My Yahoo! horoscope delivered another lovely little nugget of thought fodder a few weeks ago:
“Remember when you rode your bike without training wheels for the first time? The feeling was exhilarating, liberating — and a bit terrifying. Someone will offer you a way to take the figurative training wheels off something you’ve been practicing for a while. You are ready for this test, and even if you’re a little scared, don’t let it show. Your bravado is all you need to pull this one off. And just like that first solo bike ride, after the first few minutes, it will be totally fun!”
Yes, as a matter of fact, Yahoo! Astrologer, I do remember the first time I rode a bike. What I remember more is the day when the training wheels came off. We were still living in Mt. Vernon, New York at the time. It was the early 70s. I had a lavender Schwinn with a banana seat that was white with those big, tacky 70s era flowers on it. The handlebars had a little white basket strapped to it and there were pink and purple streamers in the hand-grips.
We didn’t wear helmets back then. We grew up living on the edge.
Dad had removed the training wheels that morning and we got out on the street early so there wouldn’t be any traffic. I can’t remember how many tries it took me to peddle along without him holding on to the sissy-bar on the back of the seat, but eventually, Dad did let go.
That single moment in time when you realize no one’s holding on anymore is scary and exciting all at the same time and if you think about it, those two emotions are pretty close to begin with. I was zipping along Primrose Avenue all by myself! Woot! Absolutely glorious!
Right up to the point where I heard a car coming up the street, panicked and tore the side mirror off a neighbor’s parked car.
That’s okay, though. Dad wouldn’t let that overshadow my big accomplishment. The mirror could be easily fixed.
Grown-Up Training Wheels
I had just started writing Diego’s background story when I got that horoscope. Up to that point I thought I was just writing notes, but after I read that, something clicked.
Training wheels. I’ve never written a full story all by myself. I’ve always collaborated in some form or another. On the creative writing forums it was a huge group effort just for fun and entertainment. Loyalties was different. Wendi and I had a goal and we were fulfilling long-term dreams.
I took another look at my Diego notes and it dawned on me — my training wheels were gone. I was flying on my own and creating a full story. This one may not have every little detail shared with the public at one time, but if I wanted it to, it could turn into something that could stand alone. That in itself was an amazing thought.
How Did That Happen?
Accountability. At first it was accountability to the other writers in the forums. They needed the story to continue, and I made it so. With Loyalties, and now Uncivil Wars, I am accountable to my writing partner and making sure I keep up my end of the creativity.
When you write solo, you’re accountable to yourself and that may be the hardest form of accountability. It’s easy to make excuses and slack off when there’s no one to report to other than you.
But think on this: Those who you let down in the outside world are often more forgiving of small transgressions against them than we are of those we do to ourselves. Being accountable to yourself and following through is going to be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Every project that gets relegated to that Spartan-like bottomless pit called the Sock Drawer of Doom weakens you. Abandoning the project just because you’ve hit a rough spot, or have listened to those voices in your head telling you this is stupid, will only perpetuate those feelings of failure.
So, how do you fix that?
Just finish it. For those of you who don’t have a collaborative writing partner or a writing coach, your first draft is your set of training wheels. You’re allowed to be imperfect. You’re allowed to have too many commas, plot holes and a ton of stuff that will end up on the cutting room floor.
This is what first drafts, rough sketches and demos are for. You play, you test, you refine and then you do it all over again until it’s right. Nothing is set in stone until you say it is and even then that stone is more like clay you can still mold and shape here and there. So what if you tear off a few car mirrors by accident? Stock up on the Krazy Glue.