Jumping Off the Deep End

When I was a kid, I had a real fear of water. I nearly drowned in a neighbor’s aluminum pool when I was about two.  My peril only lasted a second, but the experience gave me one of my first memories.

I didn’t learn how to swim until I was much older, and at some point in swimming class we had to do the unthinkable–jump off a diving board into the deep end. Want to guess how well I handled that? You got it! I froze on the board. Even amidst encouraging shouts from my much younger classmates I couldn’t jump off. Shaking and humiliated, I left the board. I could taste the fear, I could feel it hammering in my chest, twisting my stomach, and making my muscles tense like stone.

I spent a whole week struggling with that horrible feeling, that terrible dread, as each day brought me closer to the weekend and swimming class. The night before my return to the pool of doom, my mother decided it would be a great idea to watch an Ester William’s movie. Girl after girl jumped from unimaginable heights into deep dark waters. They swam under the depths. They blew bubbles. I felt every elbow-jarring movement and experienced sympathetic cramps with every thigh flutter. My stomach sank with a sickening thud down to my ankles as I was sure somebody under those miles upon crushing miles of ocean would run out of air. With dread, I waited for the blue face, the gasping mouth, the gurgle.

It was a nightmare.

I tossed and turned that night. By morning, I was pallid and numb as we made the long drive to the community center and my final plank walk. Somewhere between seeing Ester and my instructor Edie, something changed in me. I’m not sure how it happened but the first thing I did when I left the locker room was walk to the deep end, get on the board, walk to the end, plug my nose and jump. I did it. I resurfaced. I swam to the edge. And I did it again. And again.


Was I cured of my fear? No. Even now, with every new adventure, it is there. This year when I truly dedicated myself to revealing my writing to others, good old Fear was there shaking its head. It thought I was nuts. I probably will never be cured of it but I’ve sort of learned my way around it, sidestepping fear cautiously, as I would a crazy aunt.

Something I have learned? Fear will not give me permission to live. Ever. I must give myself permission to live. It will tell me, “You will die if you try!”  But living is dying. Quality living is dying with gusto! These truths come back to me eventually. Just jump into life. Shut down that shrill panic and do it. Sometimes, as weird as it sounds, getting out of fear can be as simple as realizing life just isn’t all that darn precious, after all. It certainly isn’t preserved in perfect and neither am I. Life is temporal, so I try to ‘seize the day’ while I have it, like a Roman.

When trying something new, like deciding to become a serious writer, I’ve found that fear often comes along for the ride. Hey, it has nothing better to do. But seriously, wouldn’t I want a better companion for the journey? Luckily I have found several, thanks to a dear coworker who knew I liked to write. She sent me a link (don’t you just LOVE angels amongst us?). It was to an audio spot NPR did on RWA’s National Convention. Within a few months of listening to it, I joined National, as well as DARA and FFP.

There is nothing that leads more directly to life changing actions than knowing one is not alone in her struggles with fear, nor is she alone when she grasps at hope and actually starts enjoying her new adventure! Plus bagels with coffee on Saturday morning just hits the right spot. Let the cultivating of courage commence!

Since joining RWA I have re-edited my epic fantasy novel (first in a series I have been working on over the years). Not only that, but I have written a completely new vampire story and submitted it to Golden Heart! I also started rewriting an old YA ghost novel and am one third of the way through a humorous space pirate romance novel with steam punk elements that I hope to put in competition by February. Yay!

A final note to my childhood story. At the end of that class, Edie the swimming instructor told my mother it was “sheer guts” that made me pass the final test. In other words, I had no natural talent for swimming. But I passed. In the scheme of things I will take sheer guts when natural-born skill might fail me. Imperfection passes the grade somewhere every single day. As long as I pass, I will take that and do the happy dance all over my fear.

I wish you freedom from fear in your writing, and if that doesn’t manifest–as the book says–just do it anyway. Take the jump off the deep end. You will not drown. And you will have friends to cheer you on! You will resurface from the slush pile–victorious!

This post is dedicated to my friend and coworker, Tiffany.

