One of my favorite childhood games was Kick the Can. Almost every evening during summer, a bunch of us neighborhood kids gathered in my yard to play, although we used a ball rather than a can. The game began with someone kicking the ball away. Whoever was designated “it” fetched the ball and counted to 100 while everyone else hid, then “it” would go hunting. When “it” spotted someone, “it” could capture that player by jumping over the ball while yelling, “Over the can on <insert player name here>.” While “it” tried capturing everyone, free players could rescue the captured players by kicking the ball away before “it” captured them, in which case “it” needed to start over. A round ended when “it” captured everyone, then the first player captured became “it” for the next round.
I loved rescuing captured players. I wore a dark blue windbreaker that helped keep me hidden in the growing twilight, and I was good at sneaking up on the ball.
I absolutely hated being “it.”
The trouble with being “it” is facing the dilemma of staying close enough to protect the ball from rescuers and ranging far enough afield to catch the remaining free players. I wasn’t very fast, so I’d always end up in a futile race back to the ball trying to catch a potential rescuer. I can’t even count the number of times I lost the race to see victory kicked away and everyone I’d already captured running off to hide once more.
I still kept playing.
Nowadays, I’m noticing the same sort of dilemma while working on my writing projects. I’ve successfully written short stories and novel manuscripts, so when it comes time to choose the next project, it’s easy to choose something similar to what I’ve written before. Same characters, same setting, new situations, but mostly familiar.
Thing is, true growth comes from experimentation, yet whenever I try to stretch my writing self by trying something new, I feel the same sort of anxiety I did during Kick the Can whenever I had to leave safety behind to try to catch those elusive hidden players. What if it doesn’t work? What if I write myself into a corner and have to throw all the work away?
No writing is guaranteed to work.
All writing goes through awkward stages. Whenever I work on something experimental, I remind myself that what I now consider familiar was once new and strange. When I first started working on my fictional universe, I wrote a great many false starts. Scenes that never made the cut to stay in the finished draft. Characters who no longer had a place in the story. Ideas that seemed exciting at first but fizzled into boredom. But that’s all part of the process. Eventually, through time, effort, and perseverance, I’ve come up with a cohesive story universe that’s working for me.
I did it before. I can do it again. And again, and again…
The only “safety” is to hide all my pens and notebooks, shut down the computer, and never try writing again. This is not acceptable. Can’t fail if you take no risks. Can’t win, either.
I will still keep writing.