Writing friend Merry Muhsman guest blogs with this delightful piece on Encouragement.
My cousin’s daughter trembled in my arms, bobbing up and down as the wave rolled by us.
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
Her skis split apart, even as I wrapped my arms beneath her legs and pulled her close to my chest. I knew she was thinking she’d do the splits in the water. Maybe even get pulled under water by the boat.
“You can do this,” I whispered in her ear as someone had in my own ear so many times before. “Let the boat pull you up. Keep your knees bent. And just lean back a little.” She nodded, and just shook more.
“Most importantly,” I reminded her. “Remember to let go of the rope.”
Teaching her to water-ski reminded me of my own journey with writing. They are surprisingly similar.
When I was young, I hated water-skiing. Everyone in my family could ski. It was some sort of rite of passage. For me, it was downright terrifying. I was scared of the pull of the boat, and I let go of the rope as soon as my Dad accelerated. I suppose I thought my arms would rip from their sockets or something silly. Or my life jacket wouldn’t hold me and I would drown. I did everything I could to get out it.
Feigned sick. Waves too big. Ate too much at lunch. Water is cold. Anything.
Sometimes I have the same problem with writing. Some days I have trouble sitting in front of the computer to edit my work again. What if it’s rejected? What if it’s not good enough? What if someone hates it?
I find reasons not to try. It’s just too hard. Too much to do. Weeds in the garden. Laundry to fold. Gosh, that closet needs to be cleaned out. Oh, I love that movie.
Sometimes in my journey to water ski, I got burned. Burned because I forgot to let go of the rope. It’s probably the most important lesson of skiing. If you feel like you’re going to fall, let go of the rope or you’ll have a nasty red lash on your skin. I had at least a couple before I figured out the magic trick of just letting go.
I also had to learn to let go with my writing.
Once, when I was trying to create buzz for my novel, I sent some books to reviewers, knowing they would be honest. I had to trust my book could stand on its own.
Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn’t.
I distinctly remember one review from a woman who was a friend of a friend. She wrote me an e-mail with her review, which was so scathing, so humiliating, so devastating, I nearly quit writing.
My hands shook. Hateful, hurtful tears stung my eyes, and in such a rage, I nearly pulled down all three of my bookshelves—full of respected authors, research and writing tools—and closed the door of that room forever.
Instead, I reached out to a friend, who pulled me back from the brink. He knew her. He knew her style. He knew she enjoyed tearing down amateur authors to clear the path for her own work. I will always be grateful to him.
Eventually my journey with water skiing took a very simple turn. Competition is in my blood. Deep in our family line. Especially when we play cards. Or water ski.
So one day, my younger cousin tried to water ski. I watched in anticipation wondering if she would conquer it, and after much determination, she did.
Something inside me snapped. Maybe it was the fear. Maybe it was the feeling of being left behind. Or maybe, the competitive side just kicked in.
Like a toddler who has always known how to walk but never showed his parents until after the daycare provider bragged about it (that was my son), I skied that day. I still ski today, as much as I can.
I still have that thin thread of fear that gets taut whenever I say, “ready.” And then after the initial trial run, the fear slackens away and I can enjoy the moment.
I wish I could say the same magic moment has occurred in my writing. I still have to fight that feeling that I will never get it right, and the chapters still need tweaking. Again.
At those times, I remember how I came so far that I could teach someone else how to ski. I remember those times I believed I was the black sheep of the family who couldn’t ski. I remember the feeling of conquering my fear.
And I keep writing.
I take that leap of faith and listen to the advice of a good friend. “It’s your baby. You know what’s best for your novel. It’s in your bones. Start it the way you want.” My friend won’t tell me, because it’s time for me to ski on my own.
I helped three children try water skiing that day. My own son, like me, got into the water because of competition. His older cousin had gotten up, and of course, he had to try to. Although not a complete success, he tried. And he promised to try again.
As for the young girl cousin, when she first tried to ski, she said she just wanted the boat to pull her. I walked with her, holding her in my arms, each step I gave her more and more encouragement. When we got to the edge where the rushes end, I knew the water dropped off right after the rushes, and I wouldn’t be able to hold her anymore.
It was her turn to make a leap of faith.
“You have to tell him you’re ready. I won’t do it for you. Are you ready?” I said in her ear.
She nodded that she was ready.
I smiled. “You need to say it.”
And she said it. Got up. Then fell down. And she let go of the rope.