I told you last week that I’d be back with new posts about writing. Lucky for you, I make good on my promises. I have this post to write now, and another one already working its way to the front of my brain. Look for it in a day or so.
A while back, I got all excited because I finished my novel. To be more exact, I finished the first draft of it. I had and continue to have the best of intentions regarding the editing process, but despite my initial enthusiasm and the purple editing pens that I love, I have a hard time getting myself to actually actively edit. I’ll go on editing sprints that span a few days, and then nothing for weeks. I just haven’t been able to find my stride with it. I had it printed and bound because I can’t edit directly on a computer screen. I need to flip back and forth between physical pages and put sticky notes all through it. I like being able to see what I’m changing. It’s helping me develop an eye for my own work, which is something I’ve always struggled with. It’s helping me gain more confidence in myself as a writer. It’s helping me understand Craft (with a capital C).
It’s making me hate my novel.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about this. He told me that he and other writers he’s talked to experience this. As they revise, they hate it less. I’m hoping this happens for me, because I’m starting to fear that I’m going to abandon my beloved novel. As soon as I write that, I know I won’t do it because I don’t typically quit that easily. I will whine and complain and bitch and moan about it to anyone who will listen. I’ll shed tears. And then I’ll stand up with Beyonce and keep on survivin’.
In all seriousness, though, I know I’m not done with that novel. I just started to feel a bit of separation anxiety (displaced or not) from…writing. Coming off of a particularly bad week last week, I decided that I was just going to write my way through it. Part of the problem I found with my novel is that it’s not something I would typically write. It’s not something I would even typically read. It was a totally different style for me, and I think that when anyone who knows me personally gets a chance to read it, they’re going to immediately agree. The last time I wrote something even remotely similar in style, I was in 8th grade, and I was going through a “thing” following my grandmother’s death. This new story that I started writing, though, is more my style. I’m having an easier time writing it, and after two pages, I realized that I like it better than the novel already. I’ve also written outside my comfort zone a bit in this case (my main character and first person narrator is a man and his vocabulary is a little more colorful than mine is, for starters), but it’s still somehow more me than the novel.
As I’m writing this, I’m trying to separate myself from the situation (now that I can see my thoughts in front of me, which makes me feel less anxious than having them all unorganized and bouncing around my mind). As I try to separate myself from my own situation, I think about how I’d give myself advice if I were someone else. I’d tell myself that the fact that my novel is so different for me is probably the greatest reason of all to continue editing the manuscript, to get myself back to the document and make changes and see if I like the second draft better. I need to give it a chance to take shape. I’m the one who stands in front of a classroom (or, used to) and tells students that there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. There’s very rarely even such a thing as a perfect second draft. All writing is a process, and it’s okay to struggle with it (this is one of the reasons writers share work with each other and why professional editors exist). I expressed some similar sentiment (my inner English teacher just enthusiastically cheered for alliteration) recently to another friend. When I tried to express my fears regarding the editing process in order to lamely justify why I hadn’t been editing (the fears are real, but I know I should work through them), he told me he didn’t buy it because he thought I just wanted to edit in one shot and be done. He was probably right. It made me feel fraudulent and hypocritical, but that was just more motivation to get me to reconsider; to take the challenge.
I continued turning this over and rolling it around in my mind until I decided that I have a plan: I need to come up with some kind of alternating writing and editing schedule so that I don’t burn myself out on one or the other. This seems easy in theory, but we’ll see how it goes. I have some strange writing practices that may make it difficult for me to do this, or at least to do both in one day. I haven’t worked out all the kinks yet, but there you have it. I don’t want to give up writing while I’m editing because I’ve come to realize that I actually need writing. I depend on it. Somewhere in the last 8 months, it became my security blanket.
When I was in elementary school, I loved to write stories. As I moved into those tumultuous junior high years, it became a love of writing poetry (mostly bad, angst-ridden stuff, although once I got to high school, I did win two first places and one third place over two years in the county arts festival). I wrote poetry into high school, and then it started to taper off. I attended the Susquehanna University Writer’s Workshop in the summers of ’99 and ’00, solidifying my college dream at the age of 16. I barely wrote anything my senior year of high school except academic papers and AP English literature analyses. I got to Susquehanna and decided to minor in creative writing, and while I learned quite a bit from those classes, I’d lost the spark. My heart wasn’t totally in it anymore, even as I was excelling in certain genres. Still, I learned enough there that when I took a poetry class at Penn State, coasting through it with little to no effort whatsoever, the instructor became pleasantly frustrated with me (meaning that she masked it by smiling) and told me that I made her feel like she needed to be doing more to challenge me. She never did, though. Easy A.
There were probably a number of reasons I lost the spark at Susquehanna. I was focusing on a lot of other things. I wasn’t a writing major, so I didn’t feel like part of the writing family (they really are a family at SU). I wasn’t nearly as talented as many of those students were. My professors were very knowledgeable and were, themselves, published authors, which was great, but presented its own set of problems. When I graduated, I stopped writing. I made a few lame attempts here and there, but nothing major. Nothing until the novel. So maybe it’s understandable why it all seems so overwhelming. Maybe it would seem overwhelming anyway. Then all of a sudden, I needed to write to retain my sanity throughout my unemployment and my time at home.
So I wrote. I wasn’t all that confident, but as I told my friend Jim, I keep hoping that the more I write, the more confident I become. He shared that sentiment and suggested that I start sending things out for publication so that I get used to rejection letters (since they’re the most common response). I told him that, as I’d only recently started writing again and had even more recently gotten serious about it, I still wasn’t sure where I stood on publication. In the end, after talking with him, I realized that I should probably start learning a little bit about it, you know, just in case I change my mind and get over my crippling fear of rejection someday.
I hope I stick to my plan. I really do. Because maybe if I get more practice and gain more confidence, I’ll actually create something that I want to share on a larger scale. To me, it’s a big deal when I want to share something even just with my friends. I’m usually so protective of my writing. Call that a lack of confidence, I guess. Or trust issues. Or the backlash from my illiterate uncle constantly telling me how he thinks I’m a great writer, even though he’s never read anything I’ve ever written. I might be afraid that I’m the only person taking me seriously, but by the same token, if I don’t take myself seriously, how can I expect anyone else to?