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Transforming fear and breaking through the writing wall

Categories: MFA Confidential Blog.


It hurts. Being pushed artistically. Being pushed to reach
higher, dig deeper. Sometimes we’re pushed by a teacher, a mentor. Other times
we have to push ourselves. Years ago I took an expressive dance class at Stella
Adler Conservatory in New York City. I had always been interested in acting and
this summer program was my chance to see if acting was really for me. Did I
have what it took? Well, one afternoon we were given a simple assignment: to get
up in front of the class and dance. Easy enough, right? Not so much. We were
told to dance freely around the room, to create our own movements, to express
the exact emotion we were currently feeling. What was I feeling? Fear. Debilitating
fear. And so when it was my turn, I just stood there and swayed my hips. I
flapped my arms around a bit, pushed up onto my toes, tried out a few
releves.  “More,” the teacher barked. “That’s
not dancing, that’s pathetic.” I tried more. I twirled around the room a bit. I
was so scared, so stuck. “More,” she screamed. And I just froze. I didn’t know
what to do. At that moment, the teacher slowly walked over to me. She walked
over to me, looked me in the eyes, unscrewed the cap off of her bottle of water,
and poured the entire bottle of water on top of my head. “Now
dance,” she said.  And so I did. I don’t know
how I even got my legs to move, but I danced. I shook off the water as I
thrashed around, finally feeling a true emotion: anger. I disliked that teacher
from that point on, but she did, at least, help chip away at something inside
of me. I loosened up. Let go a little. Began to take chances.

I think back to that moment now because I’m at a point with
my writing where I’m really hitting a wall. I’m hitting a wall and just can’t
seem to break through. As I look over my most recent stories, the same thing
keeps pulling me back—I can’t quite articulate what the thing is exactly, but
it has to do with truth. Real, gut wrenching truth. Human truth. I think I’m
skirting around the truth, hopping over it, poking fun at it, adding too much to
it. A few nights ago on American Idol, one of the guys had just finished
singing and every judge had the same suggestion for him: Do less. “Too many
tricks,” a judge said, “not enough truth. Just sing the song.” Those comments hit me hard. “You’re
holding back,” one of my teachers said recently. I was confused. You’d think by
pulling out all your tricks you wouldn’t be holding back at all, but rather
putting it all out there. I’m learning the opposite is true. A good story doesn’t
always require bells and whistles. It doesn’t always need flashy prose or fantastical
circumstances. A good story is good because it is true. It is recognized. It
wakes something up in us, hits an emotional nerve. “You have to dig deeper,” my
teacher says. “Keep chipping away till you hit that bone.” I want to block my
ears. I want to run out of the room, throw my laptop away. But I don’t.

It takes courage to dig deep. And sometimes it takes
teachers, mentors, colleagues to push us, to help us reach that place, locate
that courage. I hate it while it’s happening. I hate the discomfort, that
feeling you get when you’re right up against the wall and you can’t possibly
imagine ever breaking through.  I won’t
lie—I sometimes feel like giving up, especially when I keep churning out stories
that are falling short in the same way. It seems impossible, you know? Getting past
that wall. I’ve reached my potential,
I say to myself. That’s it. I’m as good
as I’ll ever be
. But I know that isn’t true. I know because I’ve pushed through
the wall before. “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key
to unlocking our potential,” said Liane Cordes
. And so, we have to keep pushing ourselves
and we have to keep allowing ourselves to be pushed by others. Because the
feeling you get when you break through the wall is worth it. That dance is
worth it.

“We
cannot escape fear. We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies
us on our exciting adventures…Take a risk a day—one small or bold stroke that
will make you feel great once you have done it.”

-Susan
Jeffers

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9 Responses to Transforming fear and breaking through the writing wall

  1. Kate says:

    Pat– Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad the article helped!

    Karin– You’re welcome. I think we’re neighbors in the country of Procrastination.:)

  2. Karin Gladney says:

    Thanx for this push! I am working on my first novel and keep visiting the country of Procrastination. I really needed this motivation.
    Karin

  3. Wow! Am I glad I stopped here today. This is the right article at the right time for me. You just gave the exactly what I needed for the story I was stuck on. I’m not even sure how you did it, you just did.

    Thanks,

  4. Kate says:

    Tressa– Thank you! And I am excited for you–that you broke through. I’m working on trying to break through on one of mine right now. It’s a killer!

  5. Tressa says:

    Your blog hit me where I needed it. I’m working on a story currently and was sort of stuck. I didn’t look at it for a few days. Today I broke through and made great progress. Thanks so much, you are extremely helpful and have fantastic insight. Thanks

  6. Kate says:

    Thanks, Zachary! I appreciate it!

  7. Kate says:

    Thanks, Kristan– Well, your comments inspire me! Thanks for leaving them. They make my day.

  8. Zachary Grimm says:

    Awesome job, Kate!

  9. Kristan says:

    Great post! And speaking of digging out the truth, your personal experiences really enriched your point.

    Keep pushing against that wall. You’re obviously very talented. And thanks for sharing your insights. They’re inspiring. :)

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