A Hole in My Head, Part 2: Of Risks and Rewards

Sometimes I think I already have a hole in my head. That’s old-fashioned slang that refers to something that nobody needs or wants…and some days, when I must sit down and write my stories, I think I have  a hole in my head. After all, who cares? Who cares that I closet myself with my books and my computer and the hours fly by while I’m polishing paragraphs or etching essays or streamlining stories. If I journey into memoir, I risk exposing the tender flesh of memory, the raw dark corners of my soul. If I stick with fiction, I risk crafting a work no one will ever see. Rejection, you see, lurks like Dora’s foxy Swiper, behind every bush and tree. Do I need this grief?

I’m not comfortable being a gambler. Las Vegas exerts no hold on me. Casinos don’t compete for my hard-earned dollars. The most I’m willing to risk is a scratch-off in the Christmas stocking or a lottery ticket shared with friends when the jackpot reaches seductive heights. So what compels me to spend hours, days, months, years creating and crafting a piece that may or may not achieve publication? Risk there is, more than enough to carve out a queasy space in the pit of my stomach. Reward, not so much. An occasional journal will pay for my work. They might send me a few offer author copies. If an agent takes me on, I’ll be looking at an extended revision period with no promise an editor will spring for the novel at the end of that time. So, what gives? In an attempt to answer that question, I’ve made a list. Of course you have, my friends chortle. Isn’t that what you always do? Sigh. I acknowledge that, indeed, all those little pieces of paper with columns of ideas, wisps of conversation and acres of chapter changes do belong to me. Thus, the list.

Intrinsic Rewards:

#1. Joy. One of my friends who is attempting to write about her own life experiences asked me, in the midst of her struggle to stay focused, how I return day after day to the writing. I do it, I say, because the anticipation of sitting at my computer and ‘wording’ it lights a small fire inside me. I burn with the warmth of that fire, anxious to immerse myself in the words. That is not to discount the moments when the writing itself brings pain and discomfort. That, too, is a property of fire.

#2. Possibility. In the act of creation, of bringing characters and situations to life, I experience a profound belief in the possible, in the magical, in the power of words to make us fully alive. And I imagine success for my work. Which acquires, after it leaves my hands, a life journey of its own. Fly, little story, fly, fly, fly!

#3. Satisfaction. Whether the story remains in my folder of unpublished works or soars into its own orbit, I have completed the race. Each piece is polished and labeled and waiting, not for Godot, but for some lesser god to claim it as his or her own. If only one person finds pleasure in the reading, I am content.

#4. The Paradox of Pleasure/Pain. In the moment of creating, revising, editing, submitting, I am torn between the contentment of completion and the fear of failure. And in that moment I feel most keenly alive, aware of all the paths the story may take, acutely attuned to the risks I am taking.

I may not place my money on the table or slip a coin into a slot. I’m not betting the farm or losing the house. I’m gambling with the only coin I have to lose. I’m venturing my words, my stories, my self-esteem, my belief in my own ability. Risky business, this writing game. When it comes to publication, the odds are stacked against me. The house wins most of the time. But, oh those sweet rewards when acceptance rides the email and my story finds a home.

So, I plug the hole in my head where fear resides, stifle the inner censor, banish the boo bird who insists I’m a loser. I type away, betting that this story will be the big winner. That the reward is worth the risk. That pain and pleasure and satisfaction and possibility and joy make the ride worth it.

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