I’ve been more aware than usual lately that I tend to work my way around things obliquely before I actually tackle them head on. I allude to a lot of things for a long time until I screw up the courage, or find the right time, or my self-imposed defensive orbit just degrades to the point that I fall into the gravity well. Directly talking about writing - that I write and that I want to be a writer, like for a living - is one of them.
It’s time I come clean.
I’ve talked about a bunch of other things that the life-inversion is about; how much I had grown to hate profit motives, consumerism, the systems of the world and politics, my addictions to stuff and appearances, and all the things that we use to anesthetize ourselves – that I used to anesthetize myself with for so long - and how I needed to make drastic changes in order to chase after a better me. All of those things are very true and close to my heart. But it was the story, the novel, that was the real reason. It was the thought of telling stories like my favorite authors told - stories that snuck past my defenses and made me think and aspire – that kept me up at night. It was the thought of the process of telling those stories and how it might help me grow and expand that made me smile at unexpected moments, like a jolt of pure joy. It was always about the stories.
The story, the one I’m trying to tell right now, is a giant, massive beast of an epic fantasy. The manuscript, as I work deep into the second draft, sits just a bit over 200,000 words, and it’s the first of the at least four volumes I believe it will take to tell the whole tale. This alone might make it a cumbersome thing to try to get published, and sometimes I wonder if I’ve written it this way, on this scale, to make it harder for myself. I do that sometimes, like exaggerating the dream of being a writer: I make it so big that I don’t have to worry about it ever being more than a dream because it’s so unrealistic.
But it is realistic. The story is alive to me. I think I’d read it and fall in love with the landscapes and cultures, the heroes and anti-heroes and complicated antagonists, their foibles and demons and dreams, and the messed up realities that they have to face and overcome to try to make things fit. I want it to work as a great story, one that people can escape into as a pure adventure. I want people to read and be there, and feel what the characters feel, and wish it would never end.
I also have hubristic aspirations. I want the story, the way I tell it, to work on more levels than just as a story. I desire it to be like my favorites, with nuances and insights and things below the surface worth digging for, things that come up for air between the plot lines and dialog, or that reveal themselves only through a process of erosion. I want it to measure up to the tales I loved - the genre and non-genre ones - that broke me open and made my world a bigger place and challenged me in tragic and beautiful ways to see the world exactly the way it is and still be a dreamer. To know the truth and still dream.
But I’m still afraid of that dream in fundamental ways too. It’s so precious to me, has been for so long, that the thought of trying and failing paralyzes me sometimes. I have a fear of failure and have had it for a long, long time. I fear that it will simply be not good enough to publish. Or worse, that I will not be sufficient to the aspiration; that I’ll betray my characters and fail to tell their stories properly. That I’ll let them and the story down. It’s the breathstopping fear of letting the story down that paralyzes me the most.
That’s a danger with dreams; sometimes they take on such mythic proportions that we’re afraid to approach them, afraid that we won’t be up to that challenge, and afraid that failing will mean we were never meant to own the dream in the first place. That’s my biggest fear by far.
Although I rarely remember my dreams, I do have this one recurring nightmare:
In the dream I’m sitting at the laptop and suddenly realize that I’m out of stories to tell. The well is dry and I have nothing left worth trying to say. The realization stuns me and I stop typing. And then the walls start to slowly, quietly crack and disintegrate as if they were made of sand the whole time and all it took was a puff of hesitation to bring the house down. I look down at my hands, at my palms, trying to figure out what went wrong, and the same thing starts to happen to my fingers, each digit first blurring and then softly blowing away from the tip down to the palm down to the wrist. And that’s about when I always wake up.
And then, in the dark, I realize that the truth is scarier: I haven’t even finished the first story, and I have nobody to lay that culpability on but myself.
I hate fear, and love it. I hate it when I let it slow me, and love it when I overcome it. I know that I cannot overcome it if it isn’t there, so I try to embrace it and be thankful for the opportunity it represents, but that’s hard too. One of my favorite storytellers, Frank Herbert, had some wonderful things to write about fear, and I remember them almost daily. And I remember that courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
I have come to love this blog, but right now it’s also providing a lot of distraction; fun temptations full of writing bite-sized, pretty, thoughtful, ugly, silly things and receiving immediate feedback. I love where
TOL has taken me, is taking me – the friends it’s introduced me to and the ways it’s made me stretch. But it’s in the way right now.
So I’m going to take a partial hiatus from thinkingoutloud-land. I think this means one post a week until V 2.0 of the manuscript is done, but I’m not making any promises.
I need to get obsessive and just finish it. As Sugar would say, I need to finally rip this second beating heart out of me. Because I write, I’m a writer, and there are stories to tell.
And I need to do it before my hands blow away.
It feels good to get that off my chest. Thanks for bearing witness.
To everyone that comes here and reads, whether you comment or not (but there’s a special place in my heart for those that join the discussion), both here and on FB, thank you. Just having you around, sharing your thoughts, means the world. Give me through the end of the year or so and we’ll see about getting back to our regularly scheduled programming.