Doubt. It’s the thread that weaves through every writer’s life at one time or another. Oh, hell. All the time. Today author Holly Robinson shares with us how she crashed through personal and professional doubt, the end result being crossing two finish lines and continuing on two wonderful paths. Not that I’m surprised. (I’m proud of my friend, that’s for sure!)
Please welcome Holly back to WFW.
Crashing Through Doubt and Leaving Eeyore Behind
I’m the mother of three champion long distance runners. I cheered them on at their races, bellowing, “Go, go, go!” Then I’d go home and eat cookies on the couch.
Time passed. My kids left home and continued to run. Meanwhile, my butt kept getting wider and my belly softer. My excuse? I’m a writer. I don’t have to sprint to my laptop, which lives on a table too close to the fridge.
Then, six months ago, I was finishing my most recent novel, Folly Cove, when my editor suffered a serious medical event that caused her to take an indefinite leave. I was devastated on her behalf. This is our fifth book together and I’ve known her for many years. She is a dear friend as well as a trusted colleague.
On top of that personal loss, I was seized by professional anxiety. I no longer had an editor championing my work, and no contract for a subsequent book. It took me twenty-five years to publish my first novel (not for lack of trying, believe me). I didn’t even have an idea for my next book. Now what?
I have nightmare flashbacks to my early frustrating years as a writer, when I wrote six novels in my twenties and thirties only to have all of them rejected. The publishing industry is in turmoil, with fewer editors willing to take risks on authors who aren’t either debut novelists or bestselling writers. I am neither. What if I never published another book? My career was most likely over.
My level of anxiety was such that I couldn’t sleep at night. I suddenly developed severe pain in my jaw brought on by clenching my teeth.
As I struggled to cope, I spotted an ad in our local paper for a “Couch to 5K” program run by a local fitness coach. I couldn’t imagine running even one kilometer, never mind five. Still, the cost of the program was right—free!–and the coach turned out to be a lithe woman in her seventies who assured me I could do the program without blowing out my knees.
So off I went, three times a week for eight weeks, running with a group of men and women who became my community. We were working toward our “big race,” a 5K at the end of the summer. I stuck faithfully to the practices and found myself looking forward to them. Each time I ran, I slept better.
I also got an idea for a new novel, born while running along a busy street behind a woman in my group who I’d promised myself I’d catch. (I never did, but it was good to have a goal.) I started writing the new book, just a few paragraphs here and there, without letting myself think beyond the next page.
Each time I ran, it wasn’t my legs or the fact that my ass in shorts looks like Homer Simpson’s that made me want to quit. It was my inner doubt. That doubt sounded a lot like Eeyore, the doleful, pessimistic donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh series. My Eeyore mournfully assured me that I was doomed to fail. “This is too hard,” he moaned in my ear. “Just walk, already. So much easier! What are you, crazy?”
At times, it felt like Eeyore was waiting around every corner, ready to trip me with his hoof. “Lie down! Your legs hurt! You’re killing yourself!” he said. “You’ll probably have a heart attack!”
I blocked out his voice by focusing on the scenery. Or, when the going was really hard, I just pretended my feet were on a conveyor belt.
By the time the 5K race rolled around, I was determined to earn that damn t-shirt. Eeyore came with me part of the way. “You’re a nut case, I’m telling you,” he complained. “You’ll probably get heat stroke. And isn’t that a blister on your heel?”
I tuned him out by thinking about my new novel. What if one of my characters was a runner? I wrote a scene in my head where she was running in the rain, because it started to rain during final stretch of the race, bucketing down so that I could barely see the runners in front of me.
“You’ll slip and fall,” Eeyore warned.
I put my head down and kept running, muttering, “Shut up, shut up, shut up, Eyore,” until finally he was quiet, astounded when I left him behind and crossed the finish line. I wasn’t even last!
The parallel here is obvious: when my anxiety about writing surfaced, it was because I was thinking about things outside of my control, like my editor ever being able to work again, whether Folly Cove would sell well enough for me to get another contract, or how I would ever write a new book.
Running changed everything for me. I ran my first 5K one step at a time, with a community who supported my efforts. You can only finish a race if you start it. Likewise, you can only write a book if you put words on the page, one at a time. The surest way to fail? Skip the practices.
Folly Cove is a special novel to me now. It’s coming out as I face another race—a 5K in October—and the next phase of my career as a novelist. Eyore is still there, moaning, but I’ve learned to tune him out and crash through my doubts, enjoying the scenery along the way.
Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir and the novels The Wishing Hill, Beach Plum Island, Haven Lake, and Chance Harbor. Her newest novel, Folly Cove, will be published by Berkley/Penguin in October 2016. Holly’s articles and essays appear frequently in publications such as Cognoscenti, The Huffington Post, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places. Visit her at www.authorhollyrobinson.com and on Twitter @hollyrob1.