Choking

I don't think I've ever talked about this before, but when I was younger, I dove competitively. Diving is an easy sport to fall in love with when you're a kid living in Arizona. When school is out for the summer and it's hotter than hell outside, a pool seems like a natural choice, right? So I dove for fun, until I felt like I was good enough to start diving competitively and then I joined the year-round club team. (By the way, the pool--like most pools in Arizona--was outside. Diving in the winter? About as fun as sticking your tongue to a freezing lamp post.) I really loved diving, and I wasn't half bad despite my long limbs. A few of my coaches used to joke that the only reason I could be so fearless on the 3 meter board was that I was very nearly blind when I wasn't wearing my glasses. I think I can pin-point the exact moment when that changed. It was during a typical competition, just at the end of the warm-up round. The announcers were running through the roster of divers and just as I started an inward dive, I heard them call my name--"--and ALEX BRACKEN!" Which, hello, is hugely distracting. I'm still not exactly sure how I managed this, but I clipped my chin on the board and experienced the kind of belly flop that would make a grown man cry (at least it made an eleven year-old me cry). It was like this flip had been switched inside of me--every time I got on the board after that, I was hyper-aware of it. I knew, or at least had imagined, every way I could hurt myself or look like an idiot. And suddenly, I just couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't do the flips that had been so easy before, I didn't want to go to practice, and I still, to this day, am pretty much over swimming. Once I knew what could go wrong, I couldn't get past it.

In many ways, I'm afraid that I'm doing the same exact thing with my writing. All along, I had been carrying this blind invincibility about diving that let me do flips and inward dives without batting an eyelash. I felt the same way about Brightly Woven when I was writing it and submitting it. I had so much love and enthusiasm about the story that it formed a little protective shield around my psyche, and no amount of rejections could tamper with it. And now... little love shield has begun to ebb away.

I don't think this is particularly unique to me, either, as almost every published writer goes through that, "Can I do this again? Was it a fluke?" when they begin their next novel. It's just that you have such different concerns post-book deal, that it's almost impossible not to view the pre-published stage as blissful. Once you have the knowledge of everything that could go wrong, it can consume you. Will my agent/editor like this? Is the writing poor? Will it get me a higher advance? Will I sell through in the first place? And what about the cover? And rights? Do I even have a marketing plan? Was that reviewer just being nice...? You choke before you can even start the dive or start the draft. Of course, working in the industry has only made me even MORE aware and self-conscious, but I'm getting better about forcing those insecurities down.

It's a very difficult emotion/feeling/what-have-you to fight through, and I never overcame it and returned to diving. But, the fact that I keep beating against this wall seems to prove to me that I can and will get around it. Tonight, instead of working on the WIP I started this weekend, I went back and re-read the story that I had worked on for most of last year. And you know what? It really wasn't that bad. I still can't bring myself to share it with anyone outside of my family, mainly because of the events that inspired me to finish it, but I realized that I was choking before I even gave the story a chance. Yes, the manuscript obviously has problems (they all do, trust me), but the fact that it's so different from what's popular and selling right now brought to mind the worst bellyflop known to mankind (or at least to Alex Bracken). But I wanted to finish it BECAUSE it was so different, because it perfectly encapsulated my extremely weird sense of humor, and because the story itself means a lot to me.

Bah, I'm not very good at turning life events into metaphors, but if you're out there and you feel the same way, I hope you find it in yourself to get back on the board again. I hear the water is very nice.