"Everyone is afraid of something...but we are all brave inside. We just have to find that brave part within us." Orange Princess Has a Ball by Alyssa Crown
A few weeks ago, after copious amounts of brainstorming and preplanning, I finally reached the "it's time to write" phase of my new book. And you know what? It was a hellacious two days. I wrote five different opening scenes and every one of them was awful. I wrote pages of notes brainstorming what that scene needed to be. I wrote and brainstormed and wrote and critiqued and dug in with every fiber of my soul until my head finally exploded.
And by the end, after all that work... did I finally have a good scene? Did I finally see light? No, actually I was utterly frustrated, unable to think clearly, and absolutely paralyzed in my ability to handle the story. I was convinced that I would never be able to write this book. That the idea must be inherently, fatally, flawed, and that the brilliance of the idea would never see the light of day because it Just Didn't Work.
I sucked (not just my writing--me, personally, because a writer always has to take failure personally, right). My brain was useless. My talent was vamoose.
So, instead leaping up with a roar of fury, hurling my computer and my brain out the window, I did the mature thing (amazing, isn't it?) and simply turned off my computer and walked away. I knew it was time to throw in the towel, to give myself permission simply to admit failure and turn off the effort.
All day it continued to stress me out, the fact I couldn't get this book started. I mean, I was really letting it get to me.
Then that evening, when I reading to my daughter, we came across the quote listed above. The moment I read that, I stopped, I reread it again, and then one more time. My five year old looked at me, put her hand over her heart and she said
"Mommy, that means that you are brave in your heart."
And as she said that, I finally understood what had derailed me so thoroughly all day. It was fear. Fear of writing a scene that wasn't good enough. Fear of not doing justice to the amazing idea that I had all worked out in my head and on hundreds of pages of notes. Fear of running out of time to get it written. And a fear of failure, failure of gargantuan levels, that I would NEVER figure out how to write that opening scene in a way that was as brilliant and worthy as I knew it needed to be.
It haunts us all the time. It might be a fear of financial shortages. It might be a fear of rejection. It might be a fear of making the wrong decision. It might be a fear of trusting the wrong person. It might be a fear of dying. It might be a fear of not being able to give your children or your loved ones everything they need. It might simply be a fear of making a mistake.
When I started to think about fear, and I took stock of my assorted triggers for feeling stressed or cranky, I realized that almost all of them stemmed from a fear of something. It actually made me feel better to read that little blurb in a kids book, because it made me realize that I'm not the only one walking hand in hand with fear.
I recognized it: I waltz with fear, and I let it win.
Great. So now what? How do you shake it? Well... I read on.
"'Everyone is afraid of something, Kristina," Grandma Soo said, 'but we are all brave inside. We just have to find that brave part within us.''How do you do that?' Kristina asked.
Grandma Soo thought for a moment. 'I think you find it when you need it most,' she said.*
At first blush, I found that an entirely unsatisfactory answer. Hello? I'm paralyzed by fear right now. I'm not seeing that bravery... but then I thought about it some more, and I realized that what the book was saying was that courage and bravery are in there, in your heart, and it's always accessible to you, no matter how much the world seems to be falling apart around you.
If you can just slow down to catch a breath, one breath, and use that strength within you start scraping away at the fear, maybe you can get enough space to think clearly, to take a step, to make one little move that makes you feel better. And then with each step you take, each positive thought you manage to think eases that vice grip fear has on you and makes it that much easier to breathe.
For me, the simple realization that my logjam with the book was based on fear helped ease it a little. I told myself, "There's no reason to be afraid. There really isn't." And that felt better. And then I picked up another piece of writing I needed to work on, one that was easy for me, and I worked on that.
My ability to handle that other bit of writing helped calm me down and restore my self-confidence a little bit. It gave me a little bit of momentum. And I took that momentum and.... did nothing. I didn't try to jump back into the book that was troubling me, because I was still too overwhelmed. But what I did was use that momentum to keep working on my mindset, so when I thought about going back to that other book and felt the panic closing in on me, I was able to say, "You know you can do it. You know it always works out okay." And then those words felt good, and right, and I relaxed a little bit more.
I took one more day off from that book, and I spent it working on other writing projects that were easy, and that I'm good at. More momentum, more rebuilding, hoping and telling myself that, by the next day, I my mind would clearer, and I'd be ready to tackle that troublesome book. I told myself that I might have to write seven more terrible opening scenes, but I would would smile while doing it, and give myself permission to be fearful. I promised that, when things started to implode again, I remind myself that inside me, I already have all I need to manage the situation, or at least my reaction to it, so that I can move forward and deal with it to the best of my ability, instead of bowing under the pressure.
I didn't start working on that scene until ten o'clock the next night. I was so stressed and I knew the only way to deal with that stress was to tackle it. So, I sat down, I wrote several paragraphs on how it didn't matter if it was good, that it didn't matter if anyone liked it, that I was writing just for fun... everything I could think of to take the fear away enough for me to think.
Then, I started to write, and within two minutes, I had the perfect opening scene all figured out. TWO MINUTES. After days and days of struggling, when I finally cleared my head and stopped panicking, the real wisdom was able to come out. I finally became brave enough to write without fear, and that's when it finally worked.
Turns out, Grandma Soo is right. I have that bravery inside me. That means I can do it, whether it's writing or coping with personal issues or whatever. I can do it. I really can.
*Orange Princess Has a Ball, by Alyssa Crowne