Disclaimer: As a reader of blogs, I prefer the uplifting, supportive, and/or educational variety. I’m not so sure this particular post will be any of those. In fact, there may be whining and pleading. Use your discretion in proceeding.
“Consider this, The hint of the century;
Consider this, The slip that brought me to my knees, Failed;
What if all these fantasies, Come flailing around?
Now I’ve said too much…”
~Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Michael Mills, Michael Stipe (Losing My Religion, by R.E.M.)
Literary Gods and Mere Mortals: As most of my posts do, this one came about because of cosmic coincidence. This time it was the juxtaposition of hearing the song referenced in the title after reviewing the Writer Unboxed newsletter, and while pondering my circumstance and unloading the dishwasher. My head was swimming with Donald Maass’s Column, and his brilliant (as always) advice about being the god of your own work, and acting like one. I was also mulling my own column, in which I reference the courage it takes to write. While I can’t link to the specific content of the WU newsletter, if you aren’t getting your own copy, you can click here to remedy that situation.
I’d just opened the doc for my rewrite of book one of my trilogy, and I wasn’t feeling very godlike or brave. Which may explain why I was unloading the dishwasher at 10am instead of actually working.
Courage/Encourage: As I was unloading the dishwasher, I was suddenly struck by the word trust. I’d just reread my most recent version of the book’s opening, and (can you guess?) was instantly convinced it sucks. I was telling myself I just needed to do as my column advised, and have the courage to simply forge ahead. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement of late, from my incredibly supportive wife, my mentor extraordinaire, Cathy, and my great writer friends and tribe mates.
In other words, I know there are no few people who believe in me. They trust that I can pull this off, and I trust that they believe it. All I’ve got to do is trust myself, right?
“That’s me in the corner, That’s me in the spotlight;
Losing my religion, Trying to keep up with you;
And I don’t know if I can do it,
Oh no I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough…”
Pantser Parishioner: When I started writing, trust was not an issue. I didn’t have high aspirations for what was then a hobby. Then, as the work progressed, it became something larger than I could’ve imagined when I started. I became amazed, as many new writers do, by what some call the gift of the muse. It’s truly an awe-inspiring thing to have story and characters take on a life of their own—to be left wondering ‘where in the heck this stuff is coming from.’ Even though I’d started with a rough little outline (that now makes me laugh), and long before I’d heard the term, I became a pantser.
For years I trusted that if I worked hard every day, and gave my all, I would be rewarded by the muse. So I kept writing, and story kept coming. I laughed and cried with my characters, and poured myself onto the page with (if I do say so) fearless abandon. I prayed at the Parish of Pantsing and it seemed my dedication was rewarded, to the tune of four large manuscripts.
I wasn’t naïve enough to think they were anywhere near good-to-go, but I knew there was substance at their core. My muse does not bestow fluff. I just had to polish, cut away the excess, to get the work into the proper form. It would take hard work, but the manuscripts would ‘get there.’ And anyone who knows me knows I’m not afraid of hard work. I still trusted myself to get the job done.
Oh Ye of Little Faith: There’s nothing quite like a bit of rejection to knock the faith out of a pantser. And it’s a slippery slope.
I knew I needed help. So I joined a new writerly religion, and knelt at the Parish of Plotting. The message made sense. The evidence is clear: good characterization through the development of their internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts, laid into a sound story structure, works. I’m a bit of a closet pagan, still believing in my muse, but I willingly dedicated myself to the study of plotting and story structure. I am actively seeking to adapt.
But for me there’s a problem, and it was Donald Maass’s WU newsletter post that pointed me to it. Don says “You are the God of your work—Act like One.” Good advice, except I realized: if I’m not trusting my old work ethic and my muse anymore, what’s left to be trusted? Just me! It comes down to my ability to make sense of a complex story and its adaption to story structure.
And honestly, most days I feel like a chimp with a Rubik’s cube.
In Me I Trust? Not So Much: In spite of often feeling chimp-like, I have forged ahead. I recently finished a Scene Outline, wherein I analyzed each scene to determine how and why it fit, whether or not it applies to the Story Question, and how it advances the characters into ever escalating conflict or toward the resolution of their now well-defined goals. And honestly, I felt like I could’ve made a case for and against every friggin’ scene—old or new. Since the outline, I have a new opening. I’ve discarded some old scenes, kept others, and created a few new ones. But I haven’t got a clue if any of it’ll work.
Part of it might be the nature of rehashing scenes that are now nine years old. Some days I feel like I’m merely recycling stuff that didn’t work the first time. G-M-C questions arise and swirl in my head with every paragraph. I wonder if I’m losing readers with every sentence. Is this too much description/too little? Too much world-building/too little? Does this distract from or conflict with the Story Question? And I realize there are no ‘right’ answer. Everyone would have a different opinion on each issue.
I’m Close, But I Still Can’t Reach the Damn Cigar? Don’t get me wrong. Thanks to the help I’ve gotten from the aforementioned Cathy and the feedback from some really super beta-readers (thank you all very much!), I feel like I know the story and the characters better than ever. I feel like the trilogy is worthy of becoming something special. It’s so close! But that makes this all the harder.
It’s tougher than ever keeping a fresh perspective, and thereby difficult to trust that I’m a good enough deity for the world I’ve created.
I realize the onus is on me. No muse, no muscling through on hard work, a la butt-in-chair/write, write, write. Nope, this is a tougher nut to crack. I’m going to have to think, think, think. But even that won’t do it. At some point, I have to trust. And then I’ve got to get it on paper and put it out there again. A frightening thought for someone who’s lost his writerly religion.
Anyone still there? If so, here’s where You come in: Have you ever lost faith in your writerly self? If so, did you regain it? How? How do you keep an old project fresh? Any tips on finding ways to trust yourself again? Thanks!