An instructor at UCLA Extension once told me that writers must be risk-takers. I was devastated by this bit of news–in those days I was always looking for an excuse NOT to write–and this comment proved that being a writer wasn’t something I could do. After all, I was a coward. I wouldn’t even get on a roller coaster. And my survival mode since I was a little kid was to keep everybody–and I mean EVERYBODY–happy, to give them what they wanted which meant the very act of writing was risky.
Why? Because writing takes focus. Writing takes passion. Writers take RISKS. And what about time? What would happen if I couldn’t fulfill everyone’s expectations in REAL LIFE? What would happen if I couldn’t fulfill anyone’s expectation in my WRITING LIFE? Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.
Lucky for me, I was reading Natalie Goldberg at the time. I don’t remember which book, but she said something about how our fear is greatest when we are about to escape our own orbits. Her advice was to charge toward the greatest fear, face it, and shatter it. I determined this was exactly what I needed to do, confront my fears instead of avoiding them, in life and in writing.
I went to Magic Mountain and rode roller coasters. It was amazing. I loved it. And the most important part is that it showed me that I could conquer my fears. The memory of that first roller coaster ride (I didn’t count Space Mountain ) has kept me at the keyboard.
My life has changed through my writing. Striving to write, spending my time alone at the computer, ignoring my family felt selfish, uncomfortable, dangerous. After all, who the hell was I, anyway? But I did it and began to believe in myself and my right to write, growing with each unhappy and discouraging moment, each tidbit of praise.
It’s taken me a very long time to learn that success in writing doesn’t have so much to do with talent or lack of talent, or being in the right place at the right time, or even knowing what magazines might publish. While these are important aspects to making a living, they aren’t important to the writing itself. Success in writing for me must be defined in a larger way: learning to accept myself as who I am, accepting not only that I want to write, but that I don’t need anyone’s permission to sit down at the computer and spend hours doing it. And it’s not only okay for me to write about who I am, how I feel, think, and understand life, but necessary to do so for the work to be good. Once I accepted these truths, I could begin to look outward toward sharing with others.
I’m just beginning to find places that will accept my work and it is thrilling, but more important for me has been my own acceptance of myself. To be oneself, expose oneself, and then face an indifferent and skeptical crowd, that’s the risk every writer takes. I can do it. I am doing it. I’m still on the roller coaster and loving it.
what a fabulous idea to overcome fears by riding rollercoasters! i think you might have started something there gay. x
Yippee Ki Yay. I have been anxiously awaiting RISK and checking every day for it. I love you and I never knew you were afraid of roller coasters! Of course, you know I was too until I was 14 and Magic Mountain is what cured me. Before that I wouldn’t even go on Pirates without crying my eyes out before and getting a headache (if mom and Maude Campbell were here they could tell you all about that lovely day). Go take some more risks please – they are usually pretty damn sucessful!
Gay, I can’t remember the last time I read such a sane and honest and courageous piece about why and how we write. Absolutely it’s to do with laying oneself bare (maybe with a little skimpy scarf or two, like humour, say, to spare our blushes). Once you’ve learned that, you’re flying. I’m loving reading your blog. Thanks for it.