The Heat Check


The Heat Check

I’m having a kick-ass year.

There. I said it out loud. My first book was published. Have I mentioned that it was on the NYT Bestseller’s list for two weeks straight!? I wrote cover stories like this one that I’m very proud of. I was profoundly moved and affected by experiences like this one–stories that become a part of the fabric of my life forever.

I’ve been working my butt off. And it’s paying off for me in both small and large ways.

And writing the above paragraph just made me sick to my stomach.

I have a very hard time with chest-thumping. I ask my husband for permission to (literally) strut around the house like a peacock when I land a big assignment. He always obliges. I force myself to send out emails when a special story I’ve written is published. And in my mind, people are opening up the email, rolling their eyes and saying, “why does she think I care?”

So I’m quiet. Real quiet. I work with my head down. I don’t go out much. And I’m not in the writer’s loop. I’m trying to break out of this by blogging and connecting with people in real life as well.

2009 is starting off big. I have stories on my plate I can’t wait to jump into. And I’m working out of my brand new office…Yay!

So why am I suddenly paralyzed with fear? Let me share my irrational thinking with you:

1.    Things are going well. Which means, things have to start going NOT well. Right? In my warped mind, something’s got to give. And lately, I’ve been figuratively looking over my shoulder, wondering what’s about to go horribly wrong.

2.    What if every project I’m working on falls through this year? Nothing’s guaranteed in publishing. We all know that. What happens if print magazines start going under and book publishers stop acquiring titles?

3.    I’m on a roll, knocking things out, impressing my editors with story ideas, impressing my agent with my fiction. Do I dare dream bigger? I’m such a small fry in the game. A cover story on T.I. doesn’t make you a big dog writer. Even the Faith book, as big of an accomplishment as that was for me–isn’t that serious in the grand scheme of the book world. Where do I go from here? Where do I want to go and how am I going to get there?

That’s the brutal honesty of what’s been floating in my mind lately. Meanwhile, I’m telling Jenny to kick butt and take names and damn that marketing major! And I’m counseling young people who hit me up via Facebook to just do the damn thing! And don’t set limits!

So this morning, I reached out to this secret online community I belong to. It’s about ten people, a mix of ages and professions. I honestly don’t remember how I ended up in the group. I’ve only met three or four of them face to face. The rest, I only know online.

One of the people in the secret society is a guy we’ll call S.L. Myers. S.L. is a writer. And a damn good one. We had a thread going this morning and I talked about the good things that have been happening for me lately. S.L. wrote this:

nobody’s had a season
like you’re having
since Nate Archibald
led the league
in scoring and assists.

I don’t know who the hell Nate Archibald is.  (SL Myers and the rest of the guys in the group often use sports references in their posts. And I’m always lost. But it does force me to look stuff up. This Archibald guy? He led the league in both scoring and assists back in ’73, the year I was born. Interesting.)

So anyway. When I read what SL Myers wrote, I kind of freaked out. He was openly saying that things were going well for me. Which therefore meant that something awful had to happen immediately. Right?

I wrote back:

I really do feel like quite the badass. The past year has been good to me. And I worked hard for it. So why am I so effing scared of whatever comes next?

What SL Myers wrote back to me changed my life. And I’m not just being dramatic. Here’s what he said:

time for a heat check.

if you’re unfamiliar with the parlance,
a “heat-check” is what occurs
when a basketball player
has made his last three or four shots in a row,
then comes down the court
and launches something impossible.

he usually misses wildly,
at which point,
he goes back to his normal game.
but there are times when it goes in.
and it is during those times,
that the entirety of the game (and sport at large)
just seems to bend to his will.

from that point forward
he can do no wrong.

time for you,
my friend,
to attempt the spectacular
(and borderline insane).
don’t crawl back into your shell.

you have nothing to fear.

I just sat back in my office chair and let my jaw drop after I read that. The heat check! That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling for the past few months. I sit down to write and whatever I want to say comes out effortlessly. I think of an assignment, write a pitch and an editor says, I love it, let’s do it.

And S.L. Myers is telling me that this is not the time to retreat. This is when I attempt the spectacular! The borderline insane! Right now, while I feel like the industry is bending to my will!

S.L. killed me with that graf right there. Killed me.

I’m on fire right now. And I only want to get hotter.

Dear readers, what do you do when you’re in the zone? Do you doubt yourself? Do you push harder? Tell me about the last time you had a heat check.

I’ll tell you all about mine as soon as it happens. ‘Cause I’m about to lob some impossible shot from half court at the buzzer. Maybe it will go in. Maybe it’ll bounce off the rim and into the stands.* But I’m going for it anyway. Why the hell wouldn’t I?

*my apologies for the overuse of sports analogies. It works much better when SL Myers does it.

4 Responses to “The Heat Check”

  1. Says:

    Booooo…. Don’t believe you, you need more people.. LOL

    Li, you’re one of my writing idols. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be where I’m at now and have a blueprint to follow. Remember when you told me that that job was mine and I’d be playing myself if I sat back and let someone else come in and take it? Thanx, for that battery in my back. I haven’t stopped since and I love your work. I could always hear your voice through the page.

    Ha, remember the crazy Drag-On story you didn’t want to write? You did that in like a one-hour rant and the joint basically ran as is. Maybe you’d like to forget that “Flame on..” piece, but the fact someone such as myself can remember your catalogue speaks volumes. No?

    ish is scary out there in our field right now, but as I always tell myself now, I’m too talented to be broke. So are you..

  2. Ak Says:

    very true what you said, ans. aliya, you’re an editor’s dream and always have been. you’re fast, resourceful, hungry and always have some funny shit to say in potentially boring situations (won’t name names, but we all know how dull celeb interviews can be…)

    i’ve always wondered how you and other folks can stay so focused and excited about doing this thing we do, even with publicists’ bullshit, check-chasing, uncertainty, micro-managey pubs, etc.

    when you get a sec, can you please blog about sustained excitement?


  3. Anita Says:

    I’m about as happy for you as I can be for a non-relative. Although I’m disappointed that you didn’t know about heat checks, especially since we live in the land of Vince Carter. Anyway, I didn’t even know you wrote that T.I. piece. I think I read that on the interweb somewhere. Anyway, I believe what you’re seeing is the culmination of years of hard work. Or since you’re digging sports metaphors right now: You’ve been practicing hard, now it’s game time. Now you’re showing the world what you’ve got, when the people on your team knew it all along. You deserve it. Quit looking over your shoulder and trying to belittle what you have done. Should the sky fall tomorrow, you’ll piece it back together.

    P.S. You are going to make me fail out of school if I don’t stay off your blog.

  4. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Anslem: I’m so posting a blog about DragOn. Thanks for the idea.

    @Akiba: thanks girl, appreciate the kind words. sustained excitement? hmmm. I gotta think about that one. Cause it is tough. (Though I think it’s like being a crackhead, for lack of a better analogy. Every so often you get a good hit. And it keeps you looking for another one…)

    @Anita. If you fail out now, you can be at the Columbia Publishing Course in June. Have I ever told you about that program?

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