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  • Writer's pictureJamie Sims Coakley

Fear of the Unknown

You may or may not know that the inspiration for Freehand 2173 came to me the night one of my best friends, and fellow writers committed suicide.

It was a surreal experience that started in the evening, while I ate dinner alone researching an idea I had for a travel writing blog. I was at the hotel restaurant, The Exchange, when I discovered that the building, the Commerce Exchange Building, was the publishing house for Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the Tarzan and John Carter series in the late 1920's and early 1930's. I order dinner and a cocktail and read all about Mr. Burroughs and his writings, particularly his influence on science fiction. In the middle of dinner I was struck with a sudden and overwhelming sense of fatigue. So much so that I got my check and went up to my room. I threw myself into bed and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up crying, literally crying and I don't EVER wake up crying. I felt a deep sense of loss and sadness but my muse was pulling on my ear and so I dismissed the crying, ordered room service coffee, and sat down at the desk to research and to write down the beginnings of the story that was percolating in my mind. It was unlike any inspiration I had experienced before. There was this subtle yet intense feeling of time being altered. Of things being, somehow less real then I normally perceived them. I can't really explain it, but it was profound. I finished my writing for the day, checked out of the hotel and headed home. On the drive, I got the call. One of my most beloved friends and a fellow writer had taken his life the night before. Suddenly everything I had happened made sense. I couldn't shake the feeling that somehow his passing and the story were linked. That the feelings and inspiration that came to me that night, had something to do with our connection, and his passing. Perhaps he gifted the story to me as he transitioned form here to whatever is next. I can't say for sure, but I do know that despite his tragic leaving, I have been blessed with the opportunity to take his death and create something meaningful and positive out of it. That is what Freehand 2173 means to me.

Cut to: This Week

I decided to spend 48 hours at the Freehand as they were running an amazing sale and I thought it would be a good time to go back to the place it all started. I'm working on the final draft of the book before I send it out to agents and publishers and something was telling me that spending time at the Freehand would help guide me.

I arrived in the early afternoon and spent the night decompressing, reading and getting into the headspace of novel editing. I knew there were a few specific things that I needed to do, but there has been this nagging feeling that there was more, much more that COULD be done to take the work from something I was proud of, to something perhaps, great. Part of me was dreading the next morning when I would no longer be able to put off sitting down at the computer and doing the work, whatever that would be.

And this is where "fear of the unknown" comes in. It happens to us all of the time. Our need to feel safe and in control often causes us to have a lot of anxiety and fear of the unknown and often we let it stop us from doing things we really want to do. Things that could greatly improve the quality of our lives.

I understand it, it's a basic survival instinct. However, in modern times, we are force fed fear 24/7 and that often blows the actual risks of life, way out of proportion and stifles how we live and work and love. When morning finally arrived, the old familiar voices of insecurity and judgement were whispering sweet nothings in my ear. In my never-ending commitment to be mindful of my fears, examine their motives and make informed and purposeful decisions about whether or not to listen to them, I let them come and examined them and then dismissed them. Then I tucked into some of things I have learned help counter those little negative voices. I did a few sun salutations and meditated for twenty minutes. Then I wrote my fears down on paper and burned them. Finally, I decided to practice the law of allowing and committed myself to being open to my muse guiding me. I decided that no matter the amount of time or work it would take, I would follow the direction I was led.

That willingness has resulted in some major changes to my manuscript this week.

After writing four drafts so far, I felt strongly that changing the tense of the entire piece, from past to present, would amplify the intimacy as well as the intensity of the novel overall.

I also completely removed the intro paragraph, which was the very first thing I wrote and had remained virtually unchanged for the last two and a half years. Something about it always felt off, too much like an “intro” paragraph—but I had not previously known what else to do, so I had left it. It had been a wonderful way for me to jump into the story, as it established who my main character was, looking back I see it was for my benefit as the author mostly—my ticket into the world and perhaps like a ticket, something that can be discarded after entry. Now that I know the character and her world, I really feel like it’s a better novel if I “kill that darling” and jump right into the story instead. (My experience as a film director and editor made that choice much less scary for me. I have made that choice before in crafting film stories and I have never regret those edits.)

I also have been adding some character/world details that I now know, having lived in the characters and world for four drafts. I would say I have been building the world and characters a little bit each draft, as they becomes more clear to me. First it was the skeleton, then the muscles, then the skin, and perhaps with this draft I am finally clothing them. I imagine the agent/editor will be the “hair and makeup” portion of the character/world building adventure.

It’s rather “slow”work. Changing the tense requires a read of every line written and an edit of 90-95% of them, and I have decided to do my out-loud read after each chapter, and then again after every three chapters so that I get a real sense of the changes as I go.

I wasn’t planning on this extensive of an edit at this point, AND it’s what the work is dictating needs to be done to level up—and I want to level up…so that is what I will do.

It is a privilege and honor to be an author and I am so grateful for this story and the gift of writing.

Ask yourself, what are you allowing fear to keep you from? Is it serving you?

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