“It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.” by Anne Lammot, from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.
When I took my writing class through Writer’s Digest, I thought that was going to be the hardest part of my journey to write my novel. Taking that first step and actually putting words together so that they could be reviewed and critiqued by a professional felt monumental. And it was, until I had to take the next step – asking friends for feedback.
Many of us experience self-doubt on a regular basis – it’s just human for us to do so. But to let the doubt infuse us with anxiety and fear can often stop us from doing something we really want to do – simply because we don’t feel we’re good enough. We are our own worst critics. We long to be the next J.K. Rowling, but we’re so we’re not, that we simply avoid putting the first word on paper. The truth is, none of us are the next J.K. Rowling, or Van Gogh, or Misty Copeland. Comparing ourselves to others in this way sets us up for failure before we can begin. I want to strive to be my best self – conquer my own fears, follow my own path, and be proud of my work. Good advice, but very hard to follow.
Several years ago I went to Vail, Colorado with my best friend. She’s one of the most supportive and genuine people in my life. On this trip we went to the Adventure Park located at the top of Vail Mountain where I had sworn I was going to do the ropes course. It looked easy in the brochure and I have always prided myself in being physically strong. With my friend’s support and encouragement, I donned my safety gear and helmet, listened closely to the instructions provided by the attendant, and climbed up to conquer the course. But once I got to the beginning of the course, I realized this was going to be harder than I thought. I contemplated simply backing down. There were other people on the course oblivious to my mounting fear and anxiety. I knew I was strong enough, but I began to doubt my own ability. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty and my mind was working overtime to dissuade me from doing this. I looked down and saw my friend, waving and smiling and encouraging me. She said I was brave. So I did the only thing I could do – I took that first step. And I finished the course. I proved to myself that if I set my mind to do something and took the first step beyond the fear I could actually do it. And that having someone there who believed in me gave me the extra push I needed to get it done.
Writing my novel was like doing the ropes course. I finished my first draft last September. I was so proud. But this was only the first step. According to the book 90 Days To Your Novel, by Sarah Domet, getting feedback on my novel was the next step. I should share my draft with at least five friends who would provide honest feedback, not just read it and tell me how great I am. I am lucky enough to have friends and family who are always honest with me. But sharing this new piece of me with others meant exposing myself – being vulnerable. What if they hated it? Like sharing that first assignment with my professor, I felt great anxiety giving copies of my novel to trusted friends and family along with a critique worksheet for them to complete. They all promised to be honest. And I held my breath as I waited for their responses.
My sister was the first to finish the draft and provide feedback. Although it is normally recommended that family not provide feedback, I knew that my sister and husband would be honest with me and they knew how important this was to me. They wouldn’t tell me it was good if they didn’t think it was. This could save me from future embarrassment. But she liked it. And my husband liked it. And my other friends also liked it. I can’t tell you the feeling of joy it gave me to hear them say I should keep going, try to get it published. Keep writing. I was humbled by their praise and took their feedback for improvements seriously. I basked in this feeling of happiness – the feeling that others liked my words. For a brief and wonderful moment the doubt that gnawed away at my insides dissipated.
Now all I have to do is get it published, right? Share it with the world (as I write these words my stomach clenches with doubt and anxiety). I’m ready to take that next step, to let the world read my novel, to beyond my fear. It turns out the road to getting published is the beginning of another journey with many twists and turns.