Once, when I was traveling the world and living on an island in Australia, I stood on a great rock, looking down at blue-green water, with a small circle of darkness. The blue-green meant shallow water, and a broken leg, likely, if a jumper landed on it from where I stood. The darkness represented a deep hole, a couple of body lengths deep or more, and maybe my arms’ length in diameter. Deep enough to land in safely, and swim to the surface. It was in the middle of nowhere, so that if you misjudged, you were in trouble. I’d seen several people jump from the rock, land in the darkness, and swim away safely.
I stood on the rock and stared down.
When an author goes from unpublished to (traditionally) published, or non-traditionally best-seller, it is almost like one person to another. They go from the vast pool of unpublished authors, to the perhaps-still-uncertain but undoubtedly recognized professional, with external validation of their path. What I find most fascinating, at least in terms of their writing journey, is what they wrote on writing and publishing BEFORE they crossed the line. How similar to mine were their doubts, methods, and perseverance? What were their honest thoughts and emotions? To what extent am I the same, or different? Is my potential as great or less?
Because it could be less. It is rare for anyone to know their own limitations. Instead, there is a slow drip of reality in this world that eventually brings harsh visibility to the limits of reasonable expectations*. And I don’t say that out of arrogance. When I was a kid, I tried really hard to sing. Not once did I ever get positive reinforcement from an unbiased outsider. Reluctantly, I came to accept my limits in that field. Having some respect for an unblemished forehead, I stopped banging it against that particular wall.
With writing (and even more with art), it’s been different. I’ve always had kernels of success, and some especially enthusiastic responses to my art. Writing is a longer and less visible endeavour, but I’ve had some positive reinforcement there, too.
With novels, the work to produce them is a year or more. I’m getting close to finishing Black Diamonds, sending it out into the world. I’m standing at the top of that rock, staring down at the darkness, knowing that if I miss it’s going to hurt. A lot. But knowing that if I don’t jump, it will be cowardice. I need to know.
In Australia, I took a single step forward and jumped, my thoughts cold and clear as ice. I hit the water and sank down. Into the dark well. I won.
Soon I’ll hit the send button on Black Diamonds. I’m standing on the cliff again, feeling fear creep up. I hope the manuscript does well. If it misses, it will hurt, I know. Hopefully not too much. But either way, I’ll send it out. And the next one too. Because positive feedback, even if minor, continues to come. The opening chapter of Black Diamonds recently got a five star critique on OWW. I haven’t hit the wall yet.
And if I hit that black well at last, sinking into the cool water of success, it will be worth it…
I hope. At the very least, it’ll hurt a lot less. 🙂
- I don’t mean for this to be a discouraging post for those have doubts either. Writing is a calling for many, and I don’t want anyone to stop on account of me. Reinforced by the fact that writing is a craft, so no-one should judge their potential by their early awkward efforts. Same as you wouldn’t judge your hockey playing ability the first time you stepped on the ice. And even beyond that, if you like writing, why would you even want to stop? There are a plethora of pool halls filled with people who have no intention of being the next Minnesota Fats. But I thought it might be worthwhile to share how I view my own journey, my doubts and aspirations, for those who might be traveling it with me. And even more if I have some success and someone is curious about what my thoughts were before I crossed that line…
The image here was a quick whip-up for the post. About a half an hour’s work, still wet when I photo’d it, watercolor washes (blurred slightly on the computer) and charcoal.