There are writers who are joyful when they write. I have moments like that, sure, but in general I am terrified. I am more plotter than pantser, but there are things, usually the most integral, that are beyond preparation. I believe that you have to prove yourself, you have to earn it, before the story will reveal itself fully to you. I am tortured every moment of the day and night during that period of time when I don’t know if or how I’m going to “pull it off.”
I am haunted by the very real possibility that I am sacrificing any number of creature comforts, physical needs, and personal relationships and wasting precious time that could have instead been spent on definitively valuable pursuits… all for nothing. Moreover, I am going to end up publicly humiliated. I have lost count how many times I’ve asked myself (I’ve even asked others close to me a time or two million.) – Why am I doing this?
I had no answer, but the aforementioned others did, and their answer was simple, “Because you are a Writer.” Capital W. Writer, not as a job, but as an identity. Frankly, I’m not always sure I want it. It’s too hard.
My most recent novel was the most torturous yet. I took to calling it “the book that’s trying to kill me.” I had to work at the very outermost perimeter of my abilities. Through tears and fears, bordering on depression, every day I wrote. Blindly in the dark, propelled by nothing but… what? Honestly, I don’t know.
I come from a long line of hard workers. My mother’s hands are calloused. My father held down four jobs to support our family. We also have hard Irish heads. I don’t know whether it was my Irish pride (I will never write again after this, but I will not be beaten.) or the work ethic I inherited (I will do what needs to be done even if I am miserable.), but every day I pushed forward.
Oh, I’m no martyr. I whined. I actually wrote this text to a close writer-friend: “It’s so big, and I’m so small.” He has yet to stop making fun of me. He even read it out loud at a conference where he was a featured author/panelist. A whole room of people laughed at me! Ask me if I care. Not a whit. That is how it felt. You know what I meant, right?
Whine, if you will. Cry, if you will. Yell at the ceiling. Try not to yell at your loved ones, but if you do, apologize and get back to the keys. Do what you need to do to keep going. Figure out what motivates you. Reward yourself with trash television or chocolate. That delish coffee frappe’ that we all know is really a milkshake. Buy those cute shoes.
There are healthy options too – Exercise increases your confidence and energy. Showers are a tried and true mental slate-clearing trick. (In fact, my hair is in a wet pile on top of my head right now. Aaron Sorkin says that he’s taken up to six to eight showers a day when he was writing his most difficult work.)
Word count goals can be very powerful. Deadlines too. I start with a daily word count goal, and adjust it as I go along based on my revised expected total words divided by days until deadline. I move heaven and earth to stick to deadlines, even self-appointed ones. Things get too slippery otherwise. Writing groups are wonderful for emotional support or accountability. If you are not in a writers’ association or inactive in the ones you belong to, I urge you to get involved. We don’t let each other fail.
Two months ago, I heard Donald Maass, author of WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, WRITING 21ST CENTURY FICTION, THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST, and more, say that we need to defeat our protagonists. Really put them through the wringer. Put them into situations that they absolutely cannot get out of. Why? Because they will get out. Our protagonists cannot be defeated.
Neither can we. We are Writers, capital W. Our stories cannot defeat us. Only we can do that. Don’t.
One dark night, a night that felt like it would never arrive, I finished my manuscript. What felt like my story killing me was my earning it. It was growth. It was the story holding me over a ravine and making me prove how much I wanted to write it. I’m stronger than I knew, better than I knew. So are you.
It is hard to do what we do. In the immortal words of Tom Hanks from the film, A League of Their Own, “The hard is what makes it great.”
MM Finck writes women’s book club fiction and is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York City. You can visit MM’s website http://www.mmfinck.com to learn more about her and her novels. She is also active on facebook http://www.facebook.com/mmfinck and twitter http://www.twitter.com/mmfinck. Reach out. It would make her day. Mention WWWB!