I have a secret, internet. I have been avoiding you. I wouldn’t cross the street if I saw you coming or anything, but I might have been letting your calls go to voicemail. The truth is there’s only one way to say this, so here it is:
MY CAR. BROKE DOWN. THE DAY. AFTER I TOLD YOU. IT WAS FIXED.
And it was! Because what I have now is an entirely NEW problem! An expensive and complicated one that has rendered my car entirely useless until I find a money tree or some magic beans.
LESS THAN 24 HOURS LATER. SERIOUSLY.
This is what I get for telling life to suck it. Okay, universe. You win.
I have another secret: I haven’t written anything in a week and a half. This is out of control ridiculous — I haven’t had a week and a half away from a novel in almost two years. It feels weird. It’s itching at me like a phantom limb, and I feel simultaneously guilty and like I’m getting away with something. Like I’m playing hooky from myself.
But man, I need this break.
After is a strange experience for me. It’s ambitious — I’m constantly terrified it’s too ambitious. It’s big and weird and, maybe most importantly, it’s my BIG IDEA.
It’s that idea that’s rattles around in the back of your head for years. The one that pokes at you when you’re trying to sleep. The one you think of when you see a movie you like; that has a soundtrack and a mood and its dust on your boots. The one with the characters you’re too invested in and the world you sometimes dream in. The one that words will never be enough for.
And right now, I hate it. It still doesn’t feel right. The characters don’t talk right. Nothing is happening the way I want it to, because nothing CAN happen the way I want it to. This idea has been around for five years, in one form or another, and it’s taken those five years to sneak up on it and pin it down and wrestle it into a story. And now I have to wrestle that story into clauses and constructions and paragraphs and chapters? That’s scary.
That’s FUCKING TERRIFYING.
The thought that I don’t have the skill to do this, that I’m not good enough or experienced enough to do this — that thought has been pretty much constant lately. And that thought makes me want to vomit. And then die. And then vomit again. Looking at my own words has been making me cold sweat. I know enough to know that I have permission to suck in this first draft, these first chapters. I know that every author is only doing their best to limit how much they fuck up their story in transcription. I know that.
So I’m taking a break. At a certain point, it seems like all you can do is back off. Leave your characters to their own devices and live your life, and wait to see if you miss them.
And right now, today, I do.
I’m glad. And relieved. And a little nauseous.
I want to know what they’ve been doing without me; how they’re feeling about the shitstorm we’ve been through. I want to know if I can leave these first 10,000 words THE FUCK ALONE and move on, since I’ve now written them four or five times. I have to trust that as we get deeper, as their voices get clearer, I’ll suck less. And when I get to the end, when all the bones of this thing exist in a tangible way, THEN I can make it good.
Sometimes, in weeks like this, I wonder seriously if I’m going to quit. If I’m one of the people who isn’t cut out for this — who doesn’t have the drive or the stones to see it through. Sometimes that seems like it would be a relief.
But… I don’t write by choice. It’s a choice to stay disciplined, to focus on achieving something, but there are words inside me all the time, bubbling up, stringing themselves together. The only option I really have is how I use them. I haven’t worked on After in over a week, but I’ve still written. It feels like purging to me, like emptying out. I blog, I journal, I email like it’s a competitive sport. I narrate EVERYTHING. I have a sneaking suspicion that words are the only way I can process the world.
Sometimes I need to remind myself that it’s not just that I want this. I LOVE this. I AM this.
And if my biggest problem is that I love this story so much I’m actually scared to write it, then I’m probably not doing so badly.
Things may be quiet this month — I’m heading away this weekend, and things are crazy busy at work for the next few weeks. But even if we do not talk, internet, please know that I am THINKING OF YOU ALWAYS. And I like you very much.