Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Summer of 1984.
Backyard barbecue somewhere in Wanaque, New Jersey.
I'm twelve years old and my sister is nine.
The smell of grilled meats and sunscreen.
Scratch that. No sunscreen odor, that's revisionist history. More like the scent of Coppertone oil. We've yet to discover the benefits of not toasting our skin, at least in my neck of the woods. And a tan is a must have companion to Jams and lightened hair courtesy of Sun In.
I linger in the shallow end of the pool, feigning exhaustion. "Maybe I'll join the next game," I say. Please let there not be a next game, I pray. I don't do the deep end of a pool and I don't intend on letting anyone else know that. While my sister does cannonballs and scissor jumps off the diving board, I long for the car ride home, another swimming event survived.
From there, the details off the day get fuzzy. I don't remember if I was called out as a wuss by my peers or if my father gently encouraged me to grow a pair. All I remember is standing next to the ladder that descended into the deep end of the pool. The goal: jump in far enough to not mangle my legs but close enough to the escape route so not to panic and flop like a panicked bird.
You'll see how scary it isn't.
Once you do this you'll be fine forever.
If your sister can ...
Number one. I hate encouragement, still do.
Number two. Don't challenge me through mocking. I'm an all world self-deprecator so your words mean little.
I eventually jumped. And you know what? It was just as scary and awful as I'd anticipated. I remember feeling like I was going to sink beyond the bottom of the pool. Nothingness under my feet was crippling.
I didn't brave the deep end until years later. And I still swim like a spaz.
Fast forward to fall of 2018.
I wrote a book, a memoir/collection of short stories and self-published it through Amazon. I participated in a few slightly uncomfortable book signings to promote it. On more than one occasion, I may have told an onlooker, "It's okay to pretend to not see me here. I know how awkward it is for you to pretend to care. And honestly, the book isn't all that great." I convinced myself it is was a slick reverse-psychology-marketing-maneuver.
At some point I agreed to a combined author signing and book reading at my local indie bookstore. When in New Hope. (I was going to write "When in Rome" but that's so cliche and we writers must avoid the cliche so I went with "New Hope" because that's where the bookstore was: New Hope, PA. Explaining that now defeats the purpose of the original cliche avoidance but at least you're not confused, right?)
When the morning of the signing arrived, I picked out three passages and read them aloud. I test drove different cadences and tones and realized I was going to bomb. But it was too late to back out. So I settled on a chapter about losing my wallet and prayed at least one sucker would give me a smile as I poured my heart out.
The book store owner gave me two pieces of advice before the signing/reading commenced.
Act like you’ve been there before
Fake it until you make it
Didn't help. I hate quotes. The attempt to address my insecurities through cute five to ten word sentences is an insult.
When the time arrived to address the crowd a funny thing happened.
There was no crowd.
Not a soul showed up.
We all promoted the event through Facebook and word of mouth and each of us banked on the few acceptances we'd received. Yet no one dared set foot inside the store.
By the time the bookstore owners started to fold up the chairs and put them away, I felt like my blind date shunned me. One couple popped into the store, saw three amateur authors peddling their books, ensured that they made no eye contact and headed back out.
While relieved to not have to hear myself read my writing out loud, I longed to know how I would've performed. Would it have been as bad as anticipated? Like the first drop into the deep end of the pool? Or would I have enjoyed it?
I never got the answer.
One of the other authors was a twenty-something year old dude who wrote horror and looked like a hipster author. He had big plans and a cool pen name. He had swagger and killer book covers. He used the word “organically” at least five times. I knew he was going somewhere.
I picked his brain on writing fiction and plot development since I had only written non-fiction to that point. While most of what he said didn't register, one throwaway line stuck. "Everyone can write fiction. Just write what you know and you'll eventually figure it out."
Two years later and I've released two thriller/suspense novels in 2020. The second is better than the first and the third will be better than the first two combined. And there was no magical moment that spurred it and I never overcame some monumental fear.
I just started outlining one morning.
I stuck with it.
I wrote a chapter.
I wrote shitty dialogue. And deleted it. And started again.
I embraced the process.
I welcomed the criticism.
I adjusted based on that criticism.
I'm still doing it.
Just start and see what happens.