What? A new post two days in a row? Yeah, don’t get used to it. This is only happening because I split the Dead Blog Post in half. You know the one.
So I’m working on a story I’m calling Novel Z.
Now before I start up another dialogue with my imaginary blog reader, I actually already talked about this briefly on my Facebook page. And I’m not here to blog about what I’m calling my novel or which story it really is or whatever. Suffice it to say that I’m working on something called Novel Z, okay? Good.
I’m really here to tell you about all of my failures that have yet to happen. You see, I recently had a sort of epiphany about myself. I came to the realization that I have never finished a novel (apart from the one I wrote when I was 14) because I always use getting stuck on the plot as an excuse to quit before anybody reads it.
It all began when I was getting frustrated with the plot of Novel Z before I even started writing anything. I felt like all my ideas were trash and nothing I came up with was any good, especially when it came down to the magic system I was trying to create. So I did a Google search along the lines of “how to write magic systems”. This brought me to Brandon Sanderson’s website, which outlines his three laws of magic systems. From there I somehow found a link to a set of Youtube videos – recordings of the lectures he gave for a fantasy writing class at BYU. Since I’m a fan of Mr. Sanderson’s work, I decided to listen to all of the lectures.
One of the things that really struck me was how he talked about both discovery writing and outlining. For those who might not be aware, I lean pretty heavily on the discovery writer side of things. Lately, I had decided that was why I never finished anything. So I have attempted to become an outliner. As I listened to the lectures, I started to question whether or not that was really my problem. Brandon Sanderson talked about both methods as though it was understood by all that either way works. He would explain how discovery writers might do things differently than outliners when it came down to certain aspects of novel writing, but he never said one way was better than the other. If that’s the case, then what’s my problem? I asked myself.
The truth hit me like a bolt of lightning last weekend while I was actually thinking about my story and how I write.
I use my tendency to discovery write as an excuse to quit.
I would always get stuck somewhere in the story because I hadn’t planned it out ahead of time. That always happens when you discovery write. But instead of working through it and figuring it out (which I could certainly do), I would just give up. Oh, I would say stuff about how I was working on it, but really it would just be sitting in an unopened file for months at a time. Then I’d eventually get antsy about not writing, but when I went back to it, none of it made sense. So I would start over completely.
Why would I do this to myself?
Easy. I do this to myself because I am scared shitless.
I have been so afraid of finishing a book, I’ve been subconsciously sabotaging myself.
I mean, think about it. What would happen if I actually finished a manuscript? My family & friends would want to read it. Then I would probably send it to agents, hoping someone will pick it up and try to sell it to a publisher.
What if my family & friends hate it? What if no agent thinks it’s worth anything? In other words, what if I fail completely at the one thing that I not only love but claim to be good at? The one thing that everybody knows is my thing, my passion?
I hear you thinking out there. You’re thinking, get over it, you big baby, everybody gets rejected. Just try again!
It isn’t that easy. Writing a novel is a lot of work. Work that I love, yes, but that’s an investment of not just time and energy, but bits of my soul, too. I put myself in my novels whether I mean to or not. To have someone reject a piece of your soul… it’s something I’m sure writers get used to (probably all artists do). But I haven’t been rejected yet, not counting the seven rejection letters I got for that novel I wrote when I was 14. (Most of them just said they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts – I was attempting to skip the whole agent thing.)
And they say the first cut is the deepest.
And by “they” I mean Rod Stewart.
My point is that my own fear is what has been holding me back, not my process. Brandon Sanderson actually talks about this in the last lecture of the series. Every writer has that feeling that any moment someone is going to realize that they are a complete hack. Apparently, that feeling never goes away.
Okay, so now what? I know I’m a big scaredy-cat, my fear of everyone discovering how awful I am will never go away, and I still want to write novels that might maybe get published one day. What do I do about it?
I know from personal experience (unrelated to writing) that the only way to overcome a fear is to face it. In this case, I have to finish my book. I have to give myself a reality check when I inevitably get to that moment of crisis in my first draft. Then I have to get past it and actually finish it. If it gets rejected, I will try again. And I will be able to say, look, I wrote this thing and here’s what I learned from it.
That’s really the only option there is.
And anyway, once I become a super famous best selling author, that original rejected manuscript will be worth billions on eBay.
We place such an enormous burden on ourselves when we decide to let our creative works out into the world. It changes the whole creative process and sometimes gums it up. I love how you are powering through your creative demons.
Also, lesson learned…hush discovery I am outlining…
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It absolutely does. When I wrote my first story, I wasn’t thinking about getting it published, I was just doing it for fun. And that was the only one I ever finished, haha. Now I want to get back to that so I can finally finish something else.
Yes, exactly! I’ve had to hush the discovery by letting it do something else – writing random stories that came out of nowhere in between outlining the novel. That seems to quiet it down long enough for me to actually outline something, haha.
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I decided to take your blog post as advice and I am meticulously planning and storyboarding my replacement project. It takes a lot of uncertainty out of it. You can just work and not fret.