Seth Godin talks about “shipping” as part of the normal creative process. At some point, you put your work out the door, show it to people, let it loose in the world. Ship it.
For the most part, I’ve done that. I confess I hesitated (and procrastinated, avoided and even refused) to take my fiction writing off the safety of the word processor. But sooner or later you have to ship.
This morning, sitting over my second cup of coffee and contemplating yet another one, I remembered a pivotal point in my life.
I was taking my pilot’s license and in the Canadian system you practice a series of skills with an instructor as you learn to fly the aircraft. Then you take your first solo flight. After the solo, you fly and repeat every exercise by yourself.
Which leads me to the spin.
The short explanation is a spinning aircraft looks like it’s falling out of the sky. This event can happen even under full power if the pilot isn’t paying attention or if the weather turns ugly or any number of things in combination. But the end result is the plane loses lift, heads straight down corkscrewing into the ground. Everybody dies.
The day I was to do the solo spin was a gorgeous summer day. As I climbed to 5000 feet above Lake Ontario, I could see for miles down the lake and between the blue water, blue sky and masses of green on both sides of the border, it was a magical scene. Peaceful. Calm.
But I was far from peaceful. My gut was turning over, not only doing somersaults but full combinations of backflips, twists and reverse twists.
I was about to fall out of the sky.
If I did the exercise correctly, the aircraft would straighten out and fly properly.
If I did the exercise wrong, I’d die.
I had a choice. I could do the exercise and trust the process or I could turn the aircraft around and head back to the hanger. And not fly again.
I could do it – maybe die. Or I could walk away and live.
I remember asking myself if I could live with myself if I turned away and flew back to safety. Could I spend the next 45 years of my life remembering the sky and water? Refusing to take the chance. Refusing to trust myself. Walking away.
Took a deep breath. Took another – what could have been my last – look at that blue sky and water.
Pulled back on the throttle, held the nose up, the aircraft lost speed, then lift, tipped over to one side, and fell, corkscrewing out of the sky.
The short answer is I did the spin, recovered from it and survived.
But that moment has stayed with me to this day. Of deciding to do it, to take the risk no matter how afraid I was. I bet my life on my training and the aircraft.
Nothing in my creative life even comes close to betting my life. It may be scary. It may even be terrifying to share my fiction. But it’s not falling out of the sky.
Just as I survived that spin, I will survive publishing fiction. Just as I became a better pilot with practice, I will become a better fiction writer.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t life changing to take either plunge.