I’ve never been one for doing the obvious. If there’s been something out there that tests my boundaries, that alters peoples’ preconceptions of me, then that’s the route I’ve always taken.
Tell me I’m shy? I’ll throw myself into acting. Tell me I’m not sporty? Well then I’ll take up trampolining. Tell me I’m sheltered? I’ll forge a career as a teacher in challenging comprehensive schools.
I haven’t done any of these things by halves either. Winning a place at drama school, competing in trampoline competitions at a national level, heading up an English department: all things that involved taking risks, going out on a limb, and pushing myself way outside my comfort zone.
When I was at university I came across a quote:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
It’s not a new idea, or a particularly original one, but it really resonated with me and how I wanted to live my life. I didn’t want to take the easy route, to do what was expected of me. I wanted to feel that frisson of excitement as I met new experiences head on: I wanted them to make me feel alive.
Looking back on it all now though I wonder if there wasn’t something else I was even more afraid of, something that held me back from doing what I might be truly good at, what I knew in my heart would make me happy.
Don’t get me wrong: I love all the different directions my life has taken me in so far. I honestly feel like I’ve stretched myself, achieved things I never would have thought possible. But I wonder whether doing the unexpected was a way of sidestepping an underlying fear of failing in the one thing I wanted to do but never did.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to write. I lived and breathed stories as a child, would read beneath the covers until the early hours and tell my own tales to anyone who would listen. In my little village school in Llancarfan I spent a whole week working on my sequel to Ted Hughes’ ‘The Iron Man’. I was asked to write a story as part of my entrance exam for the school I moved to in Birmingham and wouldn’t stop – I spent the whole afternoon in thrall to the characters I had created.
But then not long after that the whisper of self-doubt began. I started to take risks, but wouldn’t go back to the thing that had always made me feel safe. I always said I would – I talked about wanting to be a writer, but was seemingly incapable of actually doing the one thing that could have made that wish come true.
In my twenties I tentatively penned poems and short stories, my confidence growing through nurturing young minds in the classroom. I had ideas for novels, but never moved beyond scrawls in a notebook. I told myself I didn’t have time. That one day I would do it, but that I wasn’t ready yet. I dreamed of moving out of the city, having a child, and finally being able to write.
And now suddenly I’m doing it. Every day. And it’s terrifying me, every single day. In the eighteen months since Arthur came along I’ve written two novels, and since January this year I’ve poured everything else into this blog. I don’t know if what I’m writing is any good, I don’t know if it will ever catch the imagination of a publisher and be read further afield than the small circle I’m reaching out to now, but I am writing.
It’s strange that the one thing I always felt I could do was the thing I never did. That I could pride myself on pushing myself to my limits but resisted the urge to write that was burning in my core. I am very glad that after all those years of wondering I am finally getting the words out of my head and on to paper – and I hope that in the not too distant future what feels like the ultimate risk will bear fruit.
Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” (Mark Twain)