By Laura Moore

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For the last four weeks, I've been busy creating my own world: carefully crafting characters, civically engineering neighborhoods and inventing all sorts of problems for my lovely young adults to solve.

I spent roughly 240 hours (probably more, but I rounded down) over the course of a month, swirling around in the clouds of my imagination, running my fingers through thoughts as if they were sculpting clay, turning them into sentences and paragraphs and metaphors in an effort to make something that would get my high school kids to think and talk about big things, things they've inspired me to write about, things like life and death, things like dealing with the pressure to succeed, things like being too scared to step out of boxes, things like seeing the value of slowing down, of realizing there is no finish line in life where the challenges go away and everything suddenly gets easier. 

The process was awesome. 
And hard.
And painful. 
And rewarding. 
And disappointing. 
And inspiring. 

It was all of those things because the journey mimics life. The journey to create anything is about hope and then confidence and then doubt and then fear and then confidence and then hope all over again. 

Sometimes the path is clear and easy and the weather is perfect; at other times, the storm clouds cluster the moment you hit the steepest part of the mountain. And as easy as it would have been to turn back and hide under the cover of shelter, I couldn't pull myself away from the challenge. I couldn't rightfully give up because deep down I knew that trudging through the mud and testing my grip was all part of the experience if I wanted to understand what I was made of.

And so I kept going.

For the first four days it was sunshine and rainbows. My fingers danced. My ideas were pouring out just like they appeared in my head, and because of that, despite hearing expert advice to the contrary, I felt like I had ample time to edit as well as write. In fact, I started each day by editing the previous day's writing. Then, several hours later, once I felt good about what I had, I launched into the new stuff. 

My first draft is going to be polished, I said to myself each day as I went down for my third cup of coffee. 

But then, on day five, the editing demon (and a massive headache) swarmed my body, and I found myself paralyzed with panic. Despite earlier editing efforts that added words to the word count, on that day, my three hours of revision cut out almost 320 words, which, unfortunately, meant that I now had to write 2,720 words rather than 2,400, and I had three fewer hours to do it. 

Upon realizing this, I pounded the heel of my hand to my forehead, and right then and there--in the wake of a self-inflicted headache--I vowed to shut down my compulsive desire to nit-pick, to edit, to revise, to fiddle and fiddle and fiddle until my words sounded good in my ears. While other writers suggested this action as a vital mechanism for success, until I squared up with just how hard it was to move with an inner critic holding my feet in the mud, I couldn't shut him down, I couldn't bear to see what I created without him looking over my shoulder. 

The minute I was at risk for failing my daily word count though, I knew that I had no choice: if I wanted to keep going, I had to rip off a strip of duct tape and slap it across his mouth. 

And so I did.

"If you keep making me turn back," I told him sternly, "we are never going to get anywhere."

He struggled briefly with my retaliation, but he ultimately acquiesced, deciding to give me a chance to prove myself, deciding to give me the chance to write, to move without handcuffs and a three ton weight strapped to my back.

He stayed silent for three days, and for three whole days my fingers lifted ideas from my brain without any care or worry in the world. For three whole days I moved the story forward and I enjoyed the ride my fingers took across the keyboard. I could see the storm clouds up ahead, I could smell the rain, and I could hear the thunder, but I didn't want to believe it; I just wanted to keep going--I just wanted to keep joyriding--until I couldn't go any further, until something physically made me stop.

Maybe it'll miss me,  I thought as the sky grew darker. But all along, I knew there was something brewing. All along, I knew it would eventually collapse on top of me. All along, I knew I would find myself beneath massive amounts of angry precipitation without any rain gear or shelter to dull the severity of the attack.

And just as my gut predicted, this happened on day ten.

When I sat down to write that Monday, my stomach churned the entire time my fingers pounded the keys. I kept going to see if I could fix the problem, but by the time I got to the end of my word count, I knew there was no fixing it. I hated what was happening to my characters. It didn't feel right, and even worse, the more I thought about the way my plot was unfolding, the more I realized the entire manuscript was headed toward the dreaded land of contrivedville (yes, I just made up that word).

I wanted to throw up. 

Literally. 

In fact, the night the storm clouds dumped pounds of hail on my head, I laid in bed staring at the back of my eyelids for a good four hours before the nausea made me get up and sprawl out on the bathroom floor.

