It’s always a scary thing: picking up something from which you’ve been away or put down for an extended period of time. Whether it’s returning to work after a long vacation, meeting a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or preparing for a visit from the inlaws, the uncertainty gnaws at us and usually inflates the possibilities of disaster far beyond what will actually occur. For me, this week, after having launched Chaos, then having completed my lengthy read/ edit through the 900 pages of the Mercy manuscript, my dread was focused around picking up the great beast of a story and seeing it through to its end. After spending years of my life with these characters and their world, I was worried that I couldn’t create the ending I’d envisioned–one that would please not only me and my readers, but also the characters themselves (while remaining true to the bittersweet notes of the story). Everything needs to be “wrapped up”. Leaving a novel of this size with too many questions or lingering threads won’t satisfy anyone.
But as with any endeavor, success comes through the messiness of execution, refinement after failure, and a dedication to excellence. I sat down Monday–all my tasks assigned, notes ready, and much uncertainty ahead–and I wrote. I just hammered the keys and prayed that the prose kept flowing and that it wasn’t hot garbage. I actually warmed up with some dialog, which is an exercise I do, sometimes, since the flow of conversation–natural, organic, emotive–seems to trigger the creative pace for other aspects of writing. By week’s end, everything had finally come together. I’d written seventy pages, and at that point, I wasn’t able to question myself. The story is smoothly on course, all the characters, despite the surprising twists they’ve thrown me, are marching toward the final conflict and resolution of events.
Progress for neurotic folks like myself (though who isn’t neurotic these days?) occurs when we silence the inner-critic and take a leap of faith in ourselves. From there, it’s a matter of continuing that momentum, of continuing to stifle the nasty whisperer who “wasn’t sure” and “didn’t like”. God, that voice. I wonder if we’d be better off as a species if we could eradicate that negativity though some newfangled Prozac derivative. Then I realize that we need that critic–even if they get too loud and disruptive at times. It’s our battle with doubt that defines much of who we are as a species and that pushes us to be/ do something better.
Indeed, the best motivators are all around us: these people who fight, grow, and win, by dealing with internal and external critics all the time. I don’t just look to other authors for inspiration; that can actually be detrimental since people tend to directly compare their success in their field to others in that field. I look to my friends, who are involved in astonishingly creative projects. I look to my family, many of whom have started up their own businesses and who deal with the similar pressures to mine–even if the particulars vary greatly.
And most of all, I try to be positive. My natural tendencies are toward pessimism or pragmatism, which is why writing is such a great outlet for me. Through writing, I can lose myself in a world where the problems–dire as they may be–can be resolved through the united struggles of various hopeful heroes and anitheroes. I’d like to think that’s why my readers like this work, too: lessons to remind us that even if all signs point to surrender, we are never beaten unless we make the choice to stop.
I hope that my writing does for you, what it does for me: provides focus, helps you to identify happiness in the world outside of your heads. I hope that you make progress this week in working against your inner-critic and toward whatever dream you’re maturing. You will make that dream a reality. I believe in you.
All my love,
P.S. It’s good to be back to a normal conversational flow. Next week we’ll talk about house-hunting, body transformations, and tattoos! And do continue to let me know your thoughts on Feast of Chaos–it’s been great hearing from my readers. Oh, and that image is actually me, in the saddle (on the right), for the first time, at our wedding reception up North some years ago.