If there’s a barrier in writing it’s me. Being afraid to write what I want to write because it might not be marketable, might have a small audience, might not be understood, might make me an enemy, might tick off my mom. Substitute your own excuse of the week. Being afraid to take chances with my writing that will stretch me and help me grow. Being afraid to be the writer I am capable of being because what if I fail, what if I succeed, what if someone doesn’t like who I become, what if “I” don’t like who I become? Being afraid I’m not good enough to tell the story I want to tell because I don’t have the skillset, because I don’t know where to find the information, because someone told me it was a dumb idea. Just plain being afraid is the only barrier to me. The rest is scenery along the way.
I’ve frequently been afraid of writing, though afraid of exactly what part of writing I’ve never been sure. I used to rationalize and tell myself that what I was afraid of was success–my gosh, what if I actually am good enough to be a professional writer? Then I’ll have to go on book-signing tours and do radio interviews or (if the particular dream I was trying to avoid at the time was that of being a screenwriter) I’ll have to go to pitch sessions at the studios and I really don’t like talking in front of people and it’ll all just be way too much so I might as well stop writing right now.
(Please note that nothing in that fear-string had anything to do with the process of writing itself.)
Terry, who knows me so, so well, clued me in to the truth: I’ve been more afraid of not being good enough, of course. I’ve long thought/known/assumed that I had the talent to be a successful writer. I’ve thought that for so long, in fact, that I was terrified of finding it out it might not be true. No telling what that might have done to my sense of identity.
Cut to couple of nights ago: I dug out the 60 pages or so of the crime novel I wrote for National Novel Writing Month in ’03. I’d gotten stalled at that point, 60 pages in; I’d written a scene that totally killed the narrative flow and I had no idea how to get myself out of the situation. What I should have done, in the spirit of NaNo, was scrap the scene, forget about it and just move forward.
Instead, I just quit. Not the first time I’ve done that.
But the other night, I went back and re-read what I’d written, and I realized something:
I am good enough.
I’m not saying that right at this moment I could send out a manuscript and immediately it would be purchased, published, shoot up the bestseller list and have the movie rights sold for millions of dollars. But as I read these pages, pages I hadn’t looked at it in almost two years, I had enough distance to be able to read them with an objective eye. And while there was plenty of not-good stuff to be found (it’s a first draft, after all)–there was far more stuff that was actually pretty damn good.
I’ve always been a good self-editor. I’m good at analyzing my own work and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and I think that’s going to help me quite a bit–probably more than quite a bit–if I’m going to make it as a writer. And I read these words I’d written right after having read books by Dennis Lehane and Tim Dorsey and I can see it: I can see myself actually pulling it off.
I have a lot to learn about the craft of writing a novel, I know that. But I’ll learn that by, y’know, writing novels. I’m looking at trying to plow through the rest of this one, hopefully to be done with a first draft by November 1–just in time to dive into whatever I decide to write for NaNo this year.
It’s time for me not to be the barrier to my own writing anymore.