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Drowning in the Well

Originally published at Joely Sue Burkhart. You can comment here or there.

The scene I’m writing in Road showed me exactly what a coward I still am sometimes.

Oh, I think I’m so brave. Boldly writing exactly the kind of story I want instead of suffering to fit a square peg into a round hole and wondering why it doesn’t work. Shipping off contest entries to be reamed. Proudly earning the rejection badge of courage with agent query after query shot down. I’ve grown as a writer, nearly five years old now. I know a few things. I’ve survived.

So brave.

And yet when a scene comes along that I’ve been dreaming of for years and years…I cheat. Skipping ahead to this dream-come-true scene, I write the set up, happily, but when I get to the heart of everything this story is, I write a one-paragraph “summary.” I know it’s not right, but I’m so frozen, so full of dread and fear, that I can’t do it. So I let that paragraph ride and I go back to the main story line. I shouldn’t skip ahead, I tell myself, but in reality, I need to write something safer. Assassination attempts, political manuevering, battles, even another sex scene, because hey, that’s a hell of a lot easier than facing the scene I fouled up.

Word by word, page by page, I’ve caught up to that foolhardy cowardly paragraph. I had skipped ahead in my glittering confidence, sure I could bang that “candy bar” scene out; now, I can’t afford to mess around with it. This IS the candy bar scene of scenes. This is what so much of the journey has been about. I can’t mess this up. I can’t sit here and play this scene safe. Safe will kill this story, and if I kill THIS story, then I kill myself as a writer.

I’ve got to hang it all out in the wind and take my punches.

So I did it last night. I finished the brutal scene that should have been a pleasure, a dream come true, and was in fact harder to write than slaughtering a beloved character. The scene’s not right yet, but at least I quit being a coward. At least I took the shot, I took the risk, though I haven’t decided if I hit the basket or not.

I guess in the end, that’s what matters. At least that’s what Gregar told me when he hauled me out of the Well, dripping wet with my lungs full of water. Lying there, gasping for breath and coughing, I realized something. It all seemed so clear (I hear near death experiences do that). I never could have written this scene two years ago, even one year ago. Hell, I barely wrote it now. It wasn’t on the realm of possiblity when I first started out nearly five years ago.

It all began to make sense. Why this story had to take so long to come to fruition. Why I had to dream about it for years. Because in the end, I never could have written it right until I’d suffered and bled and earned the right to be here. All of these years, I’ve been climbing up Vulkar’s Mountain, bleeding a little more each day, and hoping, praying I would reached the top. I almost turned back so many times.

This Mountain has nothing to do with success, not like I thought at first, and everything to do with Seeing, myself most of all.

Last night, I found the lake of fire at the top of the Mountain, I saw the heartfires of the earth dancing toward heaven, and I understood.

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