Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Ordinary Black Cat (Short Story)

As promised, I'm posting a short story to battle my fear.

I saw a black cat one day and this short story sprouted from my overactive mind.
The first time I saw the cat, I was walking back home from work. I wouldn't have paid any particular attention to it, if not for its black velvet fur and bright yellow eyes. It was not often I saw a cat like that. The kind of cat featured in folktales about witches or the devil. The kind of cat that people believed brought bad luck if it crossed the street in front of them. That kind of cat.

But truth to tell, I thought it was probably just an ordinary black cat.

It sat still on the lawn of someone’s front yard with its head turned the other way, ignoring the people who walked by, just a few feet away. After that one time, I never expected to see it again.

However, when I stepped out of the house to get the mail on the very next day, there it was. Almost as if waiting for me to notice it. It crossed the front yard and paused to look at me for the briefest second, before it was on its way.

And then I started seeing it at the most unexpected times. I would gaze out of the kitchen window in the middle of doing the dishes and it would return my gaze from the backyard, before jumping the wooden fence to the other side. I would randomly look out of my bedroom window and see it perched on the charcoal-tiled roof of my neighbor’s house and it would turn its head to look at me at that exact moment.

The days stumbled after each other. It became a little game of sorts. I would spot it and it would pause to acknowledge me, before running along. Not a day passed without our unspoken exchange.

Until one day, a full fortnight after I’d first seen it, it came treading along as I stepped out on the front porch on my way out. This time it stopped and sat a couple of yards away from me, waiting like it wanted to tell me something. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak cat.

It turned out, I wouldn’t need to. I’d barely locked the front door when I accidentally dropped my keys. I cursed, bending to retrieve them. But the cat swooped over them and scooted away in a flash.

“What the–?” I turned around to find the cat standing several yards away, with my keys firmly held in its maw. I cursed again.

My Fear Of Failure

I'm an idiot. I just had this sudden realization around an hour and a half back. Today I've had this big uneasy feeling. Last night (or rather very early this morning) I went to sleep uneasy. I woke up uneasy. I spent the day uneasy.

I went for a run after I woke up today morning (something I NEVER do), because I felt I needed it. I thought maybe it would clear my mind. I woke up one hour before my alarm clock, despite clocking in less than six hours of sleep.

I couldn't put my finger on what was up with me the whole day until that light bulb moment. I know I've been avoiding writing for the past few days. Always making excuses. My resolution to write everyday if only for ten minutes hasn't lasted more than a few days. I've been ignoring it. Pretending it doesn't exist because I told myself I have more pressing matters at hand. Then I stopped and asked myself: what the hell am I doing?

Then, more questions. What is my passion? The written word - writing and reading! But why am I doing everything I can to avoid those two things? Am I lying to myself? Maybe my true passion is something else. Then, I thought: no. These two things have always brought me joy. What changed then?

My perspective, I think. Before last year, I never thought of these two things as anything less than an active hobby and they were nothing but pure pleasure. Writing was something that I was doing for myself. From the minute I started to consider writing as a possible career, it increasingly became a chore. Why?

Because there was this new pressure to succeed (pressure that wasn't there before - pressure I put on myself, I have to add). However, the pressure kept rising and rising. It rose so much in fact that writing became so stressful at one point last year that I had to stop for more than two months before I gathered myself again.

I think this whole situation originates from this: my fear of failure. As difficult as it is to admit to myself, I'm afraid to fail at writing, so I constantly delay writing and even when I do write, I feel that it's not good enough. But by losing so much time being scared, I'm losing the opportunity to follow my dreams and my heart. The thing is, I realize I'm the only person holding myself back. And by doing so, I'm whittling my life away little by little. I'm sabotaging myself, like someone I know likes to say.

I watched a great movie today. It basically had this one line that I find so liberating: "Don't run after success. Run after excellence. Then, success will come running after you on its own."

So, I've decided I'm going to be afraid no more. Even if I fail at writing, at least I will still have the satisfaction of knowing that I gave it my everything. And I'm determined to make writing stories fun again. Even if no one wants to read them.

And as Robin Sharma says in this blog post, the antidote to fear is action. I'm going to post my next short story. It's not perfect. It's not even pretty (and I'm pretty sure it's badly written). But it is what it is. And by posting this short story, I will be battling my fear actively.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Story Magic

When you’ve been writing a particular story for a very long time, sometimes it’s hard to continue. So hard in fact, that even before you sit down to type, you want to drop it and do anything else. ANYTHING ELSE. In short, it becomes an absolute chore to continue.

I think writing is so hard because we pour so much of ourselves into it and sometimes, a story will only take you so far before the only thing left to do is to set it aside and carry on to the next story. But eventually there comes a story that won’t leave you alone no matter what. It keeps nagging at you to write it, to finish it. But you’re terrified to write it because you’re afraid you’ll botch it up (and when I say "you", I mean me). And it lies lingering there like that ghost you pretend you don't see.

So, how do you find your way back to the magic that drew you to this story again? Is it even possible, you ask?

You daydream. You let your mind wander about the story ideas and its characters. You imagine the scenes that you were once beyond excited to write. And you keep feeding your imagination with stories of all kinds by reading as much as you can.

But most importantly, I think spending regular time with the story becomes crucial. Stories, like relationships, are high-maintenance because when you neglect them, you start to lose them, their threads and what made them special to you in the first place.

Schedule regular alone time with the story if only to stare off into blank space and daydream about it like it’s some long-lost crush. Hopefully, you will be flooded with a rain of ideas (to self: that's a horrible metaphor) or you know just think of a couple of things that can help move it forward.