I am a cautious person by nature. When I was a kid, my cousins had a trampoline in their backyard. One day, they got out a full-sized ladder and set it up next to the trampoline. Everyone climbed the ladder and then jumped onto the trampoline. It looked like fun. So I tried it.
I got to the top of the ladder and I looked down and I realized how far it was from the ladder to the trampoline and I couldn’t do it. So I climbed back down the ladder to the annoyance of everyone who was waiting below me who knew it would have been faster for me to just jump.
A second time, I climbed up the ladder after watching even tiny kids jump. I couldn’t do it again. I climbed back down.
The third time I went up the ladder, I stood at the top and was frozen. I couldn’t climb back down the ladder, either. I couldn’t move. Everyone was angry with me. They shouted at me about being a chicken. I could live with being called a chicken. What I couldn’t do was jump off that ladder.
Finally, someone started shaking the ladder in an effort to get me to either fish or cut bait, as they say. In fact, neither happened. I lost my balance at the top and instead of jumping in a controlled fashion toward the center of the trampoline, I hit the hard metal bands around the side of the trampoline and was knocked unconscious.
Some time later, I woke up in my aunt’s bed. She was terrified. She apologized again and again for the stupid ladder game. She promised me and my mother, who had arrived to pick me up and take me home, that no one would ever play that dangerous game again. She apologized also that I’d been shaken off the ladder.
The after-effects of this are that I am a bit queasy when it comes to ladders. Trampolines don’t bother me as much, but I’ve never had one in my backyard as a mother myself.
What does this have to do with the writing life?
Well, writing is a lot like standing on the top of that ladder. Sending something into an agent or an editor is like jumping off and hoping that when you land, you bounce in the middle of the trampoline and not hit the metal bands. It seems a really stupid thing to do, writing a book and asking someone to publish it. The risks are HUGE, and the returns seem tiny, even if you are lucky enough to get published eventually.
But eventually you have to jump. No one can do it for you. You can’t really wait for someone to push you off (and believe me, you don’t want to).
There are several seconds of free fall that are glorious. You can think about all the possibilities. You might make millions. You might be lauded by generations of college professors as the new Shakespeare. You might make enough to pay for the new computer program you bought.
And then you land. And it hurts. You think that you never want to do that again.
But you do. You get back on the computer and you write another book. And another one. You keep jumping. And why do you do it? Why do you take the kind of risks that other people can’t imagine taking? Why do you put your ego on the line every single time?
Because you’re a writer. And being a writer is as much about jumping as it is about the free fall and the landing. Take heart. We’re all falling, slow or fast. We’re all going to hit the ground hard. And we’re all going to try it again.