I just got home from an amazing, energizing, totally kick-ass night out with the Boulder Writer’s Alliance.
I joined this group last year when I was trying to jump-start my freelancing. Then I got a day job and stopped having time to go to their events. I’d mark them on the calendar, RSVP, and then remember two weeks later that I had missed it.
But, in keeping with my vow of selfishness, I am making time for these meetings once again, and I am SO glad.
Tonight’s topic was “Intelligent Risking” and the presenter was an amazing woman named Barbara Stoker. I went for the same reason many of the attendees went – I needed another kick in the pants. You may recall that I was on track for a while, getting up 20-30 minutes early every morning to write, working on finding my YA character’s voice , and generally going about the business of writing. But then, as happens, life got a hold of me and I stopped. All that momentum, all that passion, all that drive just stalled out.
I can think of a million excuses, new promotion at the day job, new side project, kids, husband, company, life… Whatever, it’s all just BS excuses and I know it. So… back to the drawing board. And for a girl like me, a class about taking risks, intelligently, well – that’s got my name written all over it.
Especially the intelligently part. See, I’m a “look while I leap” person. I still believe that I have magic flying squirrel wings that will help me steer even as I’m free-falling through life at maximum velocity. So when I come to an edge, a cliff, a fork in the road my typical response is, “Fuck it, why not?” Which often leads to me biting off more than I can chew, volunteering for things I have no time to do, working my tail off in an unpaid promotion, hoping to prove myself worthy of the big bucks by the time the budget cycle comes around, having people over for dinner 10 nights in a row, etc. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes I find myself just spinning out, and burning out.
Maybe looking before I leap would help.
Barbara is a lot like me in a lot of ways. Except she does seem able to slow down and look before jumping off the cliff, or in her case climbing the mountain.
In fact that was one of the points she made that really resonated with me.
Choose your mountain. With this comes the BIG question – whose mountain is it?
Ah-ha! How often have you found yourself struggling, sweating, clinging on for dear life only to discover that you are climbing someone else’s mountain? Your partner’s, your child’s, your boss’s or co-worker’s? We’re all guilty of it. We all pick up problems, challenges, risks that aren’t ours from time to time. Whether it’s because we’re trying to help someone, or just because it was there, and we were there, and then… all of a sudden we’re half way up SOMEONE ELSE’S MOUNTAIN! Ack!
Then Barbara told us we should plan our route. My first reaction to this was – Oh shit, we’re only at the second step and I’m already going to fail. Remember, I’m that look WHILE I leap person. My husband often gives me a hard time because I make split second decisions and then act on them as if the rest of the world has decided with me. In fact, more often than not I have to drag the rest of the world, kicking and screaming, all the way to the finish line before it makes up its mind that I was, in fact, right all along.
Luckily for me, Barbara is NOT a “real” planner. She’s a “have a rough idea of where you’re going and how to get there” kind of gal. Not a, “Make a detailed plan, listing every possible contingency and then stick to it no matter what!” woman. I can live with that. Because I tend to leap off tall precipices a little too often, I have learned how to spot my landings. I think this is mostly what Barbara was getting at. Know where you want to land and how to do it without breaking every bone in your body. Then, leap and hope it works out. Keep your eye on your target and be ready to twist in the wind and land in a different field if you have to. (She called this sideways risk taking.)
Barbara talked a lot about finding your courage. As she said, it’s much easier to find your courage once, for that first instant than it is to hold on to it long enough to say… write a whole novel AND send it off to an agent or publisher. It’s easy to find the courage to take that first step, but how do you keep it all the way across the chasm? How do you chase away those inner daemons of Anger, Fear and Ego? Barbara had a courage ratio, sort of like doing a risk/benefit analysis.
Your passion has to outweigh your fear for you to have courage.
Thinking about that I realized what had stalled me, and you’re going to laugh because it’s an incredibly stupid fear. I stopped waking up early in the morning because I was afraid of the disappointment I MIGHT feel when I had to stop writing after only 20 minutes. I was afraid that I would get so into it that I wouldn’t want to stop and that I’d spend the rest of my day at work bitter and resentful and longing so I didn’t want to even start writing until I knew I had at least a couple of hours.
Um… looking at my life that’s like saying I’m never going to write again. I don’t have a single block of uninterrupted hours between now and April when I have to have my rough draft of my new novel done to present at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference. Oops.
So, I don’t know what will happen if I take the (very small) risk of waking up in the morning and writing, but I do know what will happen if I don’t. I won’t write my book, I won’t present at the conference and I won’t get published. Looks like it is time to get off my ass and start waking up.
Barbara’s last tip – Climb Strong. Commit. And, if you can, find a partner who will be supportive but tough in holding you to your commitment.
You’ll be able to find a transcript of the talk on the BWA website soon, in case you want all the really good details. And, if you’re not already a member, look into joining. They’re a great group for writers and editors of all stripes. I’ve found great freelance side jobs through them and their bimonthly (every other month) meetings are great for networking as well as being inspirational and informative.
You can also check out Barbara’s site and book your own speaking engagement with her there, or order her books so you can have a piece of her courage on your shelf any time you need it!