As I was working on my novel today, I suddenly felt this huge responsibility to my future readers (hopefully one day I will have them) to give them the same feeling I get when I read a good story or book, the same desire to keep reading, to find out what’s going to happen, to care about the characters, to sort of stick by the characters as you might a child. To root for them even when or even because they are behaving badly. But as I’m in the long process of writing on a piece, the unfolding of a story is so uncertain and unpredictable. It can be a little like planning my days and weeks. I might not know what the next hour will hold, but I get a glimpse of a few days from now – kind of like my husband’s obscenely bright flashlight in the woods going back from the bathroom to our tent on camping trips. Two scenes from now is somehow revealed to me (my vision mixed with a spiritual sense mixed with the characters taking on a life of their own), but I must work my way to that scene by engaging with the now, the current scene which will inform me how the “future” scene will go. Sometimes I hate the scene in which I am writing. Sometimes a branch that the obscenely bright flashlight doesn’t quite illuminate pokes me in the face. Sometimes I hate my writing. The story is boring. I look around the bookshelves at my library or the cool downtown book store and I see what’s getting published, what young adults seem to be buying. Fantasy, adventure, vampires. I think to myself, I should include some elements of magical realism, some glimpse of a world that Eliza will discover in the woods behind her school or in the toilet of her father’s hospital room that will reveal all of the answers but not before some really perilous adventure. My novel will never be chosen as it is.
Those are the obnoxious voices. So the obvious conclusion is that I have to stay focused on my project rather than to ruminate about some made-up audience out there. I am equipped to honor this very story with my time and devotion. I am called to slog through the hard parts, find my way to the feeling that I am inside this world that is only partially under my control. And it’s a wonderful feeling to be caught up in my work, to feel like I’m on the inside of something bigger and more exciting than me. On those days I come home to my kids and husband feeling light and powerful.
So I have to be patient and faithful when I feel like chucking my computer, knowing that I won’t stay in a place of discouragement. It’s hard though because that place can be so extreme, the tunnel so endless, the voices in my head so relentless. But from my experience I know my characters will start talking to me again and doing their thing. I will start loving them again. I will pick up the baton again and start running. Another obvious: Writing is so much like parenting. I have to parent the child I am given even on the days I want to run away and hide, when I fear that no one will love my quirky-in-his-own-world kid. I have to parent even on the days my heart is whispering, I can’t do it. I can’t be who you need me to be. And I think I can say all that into my pillow, to God, to my husband, my best friends. I have to in order to release the feelings. And maybe just like I have my parenting meltdowns, I have to accept my writing meltdowns. I won’t always be the writer my project is calling me to. Vinita Hampton Wright said in her book, The Soul Tells a Story, “Your vision will always exceed your abilities. We need to come to terms with this truth. Thank God that our visions are always beyond us; this is how we grow as artists. But that makes it hard to finally close up work on a piece, because we can nearly always imagine it just a notch better, one level up from where it is now.” I think this is true, which helps on the days when I’m letting fear and doubt crowd into my creative space. It somehow takes the pressure off to just start with the assumption that I will not be able to write the scene that is sitting so annoyingly perfect on the table of my mind. Just as I won’t always feel worthless and ill-equipped, I will not always feel light and powerful. God will not permit that, I suppose, though I really wish He would more often.
I am struck that maybe this idea that Ms. Wright proposed is the tension in a lot of our pursuits in life. We know so well how we want a thing to turn out whether it be a presentation, a meal, a conversation, a nap, a race, sex and we often fall so short of our visions which is deeply disappointing. We start looking for an escape or start down on the lie road that says someone else would do better than us or even that the fulfilling of our exact visions will complete us, rather than engaging in the story or child or marriage or lecture or XYZ work project as it is actually unfolding and trust that the outcome will be good enough and the bad days will bring us to a place of discovery somehow, someway. And one day after all the days and weeks and months and years of working through the madness and exhilaration and hope that is slowly becoming this novel of mine, my readers (or maybe just one) will turn the page. All of them.