I received a call for submissions in my email from a fellow writer a week ago and thought, “Cha-ching! I could totally fit that bill!” I followed the link to the submission guidelines and tucked them away for another day when I could get my thoughts together and write a proper query.
The topic (mental illness) has been kicking around in my brain a lot for the last week and I felt confident that just as soon as I got some time I would sit down and crank out a quick query, link it to past work and hit ‘send.’ Easy as pie.
And then I sat down to write the query and felt stiff and stilted.
I kept writing like Anne Lamott says to do even if it’s crap, hoping that I would eventually find some gem to pluck out and polish off.
I abandoned it at one point to my “drafts” folder and walked away.
That afternoon I scribbled notes on scratch paper as they occurred to me; ideas for a general direction to take the essay in, going down a few mole holes chasing research ideas and interviewees before abandoning that tack as well.
Yesterday I finally admitted to myself that I am unsure about heading in any of the original directions because I don’t feel like an expert in those areas. I don’t feel like I know enough about the specifics and I am not sure I could interview enough people or do enough research to make it credible before the deadline.
And yet, I am familiar with the topic. Intimately familiar.
I decided to leave it alone for a while.
I took Lola to bouldering practice after school yesterday and decided to stay and watch. She is a little tentative about it for reasons neither of us can figure out, and I wanted to see if I could get a little insight. I saw fear and uncertainty on her face. I saw the way the coach interacted with her which was supportive, but not meaningful for Lola because of who she is and how she processes things. The support was cursory and well-intentioned but not authentic.
It wasn’t a brick to the forehead; more like a soft, slow settling of Truth. A clearing of the waters.
Write what you know. Write from a place of authenticity. Admit your own fears and uncertainty as you write and you will reach the reader. This is what I know.
And so this morning, I will go back to the “drafts” folder and begin again. This time I will be writing as an expert, as someone who knows enough about how mental illness instills fear in family members on so many levels and how that fear creates stigma and secrecy and stops us from seeking help.
And I am again reminded that getting real is the way to get it done.