Friday, October 19, 2012
My Tiny Sunbeam
All of us have things that we`re afraid of.
For some folks it`s clowns, dogs, ghosts, snakes, spiders or thunderstorms. Heck, I`ll confess to being scared silly by bees, as irrational as that fear may be. Most generally our fears don`t hold us back from doing what we desire in life. I still go outside in the summer, despite all the little winged attackers just laying in wait to sink their stingers into me. Granted, I may sneak out the back door to avoid all the wasps that nest behind our shutters, but I still go out.
But what if our fears hold us back from realizing a dream? What if what we`re afraid of places a chair under the doorknob of our aspirations?
Well, I`ve heard that talking about what scares us makes it less scary. That by bringing the frightening thing from under the bed or in the closet out into the daylight and confessing that it frightens us makes it less daunting. Sort of like saying ‘Lord Voldemort’ out loud makes the name less powerful according to Hermione Granger. So, here goes. *Takes deep breath*
As a writer I`ve had to overcome a large fear. Today, I thought I`d talk about that fear and by doing so hopefully it will wither in the light once and for all just like a vampire. Unless it’s a sparkly vampire then it will just stand there, minus its shirt, and get angst all over the carpet.
My fear, the one that nearly kept me from pursuing this craft I love so much was (and still is at times) is the fear of being undereducated in a profession filled with the highly educated. I guess, to make it sound more plain, I was afraid of being called a dummy. Sure, sitting here in the sunbeams at my laptop that worry seems rather silly. But it is a large fear that even now – one book published and a short story recently accepted by a publisher for admission into an anthology – nips at my heels from time to time.
I suppose I never really thought about the lack of a college degree until I fell in love with writing. I worked for many years in the food service industry which is a fine place to make a living. Didn`t need a degree to flip burgers so that was okay. I became a mother. Don`t need a sheepskin for that either although a manual would have been nice! Getting married didn`t require a degree although I did need a license. So I was cruising along down the road of the high school diploma holder without a care about higher education or my lack thereof.
Then I discovered writing. I also discovered that some folks feel they`re a step above those of us who lack that degree in journalism or creative writing. And friends, I learned that lesson by having the flesh ripped off my back for grammar and mechanical mistakes early on. Oh I know, some of those people really did mean well. Some helped me learn quite a bit. Some were just mean-spirited snobs who didn`t dare sully themselves with the uneducated goatherder who sometimes forgot a comma or didn`t know what a reflexive pronoun was. (I still don`t, but my editor does, and that`s good enough for me.)
After being flogged by the well-meaning - and the not-so-well-meaning - my insecurity skyrocketed. I grew so fearful of making mistakes that I found myself frightened of writing something others would see. Now as an author being afraid of letting others read your work is rather like being a chef who is terrified of serving people the food they prepare. It`s defeating your own purpose.
I spent a few years in this state, wanting to write and have others enjoy my work yet being too apprehensive to take the steps needed to publish. Fear was strangling my dream. I fretted over every little mistake, or perceived mistake, until my muse got crushed under the weight of my insecurity. I couldn`t write anymore. The flow was gone. The joy of creation was dead. The elation of putting thoughts to paper was no more. All because of my fear of being called a dummy. Pretty silly for a woman who was nearing fifty, huh?
Well, yes and no. It is silly to let your fears keep you from doing what you love. It is also understandable that sometimes those of us who are writers or artists crumple into balls and hide in the closet, terrified of that monster with the words ‘YOU STINK!’ or ‘YOU DUMMY!’ or ‘YOUR WORK IS TERRIBLE!’ stamped on its hairy green chest.
Our books and paintings, poems and sketches truly are our prides and joys. We put hours or days or weeks or years into our novels or oils or lyrics. All it would take for me to run back under the bed was one person with an elitist attitude or a disparaging tone telling me - in the nicest way possible of course - to ‘Take a few college courses ,dumpling, then we`ll talk’. Paying for me to go back to school full-time isn`t a reality. I have a daughter to put through college first.
Yep, I was a shuddering mess of doubt back then. Then one person pulled me aside one day. He sat me down and asked me what had happened to the passion in my work. I told him. I explained how I didn`t feel that I had any place writing when I was such a dullard. I cited all the degrees he had. All the degrees everyone who ever wrote a book had!
To that he sat back, looked me in the eye (virtually since this was an online friend), and told me this-
“Yes, I may have degrees, and yes I may be smarter than you according to some random IQ test, but there is a difference between you and me that will set you above me as an author. I call myself a writer, and have the degrees to back up my claim, but I struggle to make my stories human and relatable, but you, you`re a storyteller, Vicki. That is something that cannot be taught in any class. It`s something that a person is born with.”
“Big whoop!” I countered. “Show me one undereducated storyteller that ever made it big.”
“Mark Twain comes to mind,” he said, “And I believe he dropped out of school at eleven.”
I was left speechless, and inspired, and so very grateful to that man for shoving away the curtains to let the light shine in. My friend was right. If Mark Twain could write and be somewhat successful, so could I. Did it really matter if I only had my high school diploma? I was a storyteller damn it! I gathered up my gumption, and with a picture of Mr. Clemens taped to my refrigerator so I could see it, dove into trying to fulfill my dream. And I did. I have a book. It might not win a Pulitzer prize or ever be on the New York Times bestseller list. It may contain some errors. It may not change one person`s life but it`s my book and it makes people smile. That`s all I ever wanted.
Does the ghost ever pop up to haunt me? Yep. All the time! And the more I`m in this crazy world of publishing the more I`m exposed to those who cast long looks downward at self-published authors or those who can`t use an apostrophe correctly. Sometimes I eye that closet and wish I could find a spot behind the winter coats. The difference now is I don`t let the unease cripple me. I know my place in the journalistic world and I can accept my spot in the sun, small as it may be.
I figure it`s not about how big that ray of sun is, it`s about how well it warms your heart. So go, find your sunbeam and revel in it`s warmth. We all have one out there just waiting for us to step into it.