I claim to be a writer of all things.
Sometimes, that feels like a lie.
It’s not as if I don’t have good reason to make this claim. In the past 15 years or so, I literally have written just about everything. From employee training manuals to web content, news articles to speeches. I covered events I had never been to and wrote multi-page news stories about them. I’ve cranked out literally hundreds of pages of web content about things so foreign to me I had to learn a new language to write it.
I don’t claim to be the best, I don’t even claim to be good. I just do what I am stirred to do. Writing is my bread and water. I breathe it in, it sustains me. I’ve done so much writing in so many different ways that none of it really intimidates me anymore. Except for one thing.
Which is why saying I’m a writer of all things sometimes feels like a farce.
I’ve been working on writing a fictional novel off and on for almost nine years. I’ve talked myself in and out of it a thousand times. I’ve (driven my writer’s group crazy) completely given up on it, and then the story comes lurking into my peripheral vision again, and I’m summoned to pull my butt out of bed at 3am to hammer out a new scene. The writer’s version of self-masochism.
Writing a novel is my biggest dream. It also scares the hell out of me.
Why? Because all that other writing, web content and news articles and speeches and such, that’s all small potatoes. If you ask me, fiction is the real McCoy. You’ve got to be a damn good writer to make a fictional story REAL.
This notion terrifies me.
You see, I have these wonderfully enchanting, beguiling stories in my head. (Trust me when I say that having an overzealous muse is both a blessing and a curse.) My characters are…beautiful. They are lovable and jaded and scarred and passionate and mysterious and utterly human. They have rich and complicated histories that bring them to perfectly fit into their place in the story. My book is full of intoxicating circumstances and exciting plot twists and turns that I know, if written well, will keep readers turning pages into the latest hours of the night.
Those are the things that I know, will sell my book. Those are also the things that keep me from writing it.
How will I do them justice?
How will I give my story the writing it deserves?
And so I start and stop and edit and rewrite and quit. I swear novel-writing off for good, go to work on other projects and am slowly drawn back into it. (Damn it.)
I go through it all again. And Again. And Again.It’s like that on-again, off-again boyfriend that you were both drawn to and repulsed by at the same time. (I now fully understand why all the literary greats were drinkers.)
Which brings me back to my book. Which I’m writing. For the hundred and seventy second time. Again.
This go-round has gone unexpectedly well. Last week I finished outlining the plot and chapter sequence and for a flash of a second, I felt like I might actually be able to kick this feeling of inadequacy and get this story written, once and for all.
Eureka! I drove home from the coffee shop screaming out my car window: “I’m wriiiiiiting a noooveeeeell!” Several strange glances ensued. But I didn’t care. For the first time in maybe, EVER I actually felt like the real McCoy.
And then life happened. Work. Laundry. Kids. School. Tantrums. Grocery shopping. Sicknesses. Cleaning. Family dinners. I didn’t have an opportunity to write again for nearly a week.
And by then, of course I had over-thought the chapter sequence ten thousand times, to the point of convincing myself that all the holes in the story were going to be its downfall.
Aaaaaaaaaaghhhhh! Someone please make it stop!
One night after the house was silent and all the family was long asleep, my muse awoke and beckoned me. I crept over to my desk and flipped open my laptop.
Go on, open it up love. Give it a read.
Don’t be bloody ridiculous. You know what.
Since when are you British?
I have your attention, do I not?
Ahhh, then no need for further discussion. So let’s have a look then shall we?
Go on love, read on.
I double-clicked the draft of my story on my desktop, and blindly started reading. The first chapter, along with some other passages, sections I had edited and rewritten half a dozen times, struck me as well-crafted. Others were not so hot, obviously slammed out in a twenty five minute increment between a laundry-folding marathon and pick up time at preschool. Some of the dialogue read like choking on cream cheese. And of course a whole hell of a lot of it what I had in my draft, I wanted to cut and paste into the recycle bin.
Why? Self torture?
Just do it.
So I read on. I read through the entire draft. Sure enough, I found more cheese and more garbage. But every so often, I’d uncover gem, glittering in the midst of telling-not-showing, cheesy dialogue and mindless narrative. In a few, fleeting passages I found pieces of the real, whole, perfect story. Characters, waiting for the story to morph and unfold them out of the confines of their pages, to come alive in the hearts and minds of readers. Waiting to be made real.
I closed the document and sat quietly, my face illuminated by the glow of my laptop screen. I sunk my chin into the palm of my hand and stared into a picture of my two daughters, sitting on my desk.The voice appeared again, like a faint jingling of tiny bells inside some quiet corner of my brain.
Your daughters. What lovely creatures they are.
They are a lot of time. And work. And patience. But they are lovely, aren’t they?
They are the very products of your life and your love.
Did you know how you were going to teach them things, when they were born?
When they were infants, did you ever fault them for not knowing how to smile?
Of course not. Watching a smile cross their faces for the first time was magic.
Did you ever give up teaching them how to talk? How to walk?
No. The little one had some trouble. I took her to physical therapy… after that she was off and running in no time.
Will you stop giving them any less love, knowing they still have so far to go?
Not a chance.
I have loved them, adored them at every stage. Watching them grow and evolve, supple spring leaves sprouting, unfolding, fading into a thousand brilliant shades, a new hue and texture and purpose for every season. That has been the greatest joy of my life.
This is what your writing needs, love. Love.
Yeah, but what about the—
You have to love your story for what it is, at any given time. All of it. At every stage.
It is no less loveable now, in its infancy, than your toddler was when she learned to walk. Your 8 year old learning to sing, or when she is a teenager and gives her heart away for the first time…
As you give your time and your love and effort to it, it will grow. It will get bigger and better and stronger and more beautiful with every stroke of the keys on your keyboard.
Slowly, it will become whole.
And when it is ready, you will know. And then you will let go.
I took a breath. The voice fell silent and I sat for awhile in the dark, thinking about my story, about what I had written from a new perspective. With the love and hope that every parent carries in her heart.
I realized that at nearly a decade old, my story was still in its infancy. Newborn and pliable and naive and lovable, drool and spit-up and wobbly legs and all. Cheesy and awkward, a little broken in parts, not understanding yet what it means to be whole.
My story is an infant. Wishing for me to love it, waiting for me to help it grow.
Back to the keyboard, then, love.
Till next time,