Risk

Making the first mark on a blank page, typing the first word—letter—on a blank screen. Beginning, commitment. Do you know, the place before that first stroke, be it with pen or fingertip, how seductive that place is? It is BEFORE. It is potential. Everything is possible. Nothing is chosen. Nothing is wrong.

Nothing is risked.

It is intoxicating-frustrating. It’s… it’s like that moment, when you’re falling in love, pheromones teasing—but before the first kiss. Will you dare? Will she? How will he respond? What will I feel? What will happen next? Will there be fireworks? Or rejection?

The place of “nothing risked, all potential, I took no wrong steps, I made no mistakes” —oh, that place is so seductive…

I have ways of breaking through it in my work. I type: Client Name-Project Title. My byline. I type the names and titles of the people I interviewed. The page is no longer blank. I haven’t really risked anything yet—but I’ve started. It’s like… oh, cautious physical contact before that first kiss, you know? A hand on the shoulder, brushing oh-so-casually against a hip-but-not-lower as you leave the table: “I’ll be right back.”

But then, the choices, risks have to start. The words have to come. In an ideal scenario, they just come: the piece is written long before I sit down to let it out. It writes itself in my head while I walk. Drive. Scrub the kitchen floor, reorganize the books I’ll never read but must own. I know this—this is why, often, I’m so reluctant to sit down at the computer until I know exactly how it begins and how it ends.

(The middle, generally, just takes care of itself.)

But “ideally” is… aspirational. It does not always happen—it does not happen often enough. There is no time for a walk that settles everything, there is no space for it all to plan itself out as it would like to. Because, deadline.

And so, I sit down with the laptop. Blank screen, blank page. I type. Client Name. Mock Up Headline (usually bad). Names and titles of people I interviewed. Key idea. Fuck. I have no key idea. I have no idea what I want to say.

The clock ticks, the deadline looms, and I stare at the screen and I’m pretty sure that no matter what I write, it will be pure and utter crap, and so… I don’t. I don’t want to.

I want to stay in this safe space of nothing risked…

I look at the time and it’s later, the deadline’s closer, and the kids will be home soon, and dinner, and…

I should probably go for a walk—a fifteen minute walk, a five minute walk, it would be more productive than this I am so stupid so lazy why have people not realized this and why do they keep on giving me work and why do I say yes to stories I can’t write, projects I’m too flakey-flighty-dopey-right-brained to comprehend?

I open another window. I type:

“Making the first mark on a blank page, typing the first word—letter—on a blank screen. …”

NBTB-Risk

I write. I make choices. I warm up. And, mid-sentence, starting to run, I switch windows.

“My key message, what I need to nail down in this column is how the gut feeling that comes from the limbic fight and flight response that entrepreneurs get during a crisis, a downturn: what your gut tells you to do is wrong. That’s the limbic brain telling you sabre-tooth tiger over there, wants to eat you, stay very, very still. Paralysis. And you know? A moment of paralysis, of standing still? Do it. Don’t react too quickly, stupidly. But take that moment of frozen-still-scared… to think. Analyze. Evaluate. And look for opportunity. Because it is in crisis, when all the rules of the game are out the window, that innovation thrives, that you make that bet-the-farm play…”

It’s not good. It’s not at all what I want to say. It’s not a fireworks-producing kiss, a bold declaration of love that could be unrequited. It hardly ever is.

But it’s a beginning. A first step. Something risked. A sense of where I need to go. Where to next?

Choices. I keep on writing—the clock, relentless, keeps time—we keep on kissing and that first awkward “I’m not sure-is this ok?” kiss is now forgotten. I think there might be a firework coming—and, oh, yes…

“Mom! Where are you, Mom?”

“I’m writing! Hush! Almost done!”

“Mom! We’re home!”

“Five minutes, and I’m yours… Maybe ten… hold on… just one more sentence… ok, one more after that… and… I’m…”

…done. Fireworks? Not always. Not this time. The earth did not move, and it won’t when you read the final product—although, maybe, you’ll smile, a little, and remember that one line when I almost managed to bring it over the top? Will you? Doesn’t matter. It’s done. The clock doesn’t mock me anymore, time is not a terror, the page is not blank.

I put the laptop away. Choices made. Risks taken.

Story filed.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Episode 356, in which everyone swears, metaphors are tortured, and a bad story gets filed

subtitled, why my children swear… and why I’m not going to stop…

I.

Ender: Mom? You know what the difference between you and me is? You swear at people. I just swear for fun.

