I have two daughters, ages 5 and 7, which means– as people with similarly aged daughters will probably tell you– that we like the movie Frozen in our house. A lot. We do not even have a television, and I have still heard the signature song Let it Go so many times that I click my teeth to it while folding laundry. My husband absent-mindedly whistles it while writing computer code. If my 8 mos. old opened his mouth and ‘let it go’ came out instead of the standard ‘ah-boo, ah- BOO’, I wouldn’t be surprised. The incipient muscle-spasm in my right eye would develop into a full-blown twitch, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
However. Sometime last month as I was putting on a Frozen-themed birthday party for my 5 year old and buying her a Queen Elsa snowglobe wand that plays . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . Let it Go (because apparently I am a masochist), I started listening to the song’s lyrics in a different light. Listening and realizing that the words to the song actually offer some pretty solid advice about writing.
For your sanity and mine, I won’t recap the plot of the movie except to say that Elsa, the character who sings Let it Go, is for most of her life ruled by fear. She’s afraid of her own magical powers– afraid what other people will think if they ever learn about her powers. She spends her life hiding, for fear someone will discover the truth. Let it Go is what she sings when she’s accidentally given herself away– when she realizes that she has nothing to lose, that she can’t hide anymore, and can finally Let it Go.
As writers, I think there are so many times when it’s easy to be similarly ruled by fear. It can be as simple (yet scary) as having to admit to others that we are writers. Before I landed my first contract, I practically NEVER confessed to writing books. Ever. “I’m a free-lance editor,” I would say when people asked what I did. It took my husband’s tough-love approach to break me of that one. “This is my wife Anna,” he would say, whenever we met someone new. “She’s an author.” Of course people would then ask what kind of books I wrote, and I would feel totally stupid and always kind of want to stab myself with a rusty fork rather than answer– but of course I would (answer that is, not stab myself with a fork) in stammering, tongue-tied sentences. But you know what?
It got easier.
I’m an author. Even before I was published, I think it was really good for me to believe that, to own it not just in private but way out there in the world for everyone to see, too.
Letting go of our own fears can mean writing fearlessly, too– writing without fear that we’ll make mistakes, without worry that we’ll never be good enough or amount to anything. It can mean being bold in our story choices, letting our characters act in daring, outrageous ways that we ourselves never would. I’ve struggled with that one in the past. I’m not good with confrontation or saying no. Really, really not good. My husband likes to bring up the time I made a phone call for the express purpose of quitting a freelance job and wound up signing on for the duration of the project. When I first started out writing, it was hard to write conflicts into my stories– hard to let my characters speak up, start arguments, be daring and bold.
Or letting go can also mean freeing ourselves of the self-imposed limits we’ve placed on ourselves through our own habits or expectations. Here’s one of mine: I can’t write anything at night. That’s what I would have said– what I have said– for years. I could not be more of a morning person or less of a night owl. And my days are busy. No busier I’m sure than many of yours– as I always say, writing and homeschooling children isn’t really any harder than writing and working a demanding day job, which many authors do. But for sure I’m tired by the time my moppets are all in bed. I usually make my word-count goal before that happens, but sometimes I’m a few hundred words shy. I’ll close the sleeping baby’s door, take a deep breath, and catch myself thinking, There is no possible way I can write anything now.
But you know what? If I’m really, really honest with myself, that’s not actually what I mean. If I’m strictly honest, what I really mean is: I would strongly prefer to be eating chocolate and browsing Pinterest for cute DIY projects that I stand only a .01% chance of actually accomplishing. (We all have our kryptonite; Pinterest is mine). It’s kind of like going for a run with the jogging stroller. I live in a very hilly neighbourhood. Basically not a flat street in sight. If I go for my morning run alone, that’s no problem– I sail up the hills and the whole thing is enjoyable. Exhilarating. Add 20+ pounds of large, healthy baby boy to be pushed up those hills, and the whole thing is a lot more like hard work. It’s not that I can’t do it, but part of me would strongly prefer to sit down and wait for a ride. Except there is no ride. Same deal with writing. The only way the books get done is if I sit down and get them written. No, the world wouldn’t end if I came up a few hundred words short of my goal for the day– but writing is my dream job. I’m so, so lucky to be able to earn my living at it, which means that I feel morally obligated to give it my absolute all.
Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that whenever you feel like total crap you should always just push on and force yourself to write anyway. There are times when something is wrong but you don’t know how to fix it . . . when you’re pretty sure what you’re writing it garbage, but the harder you try and the more frustrated you get, the more garbage-tastic it gets, and . . . stop. Just stop. Close the file, go eat a bowl of ice cream and watch an NCIS marathon if you must, but don’t keep trying to force it, because likely all you’ll accomplish is to make yourself want to hurl your WIP across the room. But there are other times . . . times when you’d swear you can’t write anything worth reading at all, but somehow you open the file . . . and the words carry you away and you’re feverishly typing, completely swept into the world of your story.
Just try. Promise yourself that if it’s TRULY not happening, you can go and eat ice cream and enjoy a date with Mark Harmon. But you have nothing to lose by just opening up your file and giving your story a chance to carry you away. Be fearless. Be bold. We’re all capable of so much more than we think we are, if we can just learn to, well, Let it Go.
What about you? Have you ever had to conquer a fear or a mindset that was holding you back? How did you accomplish it? And have you also heard the soundtrack to Frozen too many times?