Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. ~E. L. Doctorow
Writers Write, Right? So I’ve been remiss. For almost three months. Oh, I’ve dabbled, written a few posts and letters, etcetera. But I hadn’t composed any new prose since November—until last week. That’s when it hit me. I’ve been driving myself bonkers by avoiding actually writing. I’m not sure how many times I need to learn this lesson, but this was not the first time. Apparently I’m a slow learner.
As to how I came to renew the realization, suffice to say I found myself rewriting a chapter in book two that had been made redundant by book one revisions. The two days I spent doing the new chapter were amazing. I felt so alive—exhilarated even. I hadn’t had these particular characters in my head and my heart like that in a long while. But they sprang right back to life for me, their voices as clear as ever. I didn’t realize how I had been missing them. Finishing the scene was cathartic. I was quite moved, feeling like I was floating on the ether for hours afterward.
Writers Obsess, Right? Then, as with any great high, I came crashing down. Reviewing book two brought me back to reality. It still needs work. I still have my editor’s notes. A big job awaits me there, which is both exciting and daunting. Like many writers, I both love and hate my own work. I know I will never be singled out as a poetic or masterful wordsmith. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not without confidence. I will always strive to be a better writer. I love my characters and my story. I feel good about my world-building and characterization. I aspire to be an improved wordsmith and a great storyteller. And I’m persistent.
I’ve experienced my share of self-doubt. I’ve even written a post admitting to (okay, whining about) my occasional lack of faith in myself. If you asked me when I last felt insecure about my abilities as a writer, I’d probably ask you what time it was, so I could tell you in hours rather than days or weeks. I’ve lain awake in deep despair, trying to convince myself I should shelve the trilogy and move on. But I can’t do it. I can’t because I still believe in my story (me, not always so much, but the story, oh yes). I know in time the story will find its place in the world. How do I know? That’s what last week’s experience led me to ponder, and why I am writing this post.
The (Abundant) Contrary Evidence: I admire and respect Jane Friedman. I consider her a gift to writers. And she’s been very kind to me over the years. A few months ago, she wrote a wonderful post titled: How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published? In the article, she singles out first manuscript attempts as problematic. I’m seeking to publish my first. She also says: “A writer who has been working on the same manuscript for years and years—and has written nothing else—might be tragically stuck.” Um, years and years? Yeah, nine of them. There is a caveat in regards to my work, as I have four complete manuscripts, but they are all set in the same world, and I can even make a case that they’re all essentially part of one large story. As I said, I respect Jane, and suspect her observations here are most often correct.
I’ve also been told that my work is too long, that series books by debut authors are ill-advised, that I should’ve limited the number of POV characters, that historical fantasies set in an alternate Europe are passé, and that fantasy fans want a well-defined system of magic. I’m on the losing side of each of those issues. Clearly I have a lot to overcome when I submit. And yet I still believe, and persevere.
“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.” ~Neil Gaiman
In the Vault: Over the years I’ve carved a niche in my heart for my belief in my story. It’s a lockbox, hidden away from the world and, sometimes, from my own self-doubt. Neil’s quote sits nicely in that niche. I believe there is someone out there who needs my story. And that belief only gets stronger as I forge ahead. I know I must strive to make it the story it’s worthy of being—to make sure it gets through to that someone who needs it.
Writerly Debt: Neil says we owe it to our readers to build our stories the best we can. Two years ago, in the comments of one of her Writer Unboxed posts, I asked the aforementioned Ms. Friedman if there was a way to know if I should shelve the trilogy and move on. She was not only kind in her reply, but wise. She told me to ask myself not how long I’d worked on it, but whether or not I was still growing as a writer. I knew that I was. In the two years since, I’ve have endeavored to strengthen my story, and I know I’ve grown in the process.
It’s through this growth, and with the help and guidance of my mentors and fellow writers, I’ve come to recognize mine as good lies, and to see that they say true things. I know by continuing to persevere I can make them not just more seamless but more powerful, and that my truth will resonate all the clearer.
Hidden In Plain Sight: Only in pondering this post and writing it have I come to realize that my vaulted belief is rooted right there in my story. I have two MCs who must keep the faith. They are striving for something that seems such a distant hope, against seemingly insurmountable odds. My male protagonist fears he hasn’t enough courage to face his destiny, but—step by step, in spite of the ever increasing odds against success—he endures. And in doing so, he finds there is courage just in continuing to strive.
True Lies: My story is about finding courage you didn’t suspect you had, facing your fears, making difficult choices—choices that lead to sacrifices for a belief, and for love. And in making those brave choices comes the knowledge that you can live with the consequences of your decisions, because you were true to yourself and to those you love and who love you. These are my good lies, my true things.
Yes, I’ve kept my belief locked away, but by sharing it with you here I take a small step toward finding my own courage. And I’ll need courage to persevere, and to deliver my story to the someone who needs it. Only if I am brave on the page will that someone find hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort there.
Feeling brave? How do you keep the faith?
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