But when I look at the path ahead, it is still so long! I have many hurdles ahead of me in order to discover exactly where my writing is meant to go, and what I am meant to accomplish. And the only way I can find these answers will be through a million and one more beginnings to come. I must begin again with each new step. I know I am meant to take these steps because they sit at the top of my heart, clear and strong and so exciting that it almost hurts to think about them. I know they are right because I want so much to reach these goals that have no clear path or guaranteed outcome. And even though I try to shut them down sometimes, these goals remind me of the analogy of beach balls, how the harder you try to push them down under the surface of the water, the harder and faster they come rushing back up the second they escape your control.
Last Fall, I came across an article in a newspaper advertising their annual short story contest, and I knew the second I read the article that I needed to make this contest one of my goals. Now, I realize that for many writers, this would not be a big deal - it is such an important part of the craft to submit your work far and wide and as often as possible. But this is one of those hurdles I mentioned, the ones I saw ahead of me on the path. I have never, ever officially submitted ANY writing to be published anywhere except on this blog! I was soooo scared to take this step.
Over the past few months, I have tried to talk myself out of submitting for this contest. I have reasoned that I have not learned enough about writing, that I would certainly be submitting less-than-best writing, guaranteeing myself failure and, of course, embarrassment. I reasoned that I needed more training first. I panicked that I did not know enough about short stories to even understand what quality would be. I tried to read more short stories so that I could "learn more" about them, and subsequently freaked myself out even more as I felt the huge chasm of space between the writer's quality of writing and mine. The thing is, I have never even completed a full-length short story on my own, let alone revised or submitted one! Still, I could not shake the sense that I was meant to submit to this contest.
I began the year with this short story contest as my main, immediate goal, since the submission deadline was February 1st. Shortly after the New Year I met for coffee with my friend Chris, who is also a writer. Chris has been a great support to me this past year because we are in such similar places with our passions and ambitions for our writing: we have identified that this is what we want to do but we are both sort of feeling out how to keep reaching toward these goals. There is no one road map for this sort of journey, only the map that each of us feel as the truth inside ourselves. Chris suggested that we should start pushing ourselves to share our stories, and I told her about the short story contest and my goal to submit. Even as we laughed about how we had no idea what we were doing, we set a date to share our stories and then meet to discuss them.
I found myself faced with a plan that I had no idea how to execute, and this forced me to begin anywhere once again. I had some story ideas started which I thought might work, but I had no idea how to turn them into something I felt good about. Soon after we met for coffee, I sat down to my desk one afternoon and determined that I would spend an hour free-writing with pen and paper. Within two paragraphs, I found myself in a story. I tried not to think too much about it but just to keep going. I worked to keep my hand moving with the current of thoughts flowing rapidly through my brain. As the story unfolded, I had to ignore the impulse to switch to my laptop (faster but more prone to editing as I go) or stop to re-read what I had written. I kept writing through the fear, through the uncertainty, and when I got stuck, I began again wherever I could think of beginning.
After three hours of writing, I had written a very rough draft of a complete short story for the first time in my life. I started revising as I typed the story into my laptop, and then completed two more drafts of the story before I was ready to share it. When I sent the story to Chris, I felt terrified that it was going to be a failure. But when we met to discuss our stories, I found that I gained so much encouragement from sharing my experience with a friend who was cheering me on and helping me be the best I could be. After a couple more drafts based on helpful feedback, I sent my story in to the contest yesterday. And it feels SO good to have reached this goal!!
Whether or not the story is even very good, I needed to prove to myself that I could begin with this one step. I had to give myself permission that you don't have to be perfect in order to take the next step. Maybe the next step is what will teach you what you need to know in order to be the best you can be next time! This goes against everything in my nature, but deep down inside, I know it is right. This goal of submitting to the contest was necessary in order for me to believe that I can keep going and reach for my next goal, and the one after that. And someday, when I have finally published my work, I believe I will still be saying the same thing. It will always be critical to keep reaching for what I know I am meant to do next.
I still don't know how I even actually wrote this story in three hours, or how I finished drafting it in time to submit it. It may or may not ever happen again like that. But I am trying not to think too hard about it, because that is not the point, or the lesson to be learned. The lesson is to keep on beginning, again and again, with each new goal set before you.
Be sure to check out Chris' blog WildMoo Books!! Great source for book reviews and book-inspiration of all sorts!