Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, sets up a wonderful contradiction. He observes two roads,
“Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.”
He takes the one less travelled by, apparently making all the difference. I wonder, though, if the first provided the same opportunities. And did he get pebbles stuck in his shoes as he forged a path? Did he doubt himself and his abilities?
The benefit of being an emerging writer is you get to charge down the highway forged by the countless writers who have gone before. The road is broad and wide, well paved and maintained. There are even well planned toilet stops in shady areas.
With a copy of Dr Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go as your inspirational literature, you set off with nary a care in the world, fuelled by enthusiasm, a hope and a dream, and the sage advice of modern gurus atop their digital hills.
There are exits to Publication, Self-Publishing, Blogging, Anthologies, Submissions, Poetry, Seminars and Festivals, Workshops and Competitions. As you pass each exit, you wonder if there will be another one down the road, another path to take to reach your destination? Have you missed your only opportunity? I doubt it.
At some point, an emerging writer must take out their own street directory (I refuse to go digital with a GPS, and no, I don’t need to turn the map upside down) and plan their own route.
However, a little way along the journey, when there are so many opportunities presented, so many directions you can go, fear niggles at the back of your mind. It’s the fear of the unknown; the fear of making a wrong decision and it can cripple your journey. You are left on the side of the road, waiting for roadside assistance to get back on your way. And it’s raining, too.
In his inaugural speech as President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” A lovely sentiment, but what does it really mean?
As an emerging writer, what should I fear? Enthusiasm is a great mask to cover up insecurities and ignorance.
As I embark on writing my first novel, my greatest fear is I will not finish it. There is a big difference between writing flash fiction and short stories, to penning a 90,000-word novel. The temptation to diverge from the path is strong, to seek safer territory, but in the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
I have a lot at stake. I set this time aside, taking long service leave from my job, to specifically write my first novel. If I do not succeed, will it make me a failure?
I understand my fear of not completing my first novel is a plaited rope of smaller fears. There is a fear of the process, of seeing too much detail or not seeing enough; fear of weak characterisation, a weak plot, sloppy and unrealistic dialogue, an unconvincing voice. I figure if I write the novel first, then one by one, unplait the rope one strand at a time and look at them critically, I will have a stronger manuscript.
I am a planner, rather than an off-the-cuff, no-planning writer (I’m the kind of person who organises his spontaneous moments). Therefore, I am working through Karen Wiesner’s book, First Draft in 30 Days. This will help make the steps of my journey less likely to fail. I plan to succeed.
On the journey, there will be pebbles and stones that find their way into your shoes. They are a constant reminder of the pain fear causes you. Take a moment to pause, take off your shoes and empty them out. Put one pebble back in. Leave one to remind you, to motivate you. A healthy fear is a good thing. Throw the rest away. Skip them across the first flat surface of water you come to. Throw them at random road signs.
I intend to stand in front of my computer, the cursor flashing as I hold my notes in my hand and proclaim loudly, like Marty McFly’s father, “You are my density.”