What happens if we just try? Or better stated what’s the worst that could happen? I think many of us, (us, all being humans) can be at one time or another paralyzed by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection. But I think what we’re really afraid of is trying. Taking that first step out into the unknown.
Whether it be that first key stroke of that first novel you’ve always wanted to write . . . That first “hello” to that special someone you’ve always wanted to talk too . . . Signing up for that first day of class for that degree you’ve always wanted to go back to school for . . . But more often than not, we don’t do it. Feeling somewhere deep in our collective DNA that taking that first step will lead to failure, and even worse rejection. So why even go there, right?
I remember when I got my first opportunity to write a novel. I had submitted a collection of poems to Dutton Children’s Books. An untitled, loosely tied together thematic collection of teen- dom in all it’s glory and angst.(Mostly angst.) I got a call from the head of the imprint at the time telling me they really loved the poems but what they really wanted me to do was turn those poems into a novel. My response?
Sure, absolutely, no problem. Do it everyday . . .
Did I have a clue at the time almost ten years ago as to how I was going to do it ? Absolutely not. But I tried. I wanted it BAD. I wanted to write a novel. I felt I had a lot to say. To share, to give . . .
I took a leap of faith and challenged myself in every way possible. Did I have doubts? Of course. Fear? You bettcha. (Okay, I was saying that before Sarah Palin.) But I never let myself get paralyzed by that fear. Easier said than done you’re thinking, but I did it. And those poems after 3 1/2 years of blood, sweat and many tears turned into “Names Will Never Hurt Me“ . Now, more than 6 years after it was published, it is still being used across the country in a host of ant-bullying programs and discussion groups at schools and libraries. Bringing greater awareness and understanding of this ever-present problem.
Names Will Never Hurt Me was the first of three poetic novels I would write. A style of merging poetry and prose into one form. Telling the story through sometimes short bursts of poetic emotion through the eyes and lives both internal and external of the teens I created. (The four teens in the case of this novel.) A music producer friend of mine once compared this book to the film “Pulp fiction.” Most likely because of the different ways I told the story, and the varied points of views. How one single moment in time could be frozen and viewed from four distinct and different angles, all the while never losing it’s immediacy. The creation of this book came from taking one step, and then the next, then the next . . . Never looking back, but always forward. Telling myself not to be afraid even when I was. Telling myself, what’s the worst that could happen?
That book also became a springboard for my speaking career. Which just took off after its publication. Giving me the opportunity to speak to teens directly about the problems they face everyday, both at school and at home. Opening up an honest dialogue about bullying, racism, ostracism, the potential for school violence . . . What goes on in that unseen world of a teen’s mind . . . After speaking, without fail, a student would walk up to me and say, I know that kid in your book he sits next to me in Algebra. Or, I am that kid, I am Kurt, where can I go for help? What can I do?
My experience with how “Names Will Never Hurt Me” came to be is a template I use for every book that I write. When I sit down at my desk every morning I am taking a leap of faith. That first step into the complete unknown. Uncertainty is the writer’s constant companion, accompanying us on our daily journey through plot and character development. Draft after draft, revision after revision, with each pass, each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence, each word . . . we take that first step all over again. Not knowing exactly where our words will land, or how they will be received when they finally reach those waiting eyes and ears, hearts and souls . . .
I could have easily not tried on that day I received that phone call about my poems. As a matter of fact I could’ve just said, no, I’m not a novelist I’m a poet, and I really don’t think I can do that. End of story. Just given in to that innate fear of the unknown, that fear of failure. But I believe along with our innate fears, we also have the innate ability to overcome those fears. To push past them, over them, through them, and tell ourselves what’s the worst that could happen?
The answer to that for me is simple.
The worst that could happen is that you’ll never know . . .