I can't keep writing something so stupid, I told myself over and over. You're 15,000 words in and this is absolutely, pathetically dumb.

Twisting and turning my ideas, I grasped for straws, hoping to figure something out so I wouldn't have to abandon my project and start over, but my mind could not move past the negative voices.  I could not get the inner critic to shut up so the problem solver could swoop in and fix things. I could not stop doubt from swimming through my intestinal tract, jostling things up inside of me, and taunting me with his I-told-you-this-was-going-to-be-dumb mantra.

So I stared up at the bathroom vent and gritted my teeth.

Then our baby cried. 

Crap. Crap. Crap.

I rubbed my temples, picked up my body and made my way to his crib. I rocked him until he fell back to sleep and I lost myself in his sweet face. Ten minutes later, I leaned down to set him softly on the mattress, but the minute I let go, he woke up again and screamed. We tried the process twice more, and after the third melt down, I carried him back to the kitchen, prepared a bottle and decided to feed him. Six ounces later, he fell into such a deep sleep he didn't mind returning to the crib. 

It was now three o'clock in the morning. 

Now what? I thought, staring at the clock. Too frantic to sleep and too tired to write, I sifted through a pile of books beside my desk and picked up Anne Lamont. Two paragraphs in, everything clicked. I pulled out my journal, and let my mind do its thing. Jotting down a revised game plan, I made notes about how to fix what I had already written, what I needed to delete and where I needed to go next. As I wrote, the nausea faded, and once I captured my epiphany, I decided to sleep on it.

The next morning, I deleted almost 5,000 words, revised the ones that stayed, and then set out on my new course. That process eliminated 1/3 of the work I had done up to that point, but once I cut the excess, I could see the fog lifting and the problems untangling. Ideas began forming again and I let myself follow their lead. My work was venturing off of my original plan, but it was exciting to see where it went. The entire experience was sort of like an out of body movie unfolding before me, and sometimes the plot would make me gasp: Woah. I didn't know that was going to happen to HIM!  I'd say to myself, shocked. Or That's what she was trying to get him to see?

When I'd explain the developments to my husband, he'd always smile at my reports. "How are you surprising yourself?" he'd ask. "Aren't you the one making it up?"

"It's magic," I would say back to him, and in a totally nerdy sort of way, that's exactly what it felt like.

This magic continued through the end, even when I realized my book still had problems, even when I realized there were plot gaps and point of view issues and two characters that needed to be merged. And I think that magic continued simply because I allowed myself to accept the fact that what I was writing could be fixed later. I think it continued because I resigned myself to just keep going, to just keep plugging away, to just get out the story so I could figure out what I had to work with when I had the time to dig in my fingers and rework the clay. 

When I uploaded it to the word counter for validation, I felt good about my imperfect manuscript. It wasn't pretty, boxed up or "finished" in any sort of way that would make sense to another human being, but buried in mountains of prose that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes messy, lies the promise of an idea I brought to life, lies a world that I made, a world stuffed with questions and fears and hopes and dreams. And even if no one else sees it, that world will always be alive, that world will always change the way I see mine, that world will always be something that exists because somewhere along the line I silenced my inner doubter, my inner criticizer, my inner voice that says you can't do it, and I filled the silence with a heart that says, you can.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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It's easy to say it out loud: to look into someone's eyes and own what I daydream about every single day of my life. It's easy to think what if and when and someday I will when my dreams hover like white puffs swarming in mid-December air, visible as long as I keep talking, fleeting the moment my lips close.

It's easy to say because in the deepest bowels of my existence, it turns out that I do want every last thing I dream about. I do want to pour myself on paper and toss it out to the world and reach some distant soul who needed to read what I had to say at some particular moment in time. I do want to make something that lasts, that captures our lives, today, and add it to the enormous time capsule of contemporary history. I do want to drill into my brain, set up a rig, and shuttle my imaginative musings out of hibernation and into my fingers so I can come alive. I do want to open a package, find a book with my name on it, hold it up to my nose, shut my eyes, and breathe it in. 

Like me, there are millions of people busy wanting and wishing and wondering. We are all trapped in a cobweb of hope, our fingers and toes stuck, tangled in strings of fear, doubt, duty, and insecurity. All of us dangle there, hanging, our past behind us, our dreams playing out across the room. We can see them vividly. We can even see the people who have already achieved them: those who overcame adversity, those who hit it big on YouTube or Twitter or Instagram, those who just so happened to catch the right person's attention through a forward of a forward of a forward. 