Books I Read and Liked in 2010

Bitter Angels by C.L. Anderson
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Rebel Angels by Libba Bray
The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld
Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfeld
Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Specials by Scott Westerfeld
Extras by Scott Westerfeld
The Vampire Affair by Livia Reasoner
Fever Dream by Preston and Child
Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb

Currently reading:
Hideyuki Kikuchi – Vampire Hunter D Series: Book Three
J.D. Robb – Naked in Death
Sherrilyn Kenyon – Born of Night
Karen Marie Moning – Beyond the Highland Mist
Lynne Ewing – Daughters of the Moon
Flight: Volume Two
Neil Gaiman: American Gods
Stephen King: On Writing

I didn’t read much romance this past year. Mostly read YA to see what’s out there.

Must Have for Writers on the Go

Has your muse struck you with inspiration at the most inopportune times and nary a scrap of paper, working pen, or broken crayon is in sight? Has she waved her magic wand of wisdom while you were driving down the road? Or stuck in traffic? How about while shopping? Tired of writing down precious dialogue or descriptive gems on narrow store receipts, greasy fast food wrappers or tiny bar napkins?  After finally making it to your desk, have you banged your head against the keyboard in an attempt to rattle the vindictively elusive cue into unlocking the best plot ever devised?

To capture such otherwise missed opportunities of inspiration, I have found invaluable my Sony Digital Voice Recorder. I’ve had it for years; it’s my third recorder if you count the old ‘barely-portable‘ desktop recorder.  My current buddy is a tried but true Sony P320.

With a much easier to use record button than most cell phones possess, this recorder is the best weapon against torturous forgetfulness. When a bright idea blinds me, I can just grab this recorder, hit the bright red button and I am good to go. Thought recorded. Transcribed later. Nothing lost to middle-age brain leakage or Droid interface befuddlement.

The advantages of having a recorder handy are numerous. One thing I can actually do pretty well is talk while driving–an activity that often wakes the muse. I can speak a bit of dialogue, a plot line, or a character insight as she fills me in on the details from her spot in the backseat with her grass-stained feet perched up by my neck rest. A bit stinky, really, but that’s another story.  Back to the recorder stuff…

An added expense you might find worth the cost is a transcription software, like Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Software like this will transcribe the recordings for you after you go through a setup process that analyzes your voice.

No tool of the trade is perfect out-of-the-box and, if you do decide to invest in a recorder, here are some words of advice I’ll offer from my experience:

1)  At first it might be difficult to express what is IN your mind. Just go with it. Allow yourself to mumble ah’’s and uhm’s until the thought flows. Repeat it several times until it is smooth.  Yes, there will be some cringe-worthy moments when you listen to it later, but the idea will be there, at its best, maybe 40 seconds to a minute into it. At least it is there!  This goes for dialogue, as well. Don’t worry about High Voice for woman or Low Voice for man unless you want to chortle over the playback. If you do, I suggest listening after two glasses of Riesling.  In any case, you will remember who is saying what.  No need for voice acting unless it helps you feel the characters.

2) If you cannot stand to hear your own voice played back to you, invest in a transcription software. If done right, this can actually save some time. The software writes your voice like it is taking dictation, if you are lucky, which leads to the next note…

3) If you decide to get a transcribing software invest in a good microphone. I haven’t yet–lazy me–and Dragon pretty much has no idea what I am saying.
I’ve grown a thick skin with years of hearing my dumb der’s and duh’s so I opt for taking my own dictations. I’m sort of an emotive writer with an acting background so I’ve found that listening to the playback helps me grasp the emotional current running under the dialogue or description through hearing my voice. This sometimes brings me to the mood of the scene and it is easier to continue on with it in the same emotional state.

4) If you do get a digital recorder, guard it well. There is nothing quite as unnerving as entering the kitchen to hear giggles from beloved family members as they hit playback again and again. This is especially embarrassing if you like to record lyrics to imagined songs. Think I‘m joking? They will do it, if they find it. Seriously.  Don’t even let them know you bought it!

If you decide to get a voice recorder–your little trap to capture the best sparks of inspiration, you will not regret it, even with the cringing and blushing that sometimes comes with getting used to it. I haven’t!