I’ve been wanting to do a blog post for a while, to reach out to readers and fill them in on what is going on with me. I’ve drafted it in my head a gazillion times, scrawled down bullet-pointed notes on scratch paper and even typed out a full post that I never showed a soul. They all seemed wrong or full of TMI or just… not what I needed to say.
In short, the book is late. It’s very late. You have all noticed.
It was all going so smoothly and wonderfully at the beginning of this year when suddenly, it wasn’t.
I can point to a number of possible reasons, list them out one by one. But in short, somewhere around late spring everything came to a halt, then, as I struggled, it came in fits and starts. The process became mired in a boglike landscape, temporarily alleviated by tiny but fleeting bubbles of hope.
And when people have approached me kindly–and not so kindly–asking, hoping and sometimes demanding I tell them when the book is coming, I never had an answer. Because I refused to make a promise on something I couldn’t be sure of. And how would I begin to explain that I couldn’t be sure of my own brain?
Drafting brand new words out of nowhere has always been the most difficult part of the process for me. And with each subsequent book I’ve written, that process has taken longer and longer. What I drafted in weeks in At Any Price, suddenly became months and longer with each new book.
The first draft is a map… a map you draw while driving at night with very dim headlights. You push yourself to speed ahead while simultaneously trying to stifle the panic of not knowing exactly what you’re facing in that dimness in front of you. It’s anxiety-inducing.
The second draft, is infinitely better, because by that time, I’ve lived with these people in my head and I’ve mapped out the events to a sufficient extent and depth that I can look at them as if they are sitting in my living room, lounging on my couch and sipping tea and eating cookies from my dinnerware. I only have to sit nearby and “eavesdrop” on them to get their mannerisms and inflections and words just right. I can see the color and pattern of the tablecloth, the dust motes swirling in the sunlight. The details all fall into place.
But over the last little while, I’ve become aware of this mounting problem–that the increase demand in time I was taking to produce books was almost all because of this formidable first draft anxiety. And when I set out on this one at the beginning of the year, I vowed that this book would be different.
What I hadn’t counted on was the underlying problem. Because…what do you do when your brain lies to you and tells you relentlessly that each sentence you put down on the page is terrible? That the story is awful and no one will enjoy it? That you may have been able to do this (write a book) before but this time you won’t be able to? You remind yourself again and again that this is a DRAFT and no one will see it until it’s ready and you’ll have more time to go over it again.
But somehow, somewhere, the process breaks down and you start to believe the lies coming from your own brain and each time you fall, it takes longer and longer to summon the will to go back to it. It takes longer and longer to gather the courage to face the manuscript again because you’re so steeped in those lies, they become your truth.
And soon you’re in a deep hole looking up. As each day passes, the feeling compounds and you’re wondering how you’ll ever get out. And you compare yourself to everyone else doing it and seeing how it appears effortless to them and it just makes it all worse “knowing” how inferior you are to every other author out there.
And that is where I was this week, wondering how or when I could scrape up the courage to get back to this draft, all 97,000 words of it (so far) and finally finish so I could redraft. It was a mountain and I was so far from the summit that I couldn’t see. I was stuck there, all hope flagging…
Tonight, I went with my family to see the movie, Frozen 2. And (spoiler alert) at one point, Ana finds herself trapped in a deep hole underground and she thinks all is lost, including her closest loved ones. Then, she begins to sing and her song spoke to me so clearly about my current writerly predicament…that it took my breath away.
“I’ve seen dark before, But not like this…. This grief has a gravity. It pulls me down”
And the tears came because she was singing to me, about me and though I wasn’t actually in a deep dark hole mourning my loved ones, I was figuratively in this deep dark hole mourning the process of doing something I once loved so much I spent every spare moment of time I had to do it willingly. Telling stories is what defined me in so many ways and I was mourning the loss of it…
And like her, my hope was waning and almost gone. And I was crying and getting a headache identifying with this character singing in the crystal clear beautiful voice and mourning along with her. But then, the tone of the song turned and as I listened, even more tears came. I was right there with her, looking at this monumental task of getting our way out of this deep hole, looking up and wondering how.
Then that raw and empty feeling gave way to a pinpoint of light.
She sang on…
“But a tiny voice whispers in my mind, ‘You are lost, hope is gone. But you must go on and do the next right thing… Take a step, step again. It is all that I can do.”
2019 will be the first calendar year as a published author that I will not produce at least one book. I’m overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of that failure. But it doesn’t have to remain that way.
Tonight I’ll take to my keyboard again and I’ll just focus on the next thing to do instead of the overwhelming task of all of it. Instead of climbing the mountain, I’ll just take the next step.
“I won’t look too far ahead. It’s too much for me to take. But break it down to this next breath. This next step. This next choice is one that I can make.”
And while I can’t promise an exact release date for For The Taking, I can promise that when it does release, it will be the story that I will be proudest of, because it will be the next step.
And then I’ll keep on walking.