Those who simply took a risk and managed to break free.

They're all there.  

And I envy them.  

I waste a gajillion minutes every single day envying them, wishing I could pull myself loose string by string, and join the conversation, wishing my dream didn't seem so faint and real life didn't seem so comfortable.

But then, a few days ago, in the midst of my comfort, I came across a video of Shonda Rhimes delivering her 2014 commencement address to Dartmouth College. Several of my classmates from Dartmouth posted the video on Facebook, and curious, I took a moment to watch.

"When people give these kinds of speeches, they usually tell you all kinds of wise and heartfelt things" Rhimes said a few minutes in, after explaining to the audience that she doesn't like giving speeches and she is afraid she is going to "pass out" or "die" or "poop her pants."  

"They tell you: Follow your dreams. Listen to you spirit. Change the world. Make your mark. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Embrace failure. Dream. Dream and dream big. As a matter of fact, dream and don't stop dreaming until all of your dreams come true."

She paused.  Then, she said, "I think that's crap."

As she spoke, the videographer panned the graduate section, showcasing an array of black gowns adorned in yellow and orange and red and white hoods. Just behind them, we could see a few rows of undergraduates, some in the traditional black garb, others sitting on top of their split-open gown, shoulders bared, presumably hoping to snag a few rays as they float in time, lost in limbo between everything they knew and everything they dreamed.

I remember being one of them.  I remember wanting to stop and greet honorary graduates Hank Aaron and J.K. Rowling as I made my way to President Wright's outstretched hand. I remember the weight of my degree. I remember leaving the stage, full of pride, full of sadness, full of grief. I remember wallowing in the strange reality that everything I worked for my entire life was ending, and I was now free to fly.

I remember feeling lost. I remember being scared. I remember wondering where my path would go.

That girl needed to hear what Rhimes was saying.  

Heck, this girl still needs to hear what she is saying.

I leaned closer to the screen.

"I think a lot of people dream," Rhimes began again. "And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing....

Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change."

I paused the video. I felt the words on my tongue: dreaming without doing is crap. 

Crap.

I know that. As the girl who threw a hundred pitches rain or shine every single day of her life until the last day of her softball career, I knew it. As the girl who wrote ten page papers instead of five page papers, I knew it. As the girl who stayed up late to grade her essays in one week's time rather than two or three weeks time, I knew it. 

I absolutely knew it.

I've always known it.  

Anyone who has ever pursued anything worthwhile knows it.

I sat in my seat fully convicted. As much as I live it in every other area of my life, I don't live it with my dreams anymore, and I'm not sure how I ended up here as a non-doer or a partial doer or a when-I-have-time doer: as a dreamer. 

That wasn't who I was when I sat on those white chairs littering the Dartmouth Green.  It wasn't who I was when my starry eyes led me to New York City or my heavy heart propelled me to graduate school or my free spirit flew me to Florence, Italy.

It wasn't who I was and it is not who I want to be.

I no longer want to continue living in my brain and floating in the sky.

I want to push my words to the edge of the airplane and let them dive face first into a vat of ink, tumble onto parchment, and nestle into a piece of paper anchored to the earth. 

I want to put myself out there. I no longer want to sit back, overwhelmed, unsure where to start.

I want to write. 

And so I must write.

If I want my dreams to become real, I need to chase after them. I need to own them, dissect them, explore them, understand them and pursue them.  

I need to stop theorizing and fantasizing, and instead, discover the gold nugget postulate that explains how someone like me can defy gravity. I need to sharpen my voice, find my path, understand my market, surrender my inhibitions and write.

I need to make a schedule, sign my name to it and work hard. String, by string, I need to pull myself down, steady my feet and find my way. It's about time I get off of my butt and stop making excuses for letting my writing dream trail further and further away as I focused on my students, or on moving or on my wedding or on becoming a mom or on any of the other thousands of things that simply make up real life.

Shonda Rhimes is right: dreaming without doing is crap. 

And so, after a year long break, I'm back in the blogging sphere. I'm jumping in headfirst. I'm ready to learn. I'm ready to work. I'm ready to get reacquainted with the person I want to be.

I'm ready to do.