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10:40 am: Wright's Writing Corner: Guest Blog by Merry Muhsman

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.



Date:July 21st, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Very nice story. Fear is such a rotten thing, and it's always worse than what we're imagining. I love What If's in writing, but What If's in life often cause me to hold back. I have a fear of not just failure, but of looking stupid. I was very shy when I was growing up. That shocks people who know me now, because I don't seem shy, but I still struggle with feeling out of place. Encouragement is an incredibly powerful tool. Sometimes it's even a gift.
Date:July 21st, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
It is kind of funny this popped up. Even as, conceptually, most of my story is done (beginning, middle, end...once, I actually sat down and thought about it...it wrote itself...or at least a general outline...I did not even have to try), I have no plans of ever releasing it. I know (for the most part) the origins of the characters, what they do and why, the main things that happen to them. But yeah, mostly for the reasons of fear. Also, partly because, when looking at it, I'm not sure how original it is. I mean, I have not seen anything at the extreme that I mean it. Even so, it feels too similar to other works out there to ever consider publishing.
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Date:July 22nd, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
You are assuming that originality is what people are looking for. Often, what they want is a really nice story that reminds them of other stories they like.;-)
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Date:July 22nd, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
There is nothing new under the sun, and people don't really want something too different. They want the same story told in a different way with engaging characters, some intriguing dialogue, and a surprise or two along the way.

You may be selling your story short.
Date:July 22nd, 2010 12:29 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story. Wonderful writing. You pulled me along like a ski rope and a boat! Carmel
Date:July 23rd, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)

I am amazed! Thank you to all.

I am thrilled and amazed at how this subject brought out so many comments. It's comforting to know that so many others deal with that dreaded "fear" factor in writing and for many different reasons. I do agree with what others have said about originality. There are so many fantasies, thrillers, horror, etc out there, and none of them are probably original. Look at all the King Arthur stories (some of my favorite). They are not original, but we buy them because the story is told in a different way. We want to read a story that transports us to another place. I know my manuscript is not original, but I am trying to tell my own story. I write stories like the ones I want to read. If I accomplish that and someone finds it entertaining, then I have succeeded. Now, if I could just get the courage to send it out! One step at a time.
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Date:July 23rd, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)

Re: I am amazed! Thank you to all.

Thanks so much, Merry!
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