It’s no secret that I’m an Emergency Medical Technician in my day job. It’s a gritty profession much of the time. Most of this time, this is me on 911 call:
However, many times, this job is one that takes my stress level through the roof and then makes me come crashing down like you wouldn’t believe. While I’m riding the high that precedes the crash-and-burn, I might be trying to save a life, or doing something as mundane as holding a bucket while my patient throws up. This, strangely, is the same set of feelings I get when I’m writing.
The heart-pounding rush of typing at Superman speeds while the words just come pouring out, and then I’ve said all the things, and my characters have done ALL THE THINGS, and then, and then…I sleep for, like, a week because, oh, the crash-and-burn! Oh, the crash and burn.
(Trust me. I wrote 15,000 words in 4 days recently, and I still haven’t recovered).
See, the thing is, writing is a lot like saving lives.
The ambulance service I work for is also a training facility. We take in those so-shiny-you-need-to-wear-shades new EMT students and show them the ropes. In 14 years, I’ve done a lot of new-EMT hand holding, prodding, encouraging, discouraging, cringing and shaking my head. Some of my students have a natural ability to master the skills needed to save someone’s life. For others, it will takes months to years before they are fully capable. This is OK. This is expected. Why?
Because, like writers, some EMT students have the drive and passion for this job and an immediate ability, while others have the passion and drive, but need more time to stew, simmer and practice, practice, practice. One is not better than the other. Both can equal very good, skilled and reliable EMTs.
This is me when one of my students NAILS IT!
I always tell my students to keep three things in mind:
Fluency is when you know the steps needed to perform a key skill. Like intubating a patient by putting a tube down their throat to help them breathe. You can do it in your sleep; you can go through the motions in the blink of an eye and not falter.
For writers, fluency is when the words simply flow from thought-based ideas into tangible paragraphs and sentences. The end result might not be what you’re expecting, but you still have the ability to go through the motions and get it done.
Competency is when you can perform the steps for a skill in a way that gives the patient the utmost chance at a favorable outcome. In other words, it means you know what the hell you’re doing. You know the why, the how and the what-the-fuck to do if something goes wrong.
For writers, competency is a misnomer. You can never really be competent in writing the story in your head, because, let’s face it—even the jumbled pile of horse crap that appears on your screen after a two a.m. impromptu writing session displays nothing of competency. Writing just is. Competency comes when you know how to take that pile of crap and polish it into a cohesive body of work, with syntax and plot and central conflict and an ending that makes sense. This takes skill, which is born of practice.
This is me when my students does something really dumb (not at a patient's expense, of course. *shifty eyes*):
But I would never laugh at you. I promise.
Confidence is a must have for every EMT. If you’re not confident when you’re performing a skill or giving a treatment, you’ve helped no one. You will screw up. You will, likely, someday, kill someone. Confidence is not optional. The most fluent and competent EMT in the world will never be a SAFE provider if she is not confident in her own ability to provide care.
Writers, you will never get past the mountain that is writing, revising, revising, revising, critiques, revising, querying, rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, and then, all of this again once you land an agent and go on house submission, if you are not confident. It must be there, in some small way, so that you can mold and conjure it into a much bigger lump of confidence-clay, to help you succeed. Confidence doesn’t come early and it doesn’t come often, but it must be there. And it must be there when you need it for something crucial, like querying or sending off you manuscript to critique partners. If you don’t believe you have what it takes to do this job, you’re going to kill all those characters in your head.
In the process, you’ll hinder your ability to ever be fluent and competent.
Remember your writer CPR:
Or just do this a while. Guaranteed to make you feel better, if nothing else:
NOW GO WRITE SOMETHING!