Monday, November 14, 2011
Crazy. Impossible. Glorious.
The hardest part of writing is that you always want to be writing, but you always have to be doing something else. Even when the something else is nothing at all.
One of my favorite authors, Michael A. Stackpole, once said that he has a note stuck to his bathroom mirror reading, “Time is stolen.” The universe doesn’t give you time to write. Life doesn’t slow down for you to contemplate and find the perfect word. Someday you’ll write that great novel, but someday never comes. If you want to write—or do almost anything of importance, really—you have to steal time for it. Steal time from your friends. Steal time from your “real” work. Steal time from leisure. Steal time to write.
Steal time from yourself.
I’ve had about five books living inside me for the better part of a year. That’s not counting Masks; much as we’re all enjoying that novel, it’s basically a massive therapeutic exercise to get me back into writing after the sturm and drang that began 2011. But over the last couple of days, I’ve tightened my old seven-book outline for the Masks saga, getting it down to five—four now, since Masks is basically done. And then there’s The Novel.
I’ve never had a story hollow out a place inside me and fill it up in quite the way The Novel has done. I hope that’s a sign that I’m improving as a writer, that my work is becoming more real and more personal and more undeniably human. Then again, I’d be just as happy if The Novel simply turns out to be a once-in-a-lifetime, exceptional kind of book. And I’d be all right if I’m just crazy, too. But whether it’s a new level in my writing, a life’s work, or another symptom of my ongoing insanity, The Novel won’t leave me alone, and I’ve been putting it off for far too long. New ideas have been filtering in all year, and now every day I don’t write it is a day I ache.
But it frightens me.
I’m writing about this because I know there are teachers and students reading this blog from time to time. (Hello, Mr. Olson! Hello, Desiree!) I know some of you want to be writers, so I’m saying this because no one ever said it to me and I had to find it out for myself: Writing is scary. Having strange people move into your head and talk to you all the time? Freaky. Seeing flashes of impossible places that won’t leave you alone until you write them down? Terrifying. I’d think I was going insane if there weren’t a plot involved that I can set down on index cards.
Mostly, though, I find that every time I sit down to write, I’m scared I won’t be good enough.
It has been a long, hard year, a year of dead friends and dying dreams. And The Novel feels so big, so intimidating, that I almost hesitate to pick it up. If I can pull this off, it will be the best thing I’ve ever written, by far. But what if I can’t? What if I’ve stolen all this time—and it comes to nothing?
Here is a secret that your English teachers will never tell you, one that you will learn for yourself if you stick with this writing thing, or anything that matters. The secret is this: the things that matter are always scary. But you steal time for them anyway—that’s what makes you a writer. Every human being alive has at least one story or one song or one great work inside them, but the ones who actually tell and sing and do those things are the ones who spit in the eye of fear and do them in spite of their terror. That doesn’t mean they never second-guess themselves, or get knocked down for a while. It just means they never stay down, never surrender to the tyranny of reasonable voices. They go out and do things. Crazy, impossible, glorious things.
So I’m going to get off this blog now and go fight The Novel until we’re both bloody all over. Whether you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month or you’re just tinkering with an idea, I encourage you to do the same. And if you’ve got the same sneaky, reasonable voices in your head that I do—screw ’em. You read that right. What do they know, anyway? They’re the voices that tell you to eat your vegetables, for crying out loud. Are you going to let a few vegetables stand between you and your crazy, impossible, glorious thing? No. You’re going to do it. And we’ll be crazy, impossible, glorious people together.
Are you with me?