It’s funny. You go through your life (intuitive person that you are) following your inner guidance, listening to that still, small voice…until. Until the still, small voice tells you something you don’t want to hear, something that, for whatever reason, scares the hell out of you.
That’s when all that allowing yourself to be led, all that going with the flow, all that surrendering to the call flies right out the window. Suddenly, you’re having a knock-down, drag-out fight with your inner guidance, digging in your heels and saying, “Yes, but…” or even “Hell, no!” Well, that was me about six months ago.
Except for a few stories I wrote in my junior high language arts classes, all the writing I’ve ever done has been non-fiction: journalism (mostly dance reviews and features, a few gardening articles), marketing copy, press releases, business and fundraising letters, grant-writing, blog posts, etc. etc. However, last fall, I started a freelance writing job that involved writing short articles for children, including short fiction pieces. I was surprised to find that not only were the fiction pieces easier to write than I’d expected, but I also enjoyed writing them, and the client seemed to really like my stories.
Great, right? It’s always nice when you enjoy your day job.
Then, sometime around the beginning of March, I started getting this (for lack of a better term) “nudge” from my inner guidance. The nudge was saying, in so many words, “You need to be writing fiction.”
My initial response was something along the lines of: “Hey, just because I enjoy writing these fiction pieces for kids, it doesn’t mean I’m supposed to all of a sudden become a fiction writer.” After which I decided to just ignore the nudge. Which (pesky nudge that it was) didn’t go away. My argument then escalated to: “But I’m not a fiction writer! I’ve never even thought about writing fiction!” No dice. The nudge kept nudging.
“Okay, fine,” I said one day, “if I’m supposed to be writing fiction, then I need something to write about, and I’ve got nothing. I can’t write fiction if I’ve got nothing to write about, so if you want me to write fiction, you’re just going to have to give me some ideas.”
I should know better.
I’ll be darned if the nudge didn’t wake me up one morning with a scene opening in my head—three sentences, clear as a bell. Luckily, having recorded my dreams off and on for years, I keep a notebook on the bedside table, so I promptly sat up and wrote down what I’d been “given.”
My reaction was twofold. Reaction #1: “Damn. The nudge gave me an idea. Now I have to do something with it.” Reaction #2: “This is kind of cool. Weird, but cool.”
A couple of mornings later, I woke up with yet another idea/story seed. Don’t ask me how I know it was a story idea instead of a dream, I just know. But instead of having words drop into my brain, this time it was like watching a video. I even got a title.
I thought, “Well, shoot. Now I have two story ideas. I guess the nudge is serious about this fiction-writing thing.”
So I went and pulled all of my “how to be a writer” books off the shelf: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg; Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott; and others. (I’d actually stopped halfway through reading Bird by Bird when I first got it because Lamott had started talking about fiction, and I wasn’t a fiction writer.) I read a little in all of them, trying to get myself psyched up. Then I hemmed and hawed over whether to write longhand or on my laptop. (Yes, I was stalling. Of course I was.) Beneath of all of this dithering lurked the knowledge that I had no idea what I was doing and that, if I actually started this, I would become a cliché. After all, practically every writer on the planet is secretly (or not-so-secretly) writing a novel, right?
This back-and-forth went on for months. I don’t know why I was resisting the idea so fiercely, why I was so scared. I mean, it’s not like the nudge was telling me to go dig ditches or climb Mount Everest or cure cancer. It was telling me to do something (a) for which I possess the basic skills required and (b) that I’d already discovered I enjoy doing.
Anyway, I finally caved and got a “writing notebook.” I tried working with the first story idea I’d been “given” but couldn’t seem to get it off the ground. (I’m still interested in it, so I guess I’ll circle back to it later.) The second story idea was just a little too…weird. Maybe I’ll be ready to write that story one day, but not right now.
Having ditched both story ideas, I was back to square one, but now I was kind of on board with the fiction thing. Since I didn’t have a story idea, I wrote short pieces (non-fiction) in my writing notebook about whatever came to mind. Then, one day, a sentence came into my head…which described the feelings of a character who was mad at another character. I sat down and wrote the first paragraph, then the second, and then a third. At which point I knew (very basically) who they were and where they were, and I knew why the first character was mad at the second character, and what their relationship was, and…that’s all I got. But the cool thing was that I now had a story I was actually interested in writing. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I had broken through the first barrier.
I decided that I’d write longhand for the time being. I didn’t write every day, and some days I only wrote a couple of paragraphs, but I learned a little more about the characters and the story each time. I “got” the time period and the geographical setting, and what the second character did for a living.
A few weeks ago, I signed up for a free writing workshop with the current North Carolina Piedmont Laureate. After a short introductory talk, she gave us some time to go off and write. Instead of starting something from scratch, I chose to transcribe my handwritten story beginnings into my laptop for the first time, and when I finished, I got a little rush. For some reason, that simple act made me feel like a “real” writer (whatever that means). Suddenly, I was excited about the idea of writing fiction.
I’m still taking baby steps, going slowly, but I’m not resisting anymore. I’m pacing myself and getting used to the idea—especially the thing of getting out of the way and letting the story and the characters reveal themselves, which is kind of strange. Cliché or not, I’m trying my hand at writing fiction, and I’m even allowing myself to be a little jazzed about it.
I still have my doubts and fears, of course, but a couple of weeks ago, a writer friend recommended Stephen King’s On Writing, which I checked out of the library and devoured in two days. The timing was perfect. King said a lot of things I really needed to hear, and I’ll be getting a copy for my own library, so I can pull it out for a pep talk when I need one.
So…that’s the story of my long, drawn-out, silly, childish process of getting from No to Yes in response to the “nudge.” What I figured out along the way is that, whatever your nudge is telling you or calling you to do, in the end, it all comes down to believing in yourself, believing in what you’re capable of. Six months ago, I didn’t believe I was or could be a fiction writer, even though I was writing fiction every day. Now I do. I’m a very inexperienced fiction writer who doesn’t really know what she’s doing or where this is all going, but at least I’ve begun to believe in myself, if only just a little, and I figure that’s half the battle.
When I look back, I can see that the times I’ve been most successful at following that still, small voice into the unknown were the times when I took a leap of faith, believing I could do whatever was required of me to accomplish the task(s) at hand and trusting that if I came up against something I didn’t know how to do, I’d figure it out. And I did. It’s taken me a while to get to that place this time around, but I’m finally here, and I’m ready to take another leap of faith. After all, I’ve taken a lot of them—what’s one more?
I’ll leave you with a link to yesterday’s Facebook post by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), which was (of course) perfectly aligned with the topic of this blog post. https://www.facebook.com/GilbertLiz/photos/a.356148997800555.79726.227291194019670/702473923168059/?type=1&theater
Now I’m off to write some more about Georgie and May….