agree with them or not, it’s always important to understand why someone thinks a portion (or all) of my work could be better.

As I said, no one’s perfect, and we don’t produce perfection. For a writer, this is just part of the process. First draft, second draft… the idea of a final draft is more wishful thinking than a goal, I think. We all know, that draft will never really be finished. There’s always tinkering to be done.

I remember one particular incident. I was reading from my thesis before the entire department faculty–or, at least, those who had decided to show up. And several of my peers. Afterward, everyone got to speak their mind. I can’t remember what the process was called, but I think the word “trial” was in there somewhere, or should have been. One of my professors–he shall remain nameless–gave me very on-point feedback. I nodded politely and listened. At some point, he stopped, laughed, and accused me of, well, of preparing to ignore it. Not true, but my thesis committee and I fought extensively when it came to my script.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. But I think at some point, we all feel the urge to defend our work. Just because I disagree with your opinion, it doesn’t mean I’ve ignored your opinion. It just means that I’m not you, my work isn’t your work, it’s my responsibility and not yours. My name goes on it, so I must be comfortable and confident of the final (using that word loosely) product. I guess people feel they need to defend their opinions sometimes, too, and that’s where conflict can start. I’m part of a fantastic writer’s group. A lot of talent. Great writers and storytellers… and perhaps, great egos to go with it. Sometimes we’re eager to get our work torn to shreds, already judging it poorly for ourselves. And other times, well, don’t even think about poking at this piece of dialogue or character choice. It can get tense, but I think we all come out better for it.

I may have mentioned it before, but sometimes this fear of criticism–from others or from yourself–can get in the way. If you’re a perfectionist like me (yes, I’m laughing at the irony, too) you want it to be just right before committing to it, as if you can pen it inside your head first, then quickly scrawl it down on the page. Maybe it works that way for some people. It doesn’t for me. My brain just doesn’t have the processing power to actually write a book, word for word, in my head. At first, I worried it would be the same with my blog. I would need feedback before posting it, I would have to do second and third drafts, polishes, proofs (well, maybe that, at least), and so on before I could publish it. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. I write, I proof, I publish. No one sees this until it’s up. I don’t even look at it again until it’s up. Writing hasn’t been this organic for me since… I can’t remember. Grade school? Junior high? It’s strange and innocent and fresh and terrifying, and I wonder what my fiction would look like if I could ever apply this same fearlessness there.

Well. Whatever it would be, it still wouldn’t be perfect. 🙂