Finish Line Full of Magnets

I’m not a big fan of biographies, but I read Andre Agassi’s autobio a few years ago. Some fantastic stories about how much pain he was secretly suffering through the last years of his career. Some insane tales of a father who made him hit something like five thousand tennis balls every day (if you hit a million tennis balls in a year, you can’t help but become the best in the world!). But for some reason, the thing that most stuck out for me was his take on winning a match.

I noodled around with tennis a little bit, and even an idiot like me can grasp the wisdom of what he had to say. I’m butchering his words, but he likened winning a match to a magnet: You’re in the match, and then you catch a little bit of a break and all of a sudden you can’t lose. The closer you get to the finish, the more it pulls you along. But, just like a magnet, the closer you get, the more it resists you, the more it pushes you away, until you’re right at the brink of winning and you can’t conceive of any possible way to get there.

Things, as I may have mentioned before, don’t always have to mean things. Sometimes a bit of wisdom about tennis is just a bit of wisdom about tennis. Then again, I’m an English teacher by trade, which means I can draw meaning from the swirls of foam in toddler vomit. So off I go generalizing:

Finishing this first edit is like winning a tennis match. I struggled mightily for months to find a foothold. I thought my ideas were terrible, my draft was terrible, the plans I had for fixing it were actually breaking it. (I still harbor doubts, but it’s getting a little late for that.) Then — and I couldn’t pinpoint the moment for the life of me — something changed, and I gained in confidence, and I found the work coming easier and easier. It flowed like so much blood from a severed artery.

And then I realized how close I was to the end.

Not theĀ end. The first edit is only the first step in a journey that will no doubt leave me footsore and sweaty, bloody and probably a little disoriented. But the end of a pretty important step. A step at the end of which I am going to unfetter my little creation and let it flap out into the wild, presumably into the maws of several prowling beasts.

I’m going to let people read it. Other people, outside of the insulated, well-padded room I built for myself in my brain, are going to read this story, meet my characters, and start sticking pointy things in their soft bits. And that’s a highly encouraging thing, because I need some serious feedback if I want to make sure the story works. But it’s also a terrifying thing. Like, it might turn out that the story is as compelling as a pile of gerbil turds. Maybe the characters are as likable as Maleficent, you know, before they flipped it and told the story from her side.

Maybe, in short, I’ve spent the past nine months writing, and I’d have been better off doing, I dunno, ANYTHING else. Collecting stamps. Growing a garden. Learning to crochet.

And what felt like a magnet pulling me toward the finish line now feels like a magnet pushing me away from it. I’m terrified to finish, so I’m hiding from the work. It’s easy. There’s no shortage of excuses and reasons to keep me from working on it. But I think the sad, simple fact is that I’m terrified of turning it over and letting it out of my little cage.

But I guess I have to let it go eventually. Cut the cord. Empty the nest.

I’ll probably be done with the edit in a couple of weeks. And that’s awesome.

But terrifying.

But mostly awesome.

But still terrifying.

…But awesome.