July 20, 2011

Finishing what you start

The last few weeks I've been trying to start on my next book. It's been a hard process, and I cannot seem to decide which one to write. The longer my indecision the more I beat myself up over my seeming lack of productivity.

I believe that one of the problems is that there are several first drafts hanging out on my hard drive. And I wonder if my struggle has something to do with leaving too many projects unfinished, so I have begun working on two of them, while also trying to start a new one. But I'm still in doubt.

Trying to relax, I find myself getting more stressed and second-guessing myself. Or wondering if it is a sign that I need to focus on another one. The most complete, though no less Shitty First Draft (as Anne Lamott calls them in Bird by Bird), is my first attempt at a novel with the working title From My Mother.

A friend I met at the Book Editing and Publishing course I took in 2005 at Macleay College in Sydney read this draft a few months ago and gave me feedback that was both kind and helpful. In the past week Tim also read it, and has encouraged me to spend the time to revise and finish it.

The truth is that I am scared of doing so. I want, no need, to finish it but also worry that tackling the revision will not make it "good enough". I have not done it before, and fear the struggle, a potential failure. Keeping this manuscript as-is is safer, allows me to say that I have written a first draft for a novel that one day will get done.

Today I looked for courage from other writers, reading a large chunck of Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write. She writes, "Self-consciousness comes from an anxiety that you will not impress people." Whether I admit it or not, the bottomline of my reluctance to work at this novel, or any of the other drafts taunting me with their unfinishedness, is concern that the end result won't be good enough.

Ueland, though, reminds us to think about the reasons we're writing by citing from a letter by Vincent van Gogh, explaining "...the moment I read van Gogh's letter I knew what art was, and the creative impulse. It is a feeling of love, and enthusiasm for something, and in a direct, simple, passionate and true way, you try to show this beauty in things to others, by drawing it."

One of the main characters in my first fiction manuscript is based on my grandmother. Her life, her struggle, her survival is what first made want to write a book "one day" more than 15 years ago. I still haven't found, or perhaps not looked hard enough to discover, the best way to show (her) the feeling of love and enthusiasm I have for what she has accomplished against the odds.

I truly hope I have the courage now to tackle the revision of that first draft of my first novel, but perhaps I need more time. It's hard to know sometimes when to be patient and when to give ourselves a kick up our writer's butt.

Author Holly Lisle writes in this post on her website: "Writing fiction is a fire that burns inside of you, and burns you from the inside out. It sears away the lies you tell yourself, it sears away the masks you hide behind, and in the end it refines you the way fire refines gold. What you put into your writing you get back a hundred-fold. Your characters teach you how to live, how to love, sometimes how to say goodbye."

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