You should shine with all of your light all the time. — Garth Stein

A few weeks ago, my friend Jansen Herr (whose great blog, The Driving Farce, on all things motoring is one you should definitely check out explained to me where the expression “balls out” came from. I had always assumed it had something to do with male anatomy, and since it was often used by men speaking in a gusto-filled voice, I didn’t find much reason to question my assumption. But as the saying goes, when you assume . . .
'The Governer' photo (c) 2007, Les Chatfield - license:

Turns out that when someone says to go “Balls Out” even us females can participate. As Jansen taught me, the phrase relates to centrifugal governors on engines. When an operator pushed an engine to its limits, the balls on the governor would spin out to their furthest point – hence, balls out.

This term has come to mind several times for me this week in terms of my writing and life, particularly as I’ve listened to Garth Stein‘s amazing book The Art of Racing in the Rain. The book – if you haven’t read it – is narrated by Enzo, the dog (whose name I also can fully appreciate thanks to Jansen’s tutelage) and tells the story of his human family – a race car driver named Denny, his wife Eve, their daughter Zoe, and of course, Enzo himself. It’s a novel about determination, diving into your passion, fighting with all your might, and living, well, balls out.

I can’t possibly begin to capture the whole story here (you really must read it), but I will say that it absolutely inspired me, so much so that I sat last night on the lower road into the farm and watched the sunset while the book finished. As the orange orb dropped beneath the trees, tears were streaming down my face, and I was overwhelmed by the sense that I had to fight for the work I needed to do. I had to stick with my writing and go balls out with it. No holding back. No excuses . . . just all of it out there.

It’s awfully easy to pull back, to take it easy, not waste the gas, save the “good stuff” for another day. But the truth is the only thing we have been promised is right now. Today is what I have, and not even all of today, right now – this minute – here with my keyboard before me. I can either let off the gas, coast through the days, and be safer, perhaps, or I can put the pedal to the floor and leave it all out there, my pen bled dry and my mind stilled from the release of words. I’ll take the latter, any day.

As Denny tells his daughter Zoe in Stein’s book, “Shine with all of your light all the time.”

So I ask, what’s holding you back in your writing? What would happen if you went balls out?

Cover of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein