Vertigo and Goosebumps, Racing Hearts and Butterflies

A month and a half ago, I got my first tattoo — a quill on the top of my right foot.  Most of you know by now that I took a major leap of faith recently in deciding to resign from my job and commit more time to my writing.  The tattoo felt like a good benchmark; a visual reminder about the pledge that I was making to myself.  In a lot of ways it’s also paying homage to an integral part of my identity. 

I’ve been a writer my entire life.  And I believe that I will be a writer for the rest of it.  So it was a surprise when, about a year ago, I had my very first experience of sheer vertigo while writing.  In all of the years that I’d spent writing novels, poetry, short stories, journal entries and blogs, I’d never felt so moved as that moment.    

I’m a planner, so I believe in outlines.  I don’t live and die by them, and I regularly improvise in my writing, but having some structure up-front does help me.  Still, it’s fun when my characters end up in an un-planned scenario.  In this particular case, I found my protagonist in a surprising and terrifying situation.  And the experience was similarly enjoyable, except that it became considerably more intense.  It was as if I was reading someone else’s novel.  Like I truly had no idea what was going to happen next.  I’ve heard writers say this before:  that they’re consistently surprised where their characters and stories take them.  But this was a first for me.  I felt initiated. 

Even more dramatic was my deeply emotional reaction.  Goosebumps raised on my arms; my heart raced; tears sprang to my eyes; butterflies fluttered in my stomach.  I almost felt dizzy, and wondered if the room was spinning for the other coffee shop patrons, too.  (And yes, it was bizarre, having this happen in a decidedly public place.)  I felt like I was watching someone else write, or reading someone else’s work.  I would explain it as an out-of-body experience, if I knew how that actually felt.  I was in the room with my characters, on the edge of my seat, even as my fingers frantically plugged away at the keys on my laptop. 

Was this a preview of the direction that my writing life would take?  Was this one of many moments to come that would lead me to step out of my comfort zone and be a writer for real?  Just yesterday a friend and critique partner told me that almost every successful artist that he knows became so in the midst of a major life crisis.  I’d like to think that I’m not quite in crisis, per se, but I’m certainly in a position to mine some serious material from my own circumstances.  A year ago my life was stable and predictable; right now, not so much.

My life isn’t following an outline, and clearly my characters don’t really give a damn what I have planned for them, either.  This is a great time to pick up my quill and scribble away.  To seek and celebrate some more of those butterflies.

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