I just typed the final period of the final draft of what will hopefully be my third book. Always an ambivalent experience. You’re glad the story is done, but at the same time it’s hard to let the story go. Even now, my thoughts are away from this sheet of paper and on my characters. I wonder what they’d do next and if they all managed to carry on. The answer to the former is that I have no idea. The answer to the second? Yes.
I figure that between drafts of books, journal entries, and blog posts, I’ve written about a million words in the last ten years. That’s a lot. And I have proof, too—the trunk beside my desk at home is full of notebooks and papers, as are the bottom two rows of my bookshelves. Not to mention files upon files on my computer. You would think that considering such bountiful evidence, I would know a thing or two about writing.
It’s a sickness to believe otherwise, at least in my case. Each time I feel as though I’m coming down with a case of I-could-do-a-whole-book-about-writing, I remedy myself by actually sitting down to write something. Always does the trick.
Because it’s difficult, the crafting of words. It’s painful and draining, and more than once I’ve asked myself why in the world I do it at all (answer: because it’s more painful and draining if I don’t).
This has been especially true with the book I just finished. Though aspects of it are similar to my first two, much of it isn’t. It was a leap of faith designed to prevent the one feeling I want to preserve every time I sit down to write.
Not hope or faith or love.
Yes. While I’m writing, I want to be afraid.
On the surface, that shouldn’t be a problem. Deep down, writers swim in fear. They’re terrified of rejection, anxious that their work will be perceived as infantile, troubled that there are thousands of other writers out there more talented and successful. We’re a tangled mass of neuroses and obsessions.
But those aren’t the sorts of fears I’m talking about. In fact, I’d say those fears should be battered into submission so the real fear—the necessary panic—can course through me unencumbered.
Whatever our words may be to readers, to ourselves they should resemble a sledgehammer taken to the barricade we construct to keep us a safe distance from the world. Each tap of the keys or stroke of the pen should in reality be a swing of the hammer. Each word should be a tiny chunk taken from our walls. Each paragraph a brick, each page a section, until finally we are left naked with nothing between us and our audience.
That’s the fear of which I speak.
That’s the only way writing works.
There are countless definitions of what good writing looks like. For me, only one counts—good writing doesn’t show how we’re all different, but how we’re all the same. And that’s impossible unless writers are willing to be vulnerable.
Vulnerable enough to commit to the page those hidden parts within themselves which they wouldn’t even whisper to their closest friends.