Out with the old, in with the new is our topic this month, and it’s been a thought-provoking subject for me because for the first time ever, I have no idea what to write.
I written YA for a while now, but I changed course with my last book, a World War II women’s historical fiction novel. I sent that book to my agent right after Thanksgiving. When the chaos of Christmas ended, I cleared my desk and sat down to write…what?
I honestly don’t know. For years now, I’ve had a contemporary women’s fiction novel rattling around inside my head. I have a foggy notion of who the two main characters are, I know the central secret of the story, and the conflict. But I have no idea how to stitch those things together. I have no idea where it starts. So I’m stuck. I have four very bad chapters, but I keep second guessing myself and going back and re-writing what I have instead of moving forward and writing the rest.
I also thought about doing a modern take on an old classic, a story I’ve always loved. I have couple chapters written, but it feels flat and stale, and I can’t quite shake the voice of the original author and tell the story in my own voice instead.
So here I sit in the bleak heart of January, staring at the blinking cursor, struggling to put words on the page.
I’m a slow writer. It takes me a year to write a book, two years if there’s a lot of research involved, and therefore any book I choose to write is a major commitment. Every scrap of writing time I scrape together will go into this book, so I can’t afford to make the “wrong” choice.
No pressure right?
At least, this is what I’ve been telling myself. But I’m starting to realize this kind of pressure is killing my creativity and sucking all the fun out of writing.
I admire people who write just for the joy of it, who genuinely don’t care if anyone ever reads what the write, who don’t care if it’s ever published.
I’ve never been like that. I care deeply about whether or not the words I write are someday published, so I’ve taken my anything-is-possible-if-you-just-work-hard-enough mindset and layered it onto a messy, creative process. I’m finally starting to see this just won’t work.
Yes. I know. You all probably figured that out a long time ago.
So I’m trying, very hard, to chuck all of my old ideas about writing out the window. Instead of sitting down and working one book, I’m giving myself permission to wander around in three potential stories and see what happens, to see what grabs me, to see what I really want to write.
In a weird way, each new book is harder to write than the last one. I’m always learning, and this makes writing harder, because with each book I raise the bar, for the plot, the characters, the sentences. And now I’ve raised the bar for the very concept itself, and I’ve raised it so high that I’m paralyzed with indecision.
So it’s time to start over again with no expectations and no conditions. It’s time to write terrible sentences about one-dimensional characters acting out ridiculous, low-concept plots. It’s time to chuck perfectionism and marketability and practicality out the window, to go back to the past, to the first book I ever wrote, to the joy of playing with words and making things up.
In other blog posts, I’ve talked about the wise friend once told me that “God doesn’t row.” I love this expression because it means I’m just responsible for rowing the boat while God takes the helm and picks the destination. I put the words on the page. The Benevolent Entity running the universe, who I call God (and who you might call something very different) decides who sees these words. God decides if and when these words have some larger purpose out in the world.
And this applies to everything in life, right? We do our best with the gifts we have, and trust that in the end our efforts will come to good, that the job we do and the words we say or write will enhance the world around us.
It’s hard sometimes, especially now, when people won’t do the things I believe will help them, and help us all, like get vaccinated or wear masks. But I have to let that go because I can’t control it. I can only do the best I can with the gifts I’ve been given.
And for some of us, that means writing, because the ability to write is a glorious gift, bestowed on writers by whoever created us, just as others receive a beautiful voice, or the ability to paint, or design bridges or create music. I believe we are given this gift so we can bring people joy, or hope, or a much-needed escape.
Remembering this is my resolution. It’s time to get back in that damn boat, grip the oars, and once again, start rowing. I can’t see the shore from here, but I have faith that the shore exists, and that eventually my boat will float in shallow waters, scrape across the sand, and I’ll reach it.