Want to read my journal?

Saturday, July 30 12:22 p.m.   home office

I’ve been sitting here on and off for almost two hours and haven’t written a word. Instead I’m mulling over a new crisis I have created for myself. This is an old habit I thought I had outgrown years ago. This week during a spectacularly bad writing day, I was listening to NPR on my lunch break as I drove to my second writing location, the library. I heard a brief yet fascinating and heart-wrenching story about the recently declared famine in southern Somalia. And within 60 minutes of listening, a fully formed novel idea had presented itself to me, scrawled messily over 10+ notebook pages. I even have a title. I have not stopped thinking about the characters since that time but haven’t written a word for fear of… I don’t know what. Betraying my first full work of fiction? Feeling like a quitter and a failure? Worrying that this idea will fizzle out halfway too and I’ll be left with nothing, thus forcing me to realize I’m not a writer, just someone with lots of ideas and no follow-through?

Every passage I read – or, rather, tried to read- on my last writing day felt off. So off. I couldn’t get through much of anything for revisions. I would read and try to make notes and just end up closing the manuscript in disgust. I deeply care about the story and the characters but it feels like I’m trying too hard. I can’t find the true voice. I like the story but parts of it are reading almost like a fairy tale. I think what’s really got me stuck is that I’m realizing the first book needs so much revision as to almost require a complete rewriting. The whole first half is in the wrong tone. I like the second half’s voice much better. But to rewrite the first half in the new voice is daunting. Not as daunting as a whole new book, but still.

It’s not fair to say at this stage, but my new idea feels richer, deeper, more textured, and I can already hear the voice. It’s so tempting to dive right in. But scary too. It’s a more serious voice than I have been using with the first book. The scope is also so much larger. More research, more details, more main characters. So very ambitious for a writer just starting out. As my husband said when I shared a brief overview of the new story with him, “Wow. Sounds like a lot of work.” Yep. Is this just a case of something new and shiny being so much more interesting than something old and worn? Also a habit I thought I had almost outgrown (except when it comes to furniture arranging, but I digress…)

If a friend was in this situation and asked me what I thought they should do, I would tell them to set the first work aside and get everything down that they could on the second one. You don’t want to lose momentum on an idea that compelling. And the friend would likely protest that they didn’t want to abandon their first work and wanted to finish what they had started, not quit. And I would counter that it will still be there when they are ready to go back to it, or when they have hit a stopping point on the new manuscript. But I am not an expert on writing books. This could be very bad advice.

The reality is that either way I am much further behind than I had thought. And that makes me feel defeated. And very very tired.

2 responses to Want to read my journal?

  1. beckyconway

    Anne Lamott needs a hotline so we can just call her up and ask her what to do. 🙂
    My gut feeling is that you need to follow the ideas, the heart, the passion, whatever is fueling your fire. I think perhaps you should cast aside any arbitrary timelines(?) and just, you know, let it be. Whatever is coming out, get it out and get it down. I think you’d just weary yourself more by fighting things, you know?
    *TRY* not to feel defeated. You are *working*. That is amazing and excellent and worthy of some self-approval!

  2. bridgetstraub

    Listen to the advice that you would give that friend. It’s easier to write what you feel passionate about. You’ll finish something when it’s meant to be finished. Not everything can be controlled (even though it would be nice if it could be)
    Best of luck.

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