Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bok or Cluck, It's Still A Chicken

A woman at my nephew's birthday party last fall said that she knew I was the "writer-sister" because I looked the part.  "The part," according to her, being my wild hair and appliqued dress.  The glasses and the laptop, also sure signs.  I tried to tell her that a writer is not all I am.  She couldn't believe it.  I'm not sure if you will either, but, in my past life, I was a numbers geek.  Finance and accounting all the way, baby.  I loved it.  Still do.  To my writer friends this always inspires a chuckle.  

Before the short appliqued dresses, dark tights, and high boots came business suits, a brief case, and trunks of client files (remember paper files?) that weighed more than I did.  I had fulfilling jobs at exciting organizations.  There was so much to learn.  The harder it was, the higher I felt.  I worked with brilliant people.  I made great money (particularly when compared to the poor writer's salary I pull in now! :)), and traveled all over the country.   I lived on both coasts.  I met one of my best friends in San Diego (home of the best produce and frozen  yogurt) where we worked all day and danced all night.  The campus of Georgetown University provided a lovely working environment, to say the least.  But, my favorite C.V. bullet point was my role as the Assistant Controller for Special Projects at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

I'll be honest with you here:  it was better than you'll believe.  I was surrounded by creative, passionate people, the best of the best.  Can you imagine the Kennedy Center on Halloween?  You've never seen such costumes.  Christmas?  So much beauty.  On any normal day, if I didn't eat lunch at an amazing restaurant on the Georgetown Waterfront, I ate in the back of one of the theater houses and watched rehearsals.  It was a phenomenal experience.  I loved every bit of it.

And then... dun, dun, dunnn... I moved.  Now, beyond talking through really gnarly (read: cool) finance or accounting conundrums that my husband is dealing with at work or straightening out my dad's Elks' books, I don't do much of that stuff anymore.  

I am an all-in writer and, even in light of the Kennedy Center glory, I have never been happier.  I've also never been such a CHICKEN.

I did some pretty high-level stuff before.  But still this is scarier.  How can that be, right?

With numbers, I was building something, translating something, solving for something.  Was it stressful?  Absolutely.  I worked ridiculous hours under tremendous pressure and the work was hard.  But scared?  I wasn't ever scared.

With writing?  I am Chicken Little's shaky cousin who hides at her sewing machine.  Obviously, publishing is scary because of fear of rejection, criticism, failure, bad reviews, and so on.  But why does writing itself put the jelly in my fish?  I work my own hours.  I'm my own boss.  I love it more than any job, even hobby, I've ever had.   What gives?

Here it is:  I give my heart and soul and bit of my flesh to CREATE something REAL out of thin air, which is no small task.   Like taffy, I push, pull, and stretch my imagination to its limits.  And then when my creation is as tight, exciting, and evocative as I can get it - I BREAK IT.

Into bits.

Every bridge beyond repair.

It's like I DIE.   

And when I am reborn, I am someone new who is only acquainted with the old me and I have to assess the pieces of my story and BUILD IT INTO SOMETHING ELSE, something satisfying.  This is difficult and the fear that I won't be able to do it, makes me manic.  Meals are skipped, telephone rings are ignored.

Then I finish .  There is nothing like it.  Pure joy.  I usually go shopping to celebrate.  Maybe an appliqued dress or a to-die-for scarf.  Or both.  Just kidding, honey!  (He knows I'm not. :))

Then come the reviews.  Fear peeks around the corner, looking for an opportunity to come on in.  I can usually stave it off though because I actually want criticism.  Can't get better without it, right?  I pick different reviewers for the different things they are good at.

Then the revisions.  Here is where all the lights go out.  Heart racing, hands shaking.  I don't mind the work.  But... What if in fixing it, I break it again?  

And that fear - what if in fixing it, I break it again? - tortures me.  People track word counts while they write.  I personally use a handy-dandy excel spreadsheet (You can't take the numbers out of a numbers person. :)), but I don't really need it.  In the writing phase, the story seizes and enslaves me.  I have no choice but to write and breathe, breathe and write.  All else wanes.  It's in the editing phase that I have to push through my fear.  Bok or cluck, I'm still a chicken.

But I'm a writer too.  And that gives me superpowers (see previous post "How Writing Is Like Dog-grooming and Characters Tantrum Like Two-Year-Olds").  I am terrified, but I do it anyway.  Today, after an extended writing break due to the holidays and flu, I sat my poultry self at my laptop and closed my internet browser.  One point at a time, one word at a time, I worked through my list.  Guess what?  I didn't break my story.  I love the fixes.  They made my manuscript shine.  I am filled with gratitude and relief.

Am I cured?  No way.  Am I scared to go at it again tomorrow when my alarm screams at 4:33 am?  You betcha. 

Because do you know what's next?  What's scarier than revising?  Finishing.  That's when I say officially that this is the best I can do.  THAT vulnerability is terrifying.  But I'll do it anyway.  Because it is also the most rewarding thing in the world.  The first time I saw a manuscript I'd written printed, even though it was a simple bound copy from Kinko's with a nothing but a clear plastic cover, I lost my breath.  Aside from my newborn children, it was honestly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  I'll never forget it.

The reason I decided to write this post is to tell you that I am "in it" too.  I am Chicken Numero Uno.  If you want to do something you're afraid of, find your courage.  Statistically, even some chickens must be brave.  Be a brave one.  It's the only way to "have done it" and there's nothing better.  Trust me.  I'll be the shaking one right next to you.

I hope you are well!  Take care!  Thanks for stopping over today!  :)

~MM Finck
@MMFinck on twitter  

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