A week ago today, I was lying in bed in the emergency room of Swedish Hospital in Ballard, Seattle, with an IV dripping fluids into my veins.
You see, I had contracted some virus that gave me the shakes, hot flashes, and a fever for two days. On the third day, all those things went away but I was still weak. My hope rose like a freshly inflated helium balloon. I was getting better! Then it came crashing down on the fourth day when I got Montezuma’s revenge (aka. diarrhea) seven times. I had been down this road before and knew I was headed toward dehydration. So, I asked Marcus to take me to the ER, and even though I’m a needle-phobe, I willingly asked for an IV for fluids. The ER doctor praised me for coming in. An hour later, I felt better.
That night, I went six more times. That makes it 13 bouts of diarrhea in one day. Yep, lucky number 13.
But the IV fluids from before helped me from getting dehydrated, and the next morning, my mouth was drier than the Mojave, but I felt better.
While I was sick, I couldn’t sit up, couldn’t read, couldn’t even watch TV. All I did was lie on my bed, sleep, listen to podcasts, and think. I thought many thoughts. Many I didn’t want to think–racing, crazy-ass thoughts–but some made me think even more.
Thoughts like, when I get better, what do I want to do with my life?
Thoughts like, when I get better, what do I want my legacy to be?
Thoughts like, when I get better and can eat solid food, what’s the first thing I’m going to eat?
The answer to #3 was homemade chicken and vegetable soup. Good stuff. Highly recommend it.
The answer to #1 was I want to keep writing and keep building my writing business.
The answer to #2 was a little bit harder and took me a while to figure out.
By the seventh day of this illness, when I felt much better, I realized that what I wanted for my legacy was what I’ve been doing for much of my career: help people achieve their dreams.
Specifically, help people achieve their writing dreams. And even more specifically, help people in the beginning stage, when fear and doubt are loud and raging, and keeping you from venturing even a few paces down the path of being a writer.
I know that place. Intimately.
While I delight in talking shop with other writers, I don’t necessarily want to help people with the craft of writing. Don’t get me wrong, I love discussing story, armature, theme, character arcs, setting, and more, but what really lights me up is helping people break through their mental and emotional barriers to expressing themselves in a creative way.
I realized once again that this is what I had been doing for 12 years as a prelaw adviser when I helped students write their personal statements for law school. Writing the personal statement was the most scary and daunting of anything on the law school application–even more than the dreaded and terrible LSAT (Law School Admissions Test)–and it was the most rewarding for me to coach students through it, and help them get their stories out.
Many of my prelaw students told me the process of writing their personal statement was cathartic. It changed them, for the better. For many, writing a story about their life gave them courage to move forward. It also gave them a touchstone that they could read in coming years when they felt fear and doubt creeping in, or when they’d lost their way and needed to remember why they were on this path.
I didn’t realize when I closed my Prelaw Guru consulting company that I’d still want to do what I did with prelaw students, but with writers.
But when I opened my writing coaching business in January and started doing one-to-one writing coaching, the work focused more on the nitty gritty of the craft of writing. I realized that while I was good at it, and enjoyed working with my clients, it didn’t feel quite right. It felt too technical. It felt too much like homework. It made me realize that I may need to close my writing coaching practice. But to do what? I can’t just write, I need to do something that is of service to people. That’s important to me.
Because of this, I’ve felt at sea through all of August. I wasn’t sure where I was headed and it filled me with anxiety. Then, September came crashing in with that dang virus and tossed me out of the boat and into the waves. I swam and swam, and now I’m back in the boat and the shore is in sight.
I feel better. Tons better.
I have more hope now than I did before I got sick.
Being sick forced me to slow down and face my anxiety.
Change is coming.
I will hit land soon.
I’m no longer afraid.
Stay tuned, friends.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing another novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle. Peg is also a writing coach giving help, encouragement, and feedback to writers from all walks of life.
Art by Julia Cejas.