Over the weekend, my husband and I went to Sand Creek Adventures in Jordan, Minnesota to do their high ropes course.
“Is that some sort of newlywed thing?” my students asked me when I told them of my weekend plans.
“No,” I said. “I just thought it would be fun.”
And it was. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and I was feeling good as I climbed up the cargo net towards the first element. But when I reached the small platform, forty feet in the air, my fear set in. I took a tentative step onto the wobbling tight rope. Immediately my mouth grew dry and my legs quivered. Why was this fun again? The fun would be when I finished.
I shuffled across the rope towards Paul. “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh,” I repeated over and over. I was scared… but I knew I could do it.
Because this wasn’t my first high ropes course.
The first time I did a ropes course was in college, in a class called Adventure Games. (See my post about that here.) There was one element on which there was nothing to hold onto, and I remember standing on the narrow wooden beam, high above the ground, with one arm wrapped around a tree. I was unwilling to let go of the tree in order to proceed across the high beam, and I stood like that, absolutely frozen with fear, for at least fifteen minutes. Below me, my belaying partner waited patiently, shouting up words of encouragement.
“You can do it, Eva!”
“I really don’t think I can.”
I really didn’t think I could do it, but finally I started to move, inch by inch, across the beam until, to my great relief, I reached the other side.
And that was the moment when I realized that I had the power to accomplish something hard, something scary, something I wasn’t even sure I could do. I had the power to overcome my fears.
I have to admit that I’ve been feeling some fear these days about my writing. The past five months I’ve been working on revising two of my novels. But my agent has finally said that we’re done revising (for now), and so I’m free to start writing new stuff. This is exciting, but it makes me feel like I’m on a platform, about to step onto a very long and very wobbly tight rope.
The other day I was listening to Sara Zarr’s podcast, This Creative Life. She was having a conversation with E. (Emily) Lockhart, author of the best-selling YA novel, We Were Liars. At one point, Emily mentioned, “the joy of revising and the agony of drafting.” I was appreciative because I often share that sentiment.
So many authors seem to bemoan the revision process and say the real joy of writing is in the creation of something new. And don’t get me wrong, I find joy in creating, too. But it can be awfully scary. Because what if I have no more good ideas? What if my writing is juvenile and clunky and just plain bad? What if I freeze up in the middle and don’t have what it takes to finish?
Luckily, this won’t be my first novel.
I have written several now, and each time it’s scary. Each time I get stuck somewhere along the way and feel afraid, but each time I make it to the other side…eventually. And every time I finish at novel it serves to prove, with even more certainty, that I have the power to accomplish something hard, something scary, something I wasn’t sure I could do.
Back on the ropes course, I finished two tight rope elements and the “Charlie Chaplin walk” before I got to the Bozon Swings. I stepped onto the first swing and laughed out loud as I sailed back and forth through the air. “These are scary, but they’re fun!” I shouted to Paul, reaching for the next swing and stepping onto it. It was a long way to the platform, but I knew I’d get there eventually.
The fun — and the relief– certainly does comes when you finish, tbut you can also have fun while you’re in the air, in the very middle of a challenge.