This is how this blog post was to begin:
“Prisoner 45769, you understand the reason why you’re here?”
And then, all the clear thoughts that I’ve had in the last few days related to that story disintegrated into a thousand dusty parts and were carried away to the Land Without Imagination.
I have absolutely no idea why.
But, that’s not true. I know why. My brain’s doing that thing it does: When the stakes are high, it stops being able to work through problems, re-evaluate plans, or find a way out. My fingers become clumpy and I spend more time hitting the backspace key than putting letters on a screen that might make up a story.
This same “brain freeze” happened to me in University when I wrote my first-year exams and it suddenly occurred to me, Okay, if I don’t pass this test, it’s game over for me. The professors already said half of us won’t be here next year. Then, I would uncomfortably shift in my chair. I would cross and uncross my legs. Frantically, I would look down at my watch as my throat tightened and my heart pounded in my chest. In desperation, I’d flip through the pages to see how many questions I had to complete, and hunt for easy questions I could answer as the digital numbers crept closer to the end time. Most of the time, my brain unfroze. But sometimes, it didn’t.
Why can’t I write now? Writer’s block? Maybe. If I were to guess though, I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve gambled everything I have on a writing career. Both feet are in, and I’m one hundred percent committed to making this work. Savings, be damned. Except now that I’ve given everything up, what happens if I fail? Then what?
Transitions are hard. When I first started writing, the same terror swept across my keyboard when I tried to write the first words for a novel and I just sat there. Then slowly, like a teetering toddler standing on their tippy-toes taking their first steps, I wrote one word and strung them together to form complete sentences and built chapters. A year later, I had a complete manuscript.
Cold sweats drenched my body again when my first manuscript was passed to an editor for review; when I submitted my first short story to a literary journal; and when I drafted query letters to literary agents; and built packages for publishers. Once again, I felt this same level of trepidation before hitting the “publish” button on my first blog post. (Some successes with each new step taken, but a lot of rejection too. And none of this scares me anymore.)
The writing fear becomes overwhelming, whenever I take another fearful step forward. My problem is this: I don’t do well with going nowhere. Going in reverse also doesn’t make me happy. So, at this point, I have no choice, but to move forward.
I know that right now, I’m struggling to create. What I didn’t realize in University was that my Degree didn’t hinge on just one test. It was a combination of different parts: writing assignments, tests, exams and showing up to classes. The mix of all these things, and working hard at them, meant that I did earn my Degree. I have my suspicions that writing might be along the same lines. Some days are easy with words built on one another in a rhythmic movement. Other days, other times, in particular when I face crossing an old rickety rope bridge over ocean waves that smash against rocks, it might be that I need to lift one shaking toe forward before I take one full step.