There are things I never thought I'd do. This is one of them:
On Friday, I held a gun for the first time in my life. It was part of advanced martial arts training, the next step after learning how disarm someone with a weapon is knowing what to do with it once you have it so you don't hurt someone or yourself accidentally. While an obvious next step, this *terrified* me. I don't like guns and while I respect and uphold that anyone has a right to own a gun, I was never interested in exercising that particular right myself. Still, I'm a big believer in facing your fears if you care to conquer them and here was an opportunity to learn from with instructors I knew and trusted in the crown jewel of the local NRA, Smith & Wesson.
Knowing I'd never held a gun before, I was told I'd start with a .22 but actually, the first thing placed in front of me was a .40 and I stared at it like it might come alive; a black semi-automatic viper with bullets the width of my little finger. When the first shots rang out further down the line, the sound wave punched my chest and, despite the safety glasses, I felt it flutter against my eyelids. Some Bambi-instinct made me flinch. Shells rained down on me from the next booth, popping off my baseball cap and the fluff of my hair. The room quickly filled with noise and smoke and the sharp smell of hot metal, paper and lead. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced and I held my hands in front of me trying to be as small and polite as humanly possible as I was shown again how to load and sight my weapon and when I snapped it live, my limbs didn't work quite right. The weight of the thing was a live promise of something going *boom* and I respected that with equal amounts wariness and fear. I choked my hands as high as I could, lifted the gun, positioned my feet, and took a long, slow breath.
As you can see, my first shot was (pardon the pun) "dead center" & I don't know who was more surprised: me or my instructor. However, if you notice, a lot of the next attempts didn't come close; even if they were in the "kill zone" they weren't grouped anywhere near my first shot and, in fact, my aim got worse as the night wore on. The instructor had warned us of this happening, but it was frustrating to have it play out all the same. Strangely enough, it wasn't due to anything like nerves or fatigue, but something he described as "anticipating" the shot. When we first started, it was a surprise and we had better aim because we didn't know what to expect, but once we'd gotten a taste for what the gun could do, we started to try to out-guess ourselves, aiming for what we thought was the target instead of our first gut reaction of making our best guesses, which were usually more correct. We trusted ourselves more than the gun, which we held with a higher (and wary) respect. The more we thought we knew, the worse the result, the more frustrated we'd get and so on unless we "reset" and reached back for that original mindset.
And that reminded me of writing.
I once believed that when I got an agent or an editor, once I got a contract, once I got those first edits, once I got that first check, that first ARC, that first glimpse of my finished book on the shelves, it would all be easier. The journey was over, the race had been won. Repeat after me now: HAHAHAHA! Not so. I already had another book to shop so when it went out, I felt absurdly confident and then upset anew when that wasn't snapped up instantly. And when it sold, I had the daunting prospect of writing a sequel. But no problem, thought I, I've written books all my life. How hard could a sequel be? Repeat after me now: HAHAHAHA!
Writing a sequel has been the biggest challenge thus far and I'm no longer naive in thinking that this will even be the biggest challenge I have yet to face. In the wake of thinking I knew what to expect, having more trust in the system then myself, I began fighting it--stuck for months in a fledgling draft going nowhere and second-/third-/thirteenth-guessing myself as I wrote because now I had some inkling what the stakes were, what people might expect or want, how the system worked, why these dates were called "deadlines" and I panicked. My aim was off. I wasn't hitting the target. I was anticipating instead of writing.
So I had to get back to my original mindset: back to a time where I was wholly ignorant of the greater process and simply playing in the story, carefree and careless and typing away where all things were possible. I had to try hard to forget and that's tricky, but *so* worth it! I'm looking forward to reinventing this draft after its 4-6 week marinade and promised myself that my summer project will be one just for me, silly and playful and strange, to cleanse the palate and clear my mind. I want to be surprised again. Life (and writing) has a way of surprising you because life (and writing) is funny that way. I'm testing myself to see if I can make the target blurry, set my sights, and see what happens.
I'm going to write like it's my first shot all over again.
Here's wishing you fears and forgetfulness and a whole lot of fun at the keys this summer. And stay tuned! At the end of the week I'll be announcing my 1st anniversary LUMINOUS SUMMER GIVEAWAY CONTEST! Pretty and tasty prizes coming soon!
P.S. I moved from the .40 to the .45 and then the 9mm. Later, the .22 felt like Pop Rocks in my hand and the .357 Magnum kicked me in the bones--I felt the recoil in the cartilage of my elbows. I vastly preferred the .45.