Last week, I posted a little something about where I was ten years ago versus where I am now.
It’s a post I almost didn’t write because I was worried it would seem braggy. CHECK OUT ALL MY SWAG! AND THIS IS JUST IN ONE WEEK! NEXT WEEK I’LL SPLIT THE PUBLISHING ATOM!
It wasn’t meant to be like that. It was intended as a kind of self-talk, a rejoinder to the messy stuff that goes on in my head, which seems to focus almost entirely on how I could be writing faster or better or differently or just plain more, and never mentions – hardly even seems to notice – the good stuff.
When I shared last week’s post, I prefaced it with the comment: “A few things have changed.”
And that’s true. But here’s something that’s even truer: most things haven’t.
Shortly after writing that blog I met a writer friend for coffee. What started as a casual catch-up (d)evolved, as writing conversations so often seem to, into rumination on the self-doubt we wrestle with — how impossible every book seems at the start … and in the middle … and sometimes at the end. How we endlessly question what we’re doing and why and how it is no one’s noticed yet we’re no good at it, and wonder if we should quit now while there’s still time to slink off quietly…
At the end of the conversation, I said two things about my work-in-progress: I don’t think I can do it. And almost in the same breath, I know I’ll get it done.
And my friend nodded, because she knew exactly what I meant, even though it made no sense. Because those competing convictions sit side by side, all the time.
For me, living a creative life means living with that impossible nexus, trying to balance those two things on the edge of the same knife.
Recently, Tim Sinclair tweeted about how he gets to a point where he has to touch the spines of his published books like talismans. Done it before = I can do it again, right?
This just seems so exactly right to me. And it reminds me of something I once heard, which also seems exactly right. I don’t know the original quote, or who said it, but it’s something like: You never learn how to write novels; you only learn to write the one you’re working on. Next time you have to start all over again.
So while I’m taking a moment to stop and look around and be thankful, in the background, my brain is muttering, Sure, those things are cool, but … you have a book to write. You have no idea how to write it. You probably can’t do it. You can’t do it! I can’t believe you’ve accepted a contract for it! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
I don’t know what I was thinking. But I know I’ll write this book.
Ten years on, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Thanks for sharing both these posts, Meg. As an emerging writer, I don’t have any success stories – yet! – but I enjoyed reading what had worked out for you. And I am very grateful for your books on my shelf! I am 90% finished with one children’s book – so many drafts over four years. I can cope with the doubts in the first draft (wrote another kid’s book during NaNoWriMo) because I expect it to be messy. But it’s dealing with the doubts for what should be the final draft that is difficult for me – because it still isn’t singing.
Yes, final-draft doubts are hard, aren’t they? But I think they can sometimes come simply from being too close – when you’ve spent so long with the story, how could it possibly surprise or engage you now? And that doesn’t reflect the experience of a not-you reader, of course.
But how to know when your ambivalence/doubts are justified and when they’re just a natural product of the process? I have no idea at all! I know many writers have critique groups or informal arrangements with other writers, but that’s not something I’ve ever really done. I just stumble along hoping I’ve done enough and that my editor will be able to give me the necessary nudges to tighten/ deepen etc in revisions.
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Thank you for another thoughtful post, Meg. I found myself nodding and saying a mental ‘yes’ throughout. Congratulations on all the ‘good stuff’. You’ve worked for it. And yes, of course you’ll write this book and it will be just as wonderful as every other one you’ve written before it.
Thanks, Teena! Those are very kind words indeed.