*Disclaimer: Every writer works differently, so please don’t interpret this anecdote as a description of what all writers do to get on with their work.
I feel utterly mortal and vulnerable before I pick up a pen and translate a story to the page. You would think now that the first draft is finished, the rest of the journey is smooth sailing. The worst may be over, but telling the tale hasn’t magically become easier.
In fact, the idea of returning to my work after a long hiatus filled me with dread.
For a month, I barely thought about the first draft, let alone touched my notes or read through the completed chapters, not even the extremely short prologue. At first, I purposely stepped away to allow the story to bubble like a witch’s brew and simmer down in my mind. It felt as though my head was swimming with brightly colored images and a cacophony of voices, each one demanding attention. Everything did eventually calm down, but then various time-sensitive responsibilities kept me away from the book, including me changing jobs and dealing with health insurance. Additionally, I was submitting pieces to some literary magazines, which had strict deadlines, and I was ticking off books on my reading list.
My nightstand, laden with photos of loved ones, books and some notes for future stories.
Once I found more time for myself, I pulled my notes out of their dusty spot in the file basket. Yet I mostly stared at them and let my mind wander for hours.
When a story grows within me, it plays out like a movie in my head. A movie that’s still in post-production, with different versions of the same scene and almost none of them are in chronological order yet. It’s a series of images, voices, emotions, sounds, smells and even tastes. Sometimes the emotions are so strong that they overcome me and mold themselves with my mood. In those moments, my stories have actually made me giggle, smile, cry and brood. I scarcely dare to move once the story takes over me, partially because I’m too interested in the story to interrupt it… and partially out of fear.
How can I even begin to describe this tale, the people in it and the storm of emotions erupting inside me? Why did this story choose me? How I can do it justice?
I believe that’s what we call imposter syndrome. Some refer to it as writer’s block, but I feel that that term softens the experience of being a terrified writer. It makes it sound too medical. Writer’s block goes much deeper than that for many people. It’s not like a cold that you can sleep off. It’s opening the front door and walking outside despite there being a tornado threatening to tear through your home. The thing is, though, it certainly will destroy you if you don’t tame it.
So two weeks ago, I finally broke the spell. I opened the door and faced the tornado. Once I began to write, a sense of calm wrapped around me like a warm blanket. I was far away in my own world, working on the details about my main characters, hardly aware of the passing of time or the tornado. I felt alive and invincible. I still do, because the revisions are going surprisingly well. Of course, finding the time and energy to write remains half the battle on a daily basis, since I don’t write full-time. Right now, though, I’m just glad I found the courage to begin the revisions, because I set a new deadline for myself and I want to stick to it. If it all goes according to plan, I’ll send a freshly edited copy of my novel to my beta readers by July 1st.
One thing that has become easier is talking about my characters, because I feel that I know and understand them better than before. The book I’m working on has three protagonists, the most important one being Bethany Pope, a 16-year-old black girl living in Detroit. She’s a painter and a poet and she lives a considerably sheltered life with her father Angus… until he goes missing. The story begins in the fall of 1982 and spans throughout the summer the following year. I can’t say much more because I’m still figuring out how to summarize the whole thing. I’m not even sure which genre my novel neatly fits into; for now, I’m going with mystery.
I hope all you are doing well and enjoying the arrival of spring. Reading anything interesting? I was re-reading Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen for a while, but I forgot all about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy once I found Diana and Matthew in A Discovery of Witches. It’s a beautifully written, sensory-provoking fantasy novel by Deborah Harkness. Hence the witch allegories, ha ha. I can’t wait to watch the show as soon as I’ve finished the book.