I think I wrote my first story at the age of seven. My mom has it somewhere. She showed it to me once. It’s on a sheet or two of lavender paper. It’s the story of a purple, pink and blue cat named Sam that goes into space. I don’t think I assigned the cat a gender, or a motivation…I don’t think there was any plot aside from getting a cat on a spaceship.
I wrote bizarrely convoluted character backstories in junior high. That’s really as far as I got. I knew where they came from, what they wore, how they felt about just about anything, I just didn’t have any idea what happened to them.
I wrote poetry in high school, until I realized how painfully cliche that was, and abandoned it in shame. I noodled around with the occasional story idea, but shelved most of it.
After high school, I thought of myself as a writer. I knew I should be a writer, I just didn’t write most of the time. I had a hang-up.
I thought, once upon a time, that I would never finish a work. That I would die, at the age of 110 (I’m optimistic), a tiny, secretive old lady with every drawer stuffed full of beautiful novel starts and not a single finished project. I thought someone would read all of these beginnings (after I was safely dead and beyond criticism), and be so blown away by my genius that they’d be destroyed by the loss of potential. Yeah. Hang-up.
I couldn’t take criticism. I couldn’t take exposure. The idea of someone reading a work of mine gave me a creepy, unnatural chill. It was too naked. They would hate it. They would think they know me. They would judge me, and in the judging, remove from me the joy and excitement of creation. It would be ruined. But…if I never finished anything… How can you critique an unfinished work? I was safe.
I’m 33 years old. I’ve just finished my first piece of anything. I spent my entire life avoiding this moment. And it’s no big deal.
Nine test readers have critiqued it. Nine people have judged it. It’s been edited, revised, improved. It’s no big deal.
I could have weaseled out at any time. Hell, I’m good at it. I’ve been doing it for years. But I didn’t. And that, too, is no big deal.
A hang-up like mine feels like the end of the world. It feels like a spectacular mountain, the peak lost in clouds. How could you climb it? It’s impossible from here. It’s too high, too scary. You can’t even see how high it is, it goes so far up. You could die on a mountain like that.
It’s none of those things. It’s as big as you make it, or as small as you want. When you have the strength, either your own or borrowed (as mine is), you realize you already have your climbing shoes on, and you’re more than halfway there. And the peak really isn’t so high. Or maybe the clouds were just that low. It’s not a big deal.
If you aren’t tough enough to believe it on your own, then find someone to believe with you. If you can’t push yourself past it, then find someone to push you. Realize it’s not that big, not that high, not that important, not that scary. Let your love of creating make your mountain small. Put your hang-ups to death and don’t bother to mourn them. You’re hanging on to a hang-up by choice. Choose to let go.