When I was a little kid, my sister and I would ride our bikes around, teetering from side to side, which our training wheels corrected. At five, my sister, who was ten minutes younger than me, removed hers, and started to explore our very picturesque, yet hilly, neighbourhood. I was petrified of taking mine off and was subsequently in no rush to compete with my more daring and independent counterpart. By the age of six however, frustration was mounting, but the paralysing fear of stacking it and ripping my arms and legs to shreds was all too strong.
Fortuitously, our school had organised a working-bee and most families in my class attended. There was a suitably sloped path which dipped, plateaued and then rose gently, which I felt would prevent me from picking up too much speed. As if to taunt me, my sister rode it again and again, causing me to feel even more inept. Eventually, after psyching myself up for most of the day, I gritted my teeth and took off, training wheel free.
I felt like I was flying and because of my acceleration, it was easier to balance. Once I reached the bottom of the hill, I coasted along the flat section, then peddled up the incline where I made a deliberate and graceful stop. I was ecstatic and it is a moment I will never forget. I spent the rest of the day hurtling down the slope and pedalling as far as the winding path would take me while my parents sweltered in the hot sun, weeding, planting and completing other mundane, working-bee tasks.
Since then, my life has taken a circuitous route however in 2016 and 2017, I self-published two books of poetry, which had been a lifelong dream (the books, not the poetry)! Deep down however, I’d always wanted to write a novel. After completing a creative writing course, I started a science fiction novel. I enjoyed daydreaming about my characters’ ambitions, relationships and challenges and got a thrill when each 3,000 word chapter was completed. However, as it’s a time-travel book, I had to research life in the 1500’s which slowed me down considerably.
Fortunately, I had another story brewing, which I’d brainstormed five years earlier. This book was not at all speculative; it was set in the modern-day and was a coming-of-age piece detailing the journeys of three girls amidst a backdrop of family breakup, health issues, romantic bungles and lurking danger. Research still came into it, but I was able to write more confidently, as the characters are all aspects of myself. I’ve now penned 25 chapters at a mere 1500 words each, which has quickened the pace and allowed me to practise writing cliff-hanger endings.
So what has all this got to do with training wheels? Well, in teacher-speak, my reluctance to start my novel, which has lain dormant for far too long is labelled pre-processing anxiety. Sadly, even since starting, I’ve experienced processing anxiety and post-processing anxiety (anxiety both during and after writing each chapter) but the thrill of getting into the zone, creating something from nothing and giving my beta-readers some hearty entertainment has overtaken these feelings. Comments like ‘keep writing’ or ‘I want to know what happens next’ have kept me going, although I’ve also had to submit to critique and criticism.
And while I’m grateful for critique, which is essential for any writer, it’s not always easy to hear. But having people in my life who are willing to spend the time both reading and reflecting on my work has been invaluable. Other support structures which have become my metaphorical training wheels include my writers’ group, which I attend once per month, a Facebook group called ‘Your Write Dream’ where I collaborate with people from around the globe and the website Wattpad, which allows writers to post a chapter at a time with comments and feedback built-in.
So, when will the training wheels come off? Well, in actual fact, it’s a bit of a dance. Sometimes I screw them on, and then I un-screw them, depending on how I’m feeling. Right now, they’re off, and when I start another chapter, they’ll be off but when I’m at my writers’ group, I’ll screw them on again, and enjoy much needed insights, inspiration and support. And what I’ve learnt from all this is that no-one has to go it alone and that it’s ok to feel anxious, scared and in need of a good pep-talk when you’re working on your dreams.
But what does it feel like when I’m following my characters around in a parallel universe and transcribing their adventures? It feels like flying.