Writing can reveal your inner fears to yourself. Sometimes it’s your deepest fears and worries and heartaches, that you wring out and put into your story. That’s a good thing, and should be explored. I don’t always know I’m doing it, until it’s there. It can be hard to continue, once I recognize it, hard to really face. But of course, that’s where the meat of the matter is, in dreams and hopes and fears. That’s why we write story, why we read it. That’s how story resonates with other people.
Sometimes, however, the fear that is revealed is the fear of Doing It Wrong – being wrong, or bad at it, or failing – that shows up, and you (I) don’t get any writing done at all. That’s not a good thing. It’s a battle that I know many, many writers fight. If you don’t write, of course you fail (at writing). But if you do write, and fail anyway, then you know it’s because you (I) just didn’t do it very well. The writing wasn’t good enough. And that thought can be paralyzing.
The answer to that, so everyone says, and I believe them, is to write *more*, to become better. But the human psyche is a capricious jerk, and likes to tell us to give up. Persistence is key, persistence is how you succeed, but persistence is freaking nerve wracking and you have to continue on down echoing corridors of doubt that send you spiraling. How does one persist when one’s own brain is throwing monsters up in the air to fight? Monsters of air and shadow and whispers, monsters we make in our deep, scaredy hearts. Monsters that creep down those twisty corridors, waiting to spring, with their suggestions of claws, and claws of suggestions.
This is just the personal struggle, of course. This does not speak to the wider struggle everyone faces, to one degree or another: to be noticed, to be read, to be recommended or reviewed. And those struggles are different for everyone, for different reasons. There is no one way to become a published author. But we all struggle to get there. Sometimes we (I) struggle to write at all.
I have known people who don’t struggle when they write. They just … write. They have stories and they write those stories down and they deal with the problems therein later. They keep going until it’s done, and then it’s done, and they hand it over. I wish I could be so sanguine, so confident. I’m working to train myself closer to this model, but so far I’m only somewhat successful. I run into roadblocks that I set up myself. I run off onto paths I set up but didn’t think through. I pull back from the story to mull, and research, and mulling and research turn into more mulling and research, and then sullenly staring at pages and thinking I should just scrap it all, it all is terrible, none of it works and I should never have started writing to begin with, why didn’t I want to be something reasonable, like anything else at all: a wizard, or a hippopotamus. Equally attainable goals.
Which is where I find myself now with this sequel. The muddle in the middle, it’s been called. I know the shape of the overall arch of the story, I know much of what happens, but in writing the details and scenes and making it interesting other than in my own head, I find I’m … stuck. Irritated with myself, sitting in this muck of a mess I have made, staring at the squiggly lines of plot and thinking, this sucks. All of it sucks. I did not make a story, I made a mess. How am I going to make this mess into a story? It’s full of inconsistencies and random fragmentations and plot holes, and I’m pretty sure a wizard or a hippopotamus could fix it but I can’t. (The wizard would magic it better or turn it into a lovely figurine. The hippo would just eat it, or trample it, which might be a mercy.)
My plan, such as it is, is to make a list of all the scenes I have, what scenes I need, and where I’m missing plot, or where the plot holes are, to find out how to fix my mess. If I can’t do anything with that, I may just turn (whimpering) to my editor, to find out what he thinks. Because my progress for the last several weeks has consisted of me writing myself notes, asking myself questions, but not, so far, answering those questions. I’ve gone so far as to write the questions down, and then write “No but actually answer these questions” to myself, but as of yet I have not been able to do that. Pretty pathetic, when you think that all of these questions and answers really are just coming out of my own head. I feel like my own child, answering all my questions with “I dunno,” equally irritated with each version of myself, both for asking and not answering. Nope. Nope. Not coping. A hippo is the better choice, really. Hippos are mean. They would just destroy it all and revel in the destruction. I could really get into that. Wizards have to interact with other wizards and people are always asking them for things. Hippos just exist and no one messes with them. Best to be a hippo. I’ll get right on that.
As soon as I finish this damn story.
Title is from “Like Real People Do,” by Hozier