Last night, Nora Ephron passed away at the age of 71. This essay is dedicated to her work and her memory.
For months now, I’ve been watching excellent new writers climb up these steep hills of the electronic stratosphere. I’d like to say that I was sitting in a comfortable position on the top of the cliffs as a well-established writer (but relatively new blogger) tsk-tsking sympathetically with my binoculars and sipping on my coffee, but no, no—that’s not the way writing works.
You’re never in repose, you see. Because you’re writing, or thinking about writing, or you have written, and now need sleep.
Remember also, I may be an professional writer, but I am a new blogger, so there’s nothing established about me. Not in this world.
Or the next one— the one where I will need to wash my clothes or run errands, and what have you.
The hours involved with professional writing are what they always were, which is to say long, and full of tight-stitched tasks that surround the work of writing. A work that is physical in its own way.
These other tasks aren’t writing at all, but detail work— like pitching stories to editors and following up on correspondence with same and chasing down checks for invoices you submitted months ago and finding new and inventive ways to keep your ear to the ground for fresh ideas and ideal sources for future work.
So, there’s all that business, too. Blogs aren’t terribly different, just so you know.
That thing climbing up next to you over your shoulder in my big extended hiking as writing metaphor? That’s fear.
This kind of fear is not your friend. Fear like this will kick you down the mountain and laugh all the way behind you.
Fear and I? We are old adversaries. I know it’s tricks.
While fear is a few steps behind us all, I’ve been climbing those hills too as I’ve written daily for Bluebird Blvd., the blog I created with my own two callused hands almost eight months ago.
And I’ve been scaling the sheer faces of cliffs alongside my friends in this world of blogs. I know what the territory is like. Some days, the silence is treacherous. On other days, the self-doubt, obnoxious. And then there’s the ego, which is malodorous at best.
Here’s what I’m watching happen now while I write and create and sweat and climb. I am watching new writers reach the next plateau where there’s a nice little city and a place where you can shower and get back on the road of writing, but some writers are turning back at the city gates to go home. They are quitting blogging. They are slowing down. They are expressing fear or self-doubt or worse.
Next thing you know, they’ve stopped. You’ve stopped.
Before you start climbing down that first hill, I want you to halt, sit down and listen.
I know you have jobs/responsibilities/children/health issues/money problems and I know that you aren’t sure what to do next/are feeling as though you’re shirking your “real” responsibilities/are hitting that point where self-doubt has got you by the neck and is asking you, with stinky cheese breath— “How DARE you?”
And you’re tired.
And you don’t know where this leads.
And it was more work than you thought it would be.
And you don’t know if your stuff is any good.
I am sure you see the direction this tale is taking?
There are a thousand-thousand-thousand reasons why people do not make art, do not write.
For every reason you can consider, there is another writer who came up against that obstacle, paused to examine herself and the obstacle, and punched through it.
What you think are genuine problems were not problems three months ago, right? You were writing then, weren’t you? Why is today different? Why are you second-guessing everything?
Oh, yes. Fear is amazing. Respect fear. Then go off and kick it in the kneecap.
You heard me!
I’ve watched so many of you create these beautiful, tactile, soul-filled places that I go and visit regularly. I love to ooh and ahh over your creations. Your blogs are fine architecture made of words.
Yet, recently, you’ve come just far enough in your creative process to feel your doubt grow a long shadow.
Consider that shadow. Give it proper respect. Then you stomp on that shadow.
There’s nothing, and I mean NOTHING you can’t do as a writer.
What you do not know, you can learn, and what scares you may be real, but it isn’t real enough to stop you from the one thing that makes your heart beat faster like a clean new metronome in the morning— which is writing. A word that is a verb. A verb that describes creating worlds from words.
And you wonder why fear finds your vocation so exciting? Such good fodder to feed from? When you write, you are making life from nothing but breath and ink.
Do you see how powerful you are?
Take a breath. Get a glass of water. Sit down. If you see fear coming? You tell ’em I said, “Hello.” And you punch ’em in the face for me.
Fear is powerful, yes.
And so is creation.
I’m right inside of the gates of this new city waiting for you. I need a shower. I’m starving for hot food. And I want to sit for a bit before we start climbing again. The locals are imaginary, so they speak every language and their cooking is sublime.
Come on inside. Leave your fear at the gates. The wind will take it away for you.
Postscript: (And for my friends who are dancers, artists and photographers— nothing I’m discussing here is different, really, than your reality— save the fact that you have to go shopping for supplies more frequently than writers do. Please feel free to supplant writing with your vocation. It all applies. Much respect, my friends.)
Second Postscript: My friend Professor J. wrote about fear today and she referenced both Joy Harjo (one of my favorite poets; I workshopped under her, years ago), and, um, me— but what Professor J. had to say is so, so beautiful. It’s entitled, simply, “Fear.”
Third Postscript: I forgot to mention that the second event that prompted the writing of this piece was my friend Meeka’s discussion of writing, responsibility and fear in her short essay Is Creativity a Leisure Time Pursuit? I had hit a different wall lately in which I was wondering about the next step in my blogging adventure, and Meeks reminded me of something I consider terribly important, which is the necessity of art. A belated thank you, Meeks!