Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Becalmed on a windless lake

The novel rewrite I'm currently engaged in feels something like a neverending story -- or, if we're looking for more comparisons, running in place. There's a lot of puff and even some sweat but I'm getting nowhere.

Part of that, I think, has to do with the fact that the rewrite hasn't been a regular part of my days lately. The gap between when I worked on it last to when I work on it next might be two days or two weeks (or --*shamefaced*-- two months); either way, letting it sit between editing sessions means that each time I tackle it again, I have to think my way back into the story. This wastes time, and it makes the work feel much scarier than it is.

More than that, though, when I finally do force my way back into the life of the characters I love, I bring with me such a weight of my own expectations and pressures that the result is almost paralysing. This has to be amazing. This has to be brilliant. This has to be good enough to be published. I bet Harper Lee had no pathetic manuscripts lying around her study. Oh no! This is not amazing. It's lame. I can't write! FOR PETE'S SAKE WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?

It's like my own dreams and desires cripple the work. Self-sabotage? I'm an expert, and I'm left picking away at my story and feeling like I'm dragging a haycart up hill: taking forever to get nowhere. Then comes the volley of the next round of expectations, the comparison with the mythical wonder-writer. Real writers don't feel like this. Real writers are swept along by their own stories. Real writers get there quicker. Oh, there's quite the saga going on in my foolish little brain.

This week I read something which reminded me that it's okay. All of it. It's okay for the work to feel hard. It's okay for it to hurt. It's okay if I don't know what I'm doing. It's okay if it takes hours. What matters is putting in the time and doing the work. I can't predict whether I will ever be any good at this, but I can try to be good. And if it's not all plain sailing on a sea of sparkling inspiration, it doesn't matter. When there is no wind, row.

* * * * *


Katie -- I'm doing some really exciting subjects this year; I'll post about them soon and go on a schoolish rant.

Samantha R -- who knew you could paint with a brush in each hand? ;)


  1. It always amazes me that, even though we are half a world away we sometimes still end up going through the same thing at approximately the same time.
    What a cheerleader while you row? :)

  2. That sounds like my photography. If I don't do it for a while, I don't know where to pick up, where to start, what to do. I have to slowly immerse myself.
    Gotta keep pushing on and don't give up!

  3. How did I not know you were writing a novel. Why did this even surprise me? Need a proof reader?

  4. I think all of our inner editors like to be nasty critics. Just tell her to shut up.

    Now, in proper cheerleader form: You can do it! You can do it!

    I mean, you're already at the rewrite stage. That's amazing progress right there! So just keep pushing through, and keep in mind that all writers started off with terrible rough drafts. (Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The first draft of anything is sh*t." ;)

    And as you said: It's okay for the process to be painful. It may take several rewrites, but I'm sure you'll get there. You can do it!

  5. The lie exists that when we are talented, what we do should come easily to us. For the athlete, natural talent is not enough. He/She wins because he is disciplined, he trains, he perseveres, he denies himself to achieve his ultimate goal, pushing through the wall of pain, overcoming in exaltation to win the prize. So it is with writing. No matter how gifted the writer, it is still hard work to give your best. Keep at it! Don't give up! It is all learning and developing your craft and nurturing your talent, and you have plenty of that!


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