Long, long, ago (no, don't even start with me about a galaxy far away.) I thought I wanted to be an actor. I DID want to be an actor. I did High School musicals, community theater, children's theater. I had the bug. The first college I went to, I was a theater major. I auditioned and got in.
But I didn't get it.
I did all the exercises, and learned lines, did the dance steps, hit the marks and made every cue. But I never quite got to the point where I considered myself acting. I knew how the lines were supposed to be said, but there was always something missing from my performances. Except in children's theater, where I could be as outrageous as possible, really let myself go, and make those kids LOVE me. After one such performance, one of the main marquee actors of the company walked up to me and said "You are SO talented, damn it. I hate you." (It was said with a great deal of affection.) He was jealous that I could allow myself such freedom to act like a complete and total idiot. When it came to 'straight' roles, 'deep' roles however, I would freeze up.
After many many years, I have finally figured out why my acting career never went anywhere. I was afraid. I had taken the classes, read the work of the great Saint Uta Hagen, repeated the mantra: Acting is believing. And here's what it comes down to: I could never believe myself in any of those deep roles, because I was afraid to open myself up and show that stuff - pain, heartache, embarrassment - to the world.
Look, I lived a great portion of my childhood being told to just let it roll off of me, to NOT let my heart show, because it always ended in tears. I learned in a rather painful way that people, especially children, are cruel, and letting them in was a surefire way to let them knock me down. So I armored myself. Put it all away beneath a thick layer of laughing it off. I had thought, for the longest time, that stepping into other people's shoes was a good way of shielding myself from the cruelty of the world. Make-believe was so much better than my real life.
I was wrong.
What I failed to realize is that playacting is the ultimate in NOT shielding yourself. Except for children's theater, but children are much more accepting of pretty much everything on stage; there you are a like a god, even if you act ridiculous. Especially if you act ridiculous. When you're acting, you put on someone else, like a coat, but the feelings below HAVE to belong to you, and that is pretty much exposing yourself for the whole world to see. Which is what I had a problem with.
The same goes for writing. When I first started telling myself stories, I always imagined them to be much more perfect than my real life, that my main characters always won and did it well. But that's not what writing is. To be a writer, you have to be brave enough to take those emotions, those feelings that you - that most people, for that matter - hide away, and pour them all out onto the page. The characters are someone else, but the feelings have to belong to you, and you can't worry what people will think of YOU because of what you write.
Acting is believing. Writing is believing. So many writers use events and people from their own lives, bravely putting it all on display for the world to see and judge. Judgment is what I was always afraid of, and still am, a little bit. But I get it now. I kind of wish I could go back to the theater, knowing what I know now, because I think I could completely rock it. (I've been looking up that old community theater company online, and if I get really crazy I might find something to audition for. I don't know if my body can handle the stress of musicals anymore, but maybe a play.)
Does that mean if you're not ready to open a vein and pour life's blood into the words that you can't be a writer? No. There is still plenty to learn. Eventually, though, if you want that next step, you will probably have to suck it up and be brave.
If I can do it, you can too.