Holding On and Letting Go

I spend a lot of time exercising these days (yay, me!), or maybe it just seems that way. I go to a personal trainer twice a week, because it was the only way I could get my 51-year-old stubborn mind to convince my overweight body to improve itself. Yesterday I was riding the recumbent bike while another woman walked on the treadmill a few feet away. What struck me most was that she wasn’t holding onto anything as she walked at a fairly brisk speed.

The treadmill doesn’t scare me as much as it did a month ago when I started going to the trainer. The first time I was on it, though, I was a little freaked out by the speed at which I was walking and the fact that it just…kept…going. My legs were getting tired, so I thought I’d rest a bit. Instead of mashing one of the two prominent red buttons labeled STOP, I stepped onto the side—and promptly fell. A nice man on the elliptical turned it off for me while I nursed my injured knee. Since then, I hang on for dear life.

I told the woman when she finished on the treadmill that I was impressed by her ability to walk without holding on. She said, “Oh, I’ve been coming here for two months now, so I’ve gotten used to it. You’ll get used to it too.” In that month’s difference, she’d been able to let go, not just of the handles, but of her fear, too.

I find myself writing a lot lately about fear. I’ve been learning from my therapist to overcome the anxiety that’s plagued me much of my life, and the process has made me realize what a destructive force fear is. I won’t truly progress in exercising if I allow fear to hold me back. The more experience I gain, the more my confidence builds. It’s true in so many areas of life, and particularly in writing. Writing requires a certain amount of confidence in one’s own ability. After all, when we write, we’re spilling our emotions and experiences and life essence out for all to see. We’re making ourselves vulnerable. Vulnerability is uncomfortable enough around friends, much less strangers who don’t know us except through our writing, and are judging whether they should’ve spent the money on our work or not.

Holding on to the handles of the treadmill has its value, but if I hold on for too long, I know I won’t get the full benefit of the exercise. At some point I have to let go, take the risk, and not let fear hold me back from reaching my full potential. Yeah, I’ll probably fall at some point, but it’s better than if I didn’t try at all.

Let me know in the comments how you overcome fear in your own writing experience.

Total Control

[Note: This blog entry was originally posted on the I love Smashwords website. It has since been taken down. I recovered it from the Wayback Machine, because it has particular significance to me. I don’t use Smashwords anymore, but the sentiments are still valid.]

I suspect nobody but me knows this one, but have you ever heard the old Michael Nesmith song, “Total Control,” off one of his solo albums? It’s a lighthearted song about how the singer wants “total control of the airports. Total control of the sea. And total control of the freeway. Total control of police” (Source ). Smashwords gives me just that feeling–that I have total control.

I hit a bad patch of crazy at work a few months back where I was demoted from a job I created about 12 years ago, completely out of the blue or left field or from whichever cliche abrupt changes come. It arrived on top of negative self esteem issues related to my weight. And turning 51. My inner voice felt like the complete opposite of total control. (Good thing I was already seeing a therapist!)

And along came Smashwords.

I’m not even sure now where I found out about this marvel of the e-publishing world, but discover it I did. And ideas starting churning in my head. I had two novels whose pixels were covered in dust. The first novel, Second Death, had been turned down by multiple publishers, with numerous “almost, but not quite” rejections to its credit, despite paying a professional editor a lot of money to edit it (and she loved it too). Why not publish them? What could it hurt?

First, I threw myself into Research Mode. When I get enthusiastic about something, I get enthusiastic in a big way. (Obsession is an ugly word. I prefer euphemisms.) I researched the marketing of e-books, particularly J. A. Konrath and his irascible style. I read every detail about how to upload to CreateSpace and Kindle and Smashwords, their requirements and caveats. I was excited.

When at last I held my breath and pressed the upload button, I felt such a feeling of control. “Total control of all variables,” as Mr. Nesmith would say. I realized I’m not bound by what a publisher thinks of me, what an editor might say, what the fashions and trends in publishing might be. Granted, I’m a firm believer in editors, and cringe at the low quality of many Smashwords descriptions (dang, if the description is that poorly written and edited, I sure won’t read the book). But that’s all up to me. I choose what I want to write, what my cover looks like, all within the boundaries of what Meatgrinder the Mighty will accept. I’m fine with that stricture. (Again, it’s a quality thing. E-published authors won’t get rid of the reputation of “vanity publishing” if we don’t produce quality work.)

Smashwords has given me freedom, and challenged me to write more. I want the instant gratification (well, nearly so) that comes with uploading my own manuscript. I want to see lots of books written by me in my list. So I’d better get busy and write them. I don’t even stress over work anymore. I’m a writer first. My job’s way down the list of importance.

And I have Smashwords to thank. Now I have control of some aspect of my life. And I’m grateful for it.

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