From Journal of the Next Books:
I have been looking at Book 2 with a lot of fear and trepidation – fear has been blocking the way:
- I remember how hard it was to finish Book 1, how it took FOREVER.
- The hours, days, weeks, months, and years when progress was glacial (though it was always progress – of a sort).
- The soul-searching, and the process of turning myself inside out, to figure out a simple emotional progression through a scene that had to be just right.
- Discarding everything I knew and starting fresh because a scene was different, and I knew it, and the old tools weren’t good enough.
- Working from a draft so rough I’m surprised it made sense at all.
- So much WORK.
- Knowing that if there are any missing links in the chain I’m constructing, the whole will collapse like a bridge over a gorge.
- Knowing I’ve only written the EASY part.
- Thinking about how the sophomore slump affects so many writers and so many books, and why should I be any different?
WASN’T IT obvious? You DID write TO BE CONTINUED
I already know what happens: and the leaps of faith in the writer keep getting bigger. What if I’m not up to it? What if I’ve shot my wad? These last few months of publishing – EIGHT of them – have taken me away from writing for a long time. What if I can’t do it again?
What if that was it, the dying gasp of an aging mind? There have been times lately when I’ve wondered…
Simply, what if it took so long I can’t finish the rest of it, because there is nothing left of ME?
I didn’t say the fears were rational. I didn’t say I couldn’t talk back to some – most – of them.
But this is my process:
I identify that the feeling in my gut is fear. Simple ordinary fear.
Then I tackle to process of thinking about it, and the more important process of getting all the fear out of my mind – where it circles unceasingly like the Indians around the wagon trains in the old movies of the wild west.
I have to acknowledge each fear, give it attention, realize it’s real and it’s there for the purpose of keeping me from making a fool of myself (a bit too late for that one, eh?), and of keeping me from starting out on a Quixote-esque adventure with a bad end, an end the fear is telling me is CERTAIN.
Fear clamors. It overwhelms (I get out the techniques from Alan Lakein’s book How to get control of your time and your life specifically for Overwhelming reasons to procrastinate, which are mostly fear-based).
Maybe it even drives adrenaline into the system, adrenaline I have to stop from pouring into and circulating in my bloodstream because it cripples me to have to deal with the aftermath.
What am I working with?
I have myself exquisitely calibrated: Diet Coke #1 starts the day, #2 is after Nap #1, and if I’ve been a good girl, and had Nap #2 in a timely manner AND it is before 3 PM (2 PM really, but maybe today I can stretch it), Diet Coke #3 may be sipped and possibly help focus the little brain for a bit more work.
This is usually an illusion, but I dare not extend the time – insomnia is rampant already since I prefer to get to bed after 2 AM, and that really doesn’t work with getting up at 6 to write, because, in the winter, that’s when the daylight kicks in, and I need every hour possible of daylight just to function.
Ni tanto que queme al santo, ni tanto que no lo alumbre. Not so much that the (candle-flame) burns the (statue of) the saint, not so little that it doesn’t illuminate it.
I miss more than I succeed, but it is a lot better than years ago, and I’ve probably doubled my usable awake time since 2013 this way: some days I’m actually human for a few hours!
But skip ALL the little tricks – from the half-hour naps that clear the debris out of my brain, to the low carb diet that doesn’t allow refined carbohydrates to gum up the works (I LOVE refined carbohydrates), to forcing myself to go to bed at night, and not leave the house many times a week, and fob off, ignore, or do badly every possible task, and let the housekeeping standard drop to…
But I digress.
Don’t do ALL the tricks, and my body reminds me instantly that it doesn’t HAVE to think, only to breathe and process nutrition.
So far what I have cannot be cured, only managed, and that badly, since there are days when I do everything right and it doesn’t help.
The final fear is the biggie:
Could I have a life, an easier life, one with more fun in it, a more relaxed life – if I just gave this up?
Since this little writing career of mine takes EVERYTHING I have, and forces me to short household and family, should I just let it go, now that I’ve satisfied the life-long itch, and there is an actual book out there – and on my shelf – to prove it, shouldn’t I just quit before I embarrass myself by trying again, older and less mobile, less mentally quick (ha!) – and FAILING.
Yup. Fear of failure.
So I’m lying there today, relaxed into Nap #1, allowing the little questions: What am I doing here? and What am I missing? to play about in the drowsy state, and I remember Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000 words… book, and the thing she gives a few minutes to every time she starts writing: Enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm – to counterbalance work.
Enthusiasm – to cancel out FEAR.
Enthusiasm – to switch deliberately to the state of mind where things are possible instead of impossible.
What’s the point of having a mind, and knowing the tricks (thank you, Cognitive Behavior Therapy), and not using them?
Our lovely minds can hold but a single major thought at a time. Stanford University researchers have proven multitasking is an illusion.
IF I INSERT the GOOD THOUGHTS, after weakening the fearful ones, I WIN.
Final bit: Do I want to do this?
Do I want to spend countless hours over the next years taking the next part of the story from an incredibly rough draft to something coherent? Do I WANT that result enough to work for it, and work harder than most people? Do I want to COMMIT myself to something which might take another fifteen years (unlikely, thank God – I did learn a few things). Twice more if necessary?
At this point the good stuff started rushing in to support a decision I suspect I’d already taken.
I told myself that, even in that rough draft, there are scenes I have been waiting to polish since the first time I laid them out, and now I know a lot more about how to do that.
I told myself I made promises: to myself. To readers. Possibly even to posterity (however egotistical that sounds). I keep my promises, if I can.
And I told myself that every time I can exit the mindless fear state, I work it out.
And that, if I decided to quit (not likely!), it would now be a wise and measured decision reached with logic and deliberation. Not unlike the PhD thesis which tortured me. And prepared me for the professional career I loved. And for which I wouldn’t have been hired, not at the same level, if I had not finished.
Finish what you start, if you really want to
I am a finisher (there is a post coming on that – when I finish it). If possible, I finish what I start (except bad books – I’ve given up on those; Life is too short).
- I’m back in control
- I KNOW what was going on, and I’ve dealt with it: FEAR.
- I am really looking forward to seeing the final form of those scenes: they can be so much better.
- I’m committed to work. As hard work as it takes.
- If I’m slow/slower, so be it. Old/older, ditto.
I don’t know if the results will be worth it – this whole thing with Harper Lee has shaken the confidence of many of us older writers, especially not knowing if she understood and accepted the consequences, as was ‘approved’ by her state government’s ‘investigation’; money talks, and we write conspiracies for a living.
I am already digging out everything I need to finish the trilogy
The debris of this little debacle has been swept into the dustbin, with only this edited post to mark the spot.
I am making the fresh start. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedos.
And my missing ingredient? That’s been JOY. I get a huge pleasure out of the results, and a perverted pleasure out of the process. As I strike a blow for my tribe.
If I make a mess of it, it will be a glorious mess.
What’s YOUR next project? And what’s keeping you from starting?