A little less than a year ago I ditched my book. I’d been writing it for almost three years at that point and had revised at least 4 times, re-mapped the storyline, gotten rid of an entire main character.
And then I felt overwhelmed. I decided that I had zero business writing a novel and needed to work on my actual skills before I jumped off that cliff. The plan was that I would write and revise a collection of short stories and try to submit them for publication.
I worked really hard on one in particular. I liked the story, the characters. It was creepy as hell and it stemmed from an NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge from a while back. I revised it three or four times and the three pages turned into ten. But it’s still sitting on my laptop, never having left the confines of my close friends. I pulled a few more stories out of my folder that I liked when I wrote them. I added a few paragraphs, revised a few paragraphs. But for the most part the entire last 6-8 months has been a whole pile of not much.
And I haven’t felt the rush and empowerment that came when I was writing the novel. I’ve learned a lot in the past 4 years. My sentences are cleaner. My characters are fuller. But my fire has been low. I’ve gone through a million bouts of
“Who the hell am I to try to write?”
“This is total crap.”
“Why am I killing myself over a stupid HOBBY?”
Sure, most of it was resistance. I am well aware of that old friend. But hell, I think a lot of it was that I was bored. There was nothing I could sink my teeth into like my book and I missed it.
My writing group had our monthly conference call two nights ago and I decided to resurrect the damn thing. I started reading it from the beginning (which, let’s face it, is mostly where I have put in the revision work and can’t seem to make it past Part One). It’s not terrible. It’s less daunting because there IS so much work. I’m not at the part where every sentence has to be as clean as a bone yet. All of the characters came rushing in like old friends and I realized I had held them close for the past year and they were still right there, and I had done work on them without realizing it. I started from the same damn beginning again and this time I am determined to make it through until at least Part Two before I throw it in a drawer for another year.
At our writing retreat last year I had a break-through of sorts. Through a guided conversation from Janelle I discovered the theme of the book was annihilation. Annihilation as redemption. Sometimes you have to throw everything away to be remade. The age-old story of the phoenix. And what do you know? That’s what happened with the book. I tossed it. Out of frustration, intimidation, anger, fear. And now I am resurrecting it from the exiled folder on my laptop. And it is as bright and fiery as the phoenix.
I think that is the point of art. It has to come from inside and it has to be the right time. Sure, there is a TON of work to revise and polish and make gold out of crap, but if it’s not in us to do it then the work doesn’t pay off. We talk a lot about the story we need to tell. The story that’s in us. Write the story. The one that’s in you like blood. If you try to pretend you’re not ready then you risk it all.