Breaking Through

Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos

One of the greatest feelings in the world is to break through a barrier, tear down a wall. Ask Ronald Reagan. (Oh wait, you can’t. Sorry about that.)

It may be manifested in different ways. Perhaps something you want to start doing, stop doing, do better. Learn to play a difficult piece of music, tackle a foreign language, bike further, run faster, stop snacking. Whatever.

It’s something you carry around in your head. You know, the nagging little voice that tells you that you can’t possibly do X.

Everybody has an ‘X’. Probably several. So why don’t we just go ahead and do ‘X’?

Because of that negative, doubting little voice, giving us a reason (or reasons) why we will fail, must not bother to try.

As a writer, I tend to have several projects going on at any one time, and I write in different genres. But the one genre I’ve always hesitated to try — no, actively resisted — is the short story. 

My ‘X’. (Or at least one of my ‘Xs’. One I’m willing to admit to, anyway.) 

I’m not sure why, exactly. I guess I didn’t think I could weave a story, paint the picture and wrap up loose ends in the smaller, tighter venue of a story.

Yesterday was a landmark day for me in conquering this barrier in my mind. The exercise in my writing class was to frame a story in your mind (based on a given prompt), tell your ‘draft’ story to a classmate, receive their feedback, then write your story in a limited amount of time.

Despite working hard on my ‘mental’ draft to incorporate the guidance given, I wasn’t sure the storyline was interesting enough. My partner’s feedback was extremely helpful: succinct, targeted, easy to grasp, and most of all highly encouraging. I could tell by her comments that she thought my story had ‘legs’. It was worthy.

Scribbling furiously during the timed writing stage, my hand tried to capture on paper the mental and written notes I’d taken while my mind raced to incorporate them into the story. The page was littered with cross-outs and arrows moving phrases or sentences from here to there, sometimes back again.

At which point, time was up. We had to read our stories aloud to the class.

I worried that it was still too rough, wasn’t done. Would it even make sense? Or worse still, would it sound forced? Maybe they’d damn me by faint praise. Would I be exposed as someone who couldn’t really write a short story?

I distinctly remember telling myself ‘just do your best, read what you’ve written and get it over with.’ I took a deep breath and began. As the last words tumbled out of my mouth, I braced for their reactions.

The feedback I received was so positive, uplifting and sincere that I was taken aback. Suggested changes were minimal. Yes, it was still a draft and needed additional work, more polishing. But I could tell they thought it was well written. They liked it.

It had to be one of the most gratifying moments in my writing life. And the feeling of having the burden of my X lifted (that I couldn’t possibly write a short story) was amazing. It still is, this afternoon.

So what is YOUR barrier, your wall? What’s your ‘X’??


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