When I was a kid, my friends and I would play on the train tracks. Sometimes, we would play chicken. By chicken, I mean we would wait on the train bridge as the train was coming, then jump off as it got closer. If you were feeling super daring, you could wedge yourself between the tracks and the bridge barrier, so the train cars passed in front of your face.
Yes, it was stupid.
Yes, it was the seventies.
I was thinking of those days yesterday, oddly enough, as I contemplated my inability to write the back quarter of this manuscript. For the second time in as many years, I find myself stalled with 75-100 pages to go. Last year, I blamed a story problem. I’d like to blame a story problem against this year, but I don’t think that’s the reason.
No, the reason, I realized yesterday, is plain old fear. This is my first cold submission in over a decade, and it’s in a brand-new genre. For the first time, acceptance isn’t a guarantee. This book could land with the loudest thud known to man. Boom! Two years of work down the drain. My inner Zen tries very hard to remind me that simply writing the book is a win, regardless of outcome, but let’s face it – I really want to sell the freaking thing.
And so, I overthink myself into knots and continue finding reasons not to type those last dozen scenes. Because if the book remains incomplete, I don’t have to subject it to judgement. Rejection is a scary and painful thing.
You know what else is painful? Getting struck by a freight train that’s traveling 50 mph. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that being hit by a train is waaaaay more painful than a rejection letter. Yet, I was willing to wedge myself into a bridge gap and let boxcars come within six inches* of my face. If I’m willing to risk death and decapitation, then surely, I can risk hearing my book isn’t up to snuff.
So, I’m going to channel my inner ten-year old and get those pages written.
There’s a life lesson buried in all this. When we were kids, we took risks because we didn’t know any better, and there were many times we suffered painful consequences as a result. As the years have passed and the consequences accumulated, we’ve allowed them to take on way too much power. That is, we allow it to taint the future.
When our parents found out about the train tracks and banned us from going near them, did we spend the rest of our days quietly playing board games? Or did we take up skateboarding down the steepest street in the neighborhood and learn how to climb onto the grammar school roof? Okay, maybe our neighborhood was a little more reckless than most, but the point remains the same. We kept taking risks.
Now I’m not advocating that we go out and start living our lives like children of the seventies. But I am suggesting we stop letting our adult fears keep us from embracing possibilities.
Wrapping up, I think Clint Eastwood may have said it the best. It’s a quote I’m going to hang on my wall every time I stress that this book will fail:
“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.”
*Actual distance may vary. We’re talking an 40 year-old memory here.