As 2016 comes to a close, I find myself taking a deep breath. It was an adventurous year for me—I got an agent, I dove headlong into writing a new novel, and I started a career as a writing professor. All good things. I’m grateful. I’m elated. But after such a banner year, I’m nervous, too.
I do have an immediate plan for January. Before the next college semester starts, I’m going to work on my novel. I haven’t touched it since August. Ideas have been brewing, but none have made it down onto paper. So now that I have time, I’m going to let them flow.
But what if they don’t?
All writers experience fear. We wish for an open stretch of time to write, but when we have it, we worry. What if the plot that seems brilliant in my head comes out as a confusing disaster? Or what if my complex characters come out as two-dimensional paper dolls? Ideas in my head are safe. They can’t disappoint. But on paper, they’re vulnerable. I worry they won’t be good enough.
All writers need encouragement, and that often comes from friends. Many have asked when I’m going to start working on my story again because they liked the bits they’ve read and want to see more. And while that is encouraging, it makes me worry that it won’t meet their expectations.
Just as I was struggling with this fear, I received encouragement from the least likely of places—on a humdrum trip to the grocery store. A few weeks ago, at an intersection, I noticed a sign:
Do what makes your soul happy.
And a little further on, at another intersection, I spotted:
You are beautiful.
And further along:
Some days you just have to create your own sunshine.
They were handmade signs, like the kind you’d put up temporarily for a tag sale, painted on poster board and mounted on thin metal legs. They made me smile. I wondered about the person who put them up, and how sweet it was of them to bring this unexpected brightness to strangers’ days. I figured the signs wouldn’t last long. But after a few weeks, they were still there.
A couple of days ago, I was approaching the store from another direction, and thinking about the worries and doubts of my novel. And I spotted a sign that I hadn’t seen before:
Inhale Confidence Exhale Doubt
I pulled over and took a picture. And I’m glad I did, because the next day, all the signs were gone.
Of course, inspirational quotes can only get you so far. They can’t do the work for me. But I will use Inhale Confidence Exhale Doubt as my new mantra in 2017 as I sit at my desk and try to get words to flow.
Thank you mysterious person or people, man or woman, adult or child, who put up these serendipitous encounters. They were a gift! As I restart my novel, it’s comforting to know that the universe is rooting for me.
I will inhale confidence, exhale the doubt, and get to work.