Go ahead. No, please, go ahead, indulge the judge within. There are so many things WRONG with that statement, I don’t even know where to start.

It’s only partially true.

I don’t really swear AT people. More at the THINGS they do.

More often yet: at my self. My brain. The things it refuses to do when I really need it to perform…

Still. I hereby resolve to swear less. In front of the sponge-like four-year-old, anyway.

II.

I have this deeply insightful point to make and I’m just trying to find the right way to lead up to it, and then…

Flora: Mom? Do we have any of that delicious bean mush left?

Jane: What? That? Yeah?

Flora: Can I have that for breakfast?

Yes, of course, but I have to help her heat it up—because it’s been left overnight in the pan and so requires some, um, resuscitation shall we say—and then, ok, a tortilla or two to go with it, and then by the time I come back to the laptop, I can’t remember where I was going, what I was thinking…

Yeah, gone. Forever. Here. Read this instead:

III.

Jane: Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, why is this piece so fucking bad? It’s easy. It’s simple. A goddamn chimpanzee at a typewriter could write it, so why… Jeezus—Keerist, why. Am. I. So. Fucking. Brain. Dead. Today? … hey, Cinder? I’m going to walk over to Vendome to get a coffee with whipped cream in it and clear my head, wanna come with?

Cinder: That depends. Are you going to talk to yourself and make weird hand gestures and roll your eyes and stop suddenly and shout, “YES!” or “Fuck, no, that won’t work,” because you’re stuck on that story?

Jane: Um… maybe…

Cinder: Then no. But can you bring back some of that good focaccia bread? And don’t eat it all on the way home!

OK, this stopping swearing in front of my children thing probably isn’t going to happen.

And also: seriously, a goddamn chimpanzee with a typewriter could have written it better than I had in that first draft form. Your writing tip for the day, boys and girls: an amateur despairs and gives up. A professional despairs, goes for a walk, downs a triple mocha, and redrafts.

IV.

The thing is, though, I’m feeling kind of lonely and really do want company.

Jane: Flora? Wanna go to Vendome with me?

Flora: Are you going to talk to me as we walk, or ignore me and just mumble to yourself and do that creepy thing with your eyes?

Jane: Um. I don’t know. Maybe?

Flora: Can I make a video of you and put it on Youtube?

Jane: No!

Flora: Can I make a video of you and show it to all my friends?

Jane: Why do you hate me?

Flora: We don’t hate you, Mom. We just like to mock you.

Awesome. I go for my walk alone.

IV.

I redraft. It still sucks. Woe is I. Or rather, woe is my editor, who will have to fix it.

Point: “Filed.” I’ve told you before, have I not? An amateur thinks it has to be good. A professional knows it just has to be done.

V.

This is the moment where I try to adapt the good/done, amateur/professional metaphor to parenting. It’s rather torturous, but it goes like this. The amateur/theoretical parent—i.e., your childless friend who is so full of theory and advice and knows exactly how he will raise his kids or even any first-time, first-year mom at that stage of the journey (do you remember that stage? I find it’s fading for me, too fast, thank goodness I write so I have proof of how insufferably arrogant and “right” I was)—thinks it has to be perfect. That it can be perfect. The professional parent—that is, anyone who’s done it in the real world for more than a year—knows it just has to… be. It just… is.

It gets done, every day.

Right?

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Everyone Swears

A whisper of advice to an exhausted blogger, uninspired writer

Play.

That’s all.

Forget about niching, target audience, stats.

Play.

Write three sentences about one of your kids’ curls. A pea smashed into the carpet.

Or: walk away from motherhood, parenthood, cooking, IT–whatever it is that your “niche” is. Write about something beautiful. Irrelevant. Important. Or not. Take a picture: and make a list of the adjectives it inspires in you.

Pull a quote from a book you’re reading. Do things to it. Let it do things to you.

Spend some time on Brain Pickings. Maybe start with Famous Advice on Writing. Or, no, no, read this, Susan Sontag on Sex:

“If only I could feel about sex as I do about writing! That I’m the vehicle, the medium, the instrument of some force beyond myself.”

… and see where that takes you.

Read Stephen King’s On Writing.

Here, in this space, your space, there are no rules but the ones you make.

Play.

Watch the Words, words, words playlist from Ted Talks: a collection of 12 fabulous talks for people who love words.

Write.

NBTB-Exhausted Blogger

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Unless you’re getting paid for it and you’re on deadline. Then suck it up, grit your teeth and get it done (hopefully not while crying). But here? Writing for you?

Play.

You’re welcome.