Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Crossroad of Can't or Won't

Recently I had an email from a reader that made me stop and think carefully before answering. I mean, more carefully than usual. I had a strong sense he stood at a crossroad - a decision whether to continue or quit writing.

The person shall remain nameless, and hopefully this person won't mind me taking a snippet from the email that prompted my reply.

Suddenly I find that I'm scared that maybe the few good things I've written over the years are all the good writing that I ever had inside me. I'm scared that perhaps there's a great novel inside my head and I won't find a way to get it onto the page. I'm scared that I'll dream big and perform small. I'm scared that life will throw me a curve and find myself going back to work and my writing will once again go on the back burner. I'm scared that I might find out that my dream of being a writer is simply a dream that I cannot deliver on.

My responses, and yes, I gave the person both answers:
The Nice Reply
You're probably scared for two reasons. One, this is a goal you care deeply about. There's nothing between what you write and the criticism of the readers and editors. There are no intermediaries. The words on paper on yours. When they are rejected, you feel rejected. No buffers whatsoever. Two, this is the genuine you, raw and exposed. Some people can handle this. Others cannot. The gravity of the situation, that you are what you write, is intimidating. But writing obviously means something to you. That means you possibly have the passion to make it work.

The Other Reply
Nobody will feel sorry for you in this business. Well, polite people might, for a moment or two, but know this. If you are afraid, and you hesitate to write/submit/jump into the fray, then others will run by you, over you, and through you, and reap the rewards. Your weakness is one more cleared hurdle for them. Get over being scared or find another hobby, because that's what this is to you if you are too nervous to follow through with it. You want this badly or you don't, and being scared should not hold you back. Instead, you ought to be driven, diligent and passionate. If you are hungry, you find a way to satisfy that hunger. It's your choice whether you pursue the dream. 

The person was grateful for the response and admitted that The Other Reply was what the situation warranted. It is that simple. It's a basic decision. Are we hungry to write or hungry to be a writer? There's nothing wrong with being afraid of the judgment factor involved in this profession. After all, there isn't a team, an office, a boss or a department. Success and failure are all on us.

It's not just about bad luck, crummy agents or fickle editors. It's not about big publishing, self-publishing or indie publishing. It's not about grammar and voice. It's not about knowing somebody or being an unknown. We can overcome all of that.  Every last bit of it. With the proper effort.

When we decide to own up to the title of Writer, we assume responsibility for the results. No, we can't predict who accepts or declines our work. But we can become hell-bent on improving the writing that doesn't sell. Yes, we can fight to build a platform. We can become so focused on honing our skills that we know when the material is properly polished, our voice established and strong.

I mentioned on Twitter that DH Lawrence used to write his first draft then discard it, and write the book again. Are you daring enough to do that? I did, and it was the best thing I ever did for my novel. And I did it twice. As a result, my writing quality took a dynamic leap. I wrote it with new vigor, driven to make this book right. An obstacle, a weakness, or a fault is something to not only overcome, but to beat to a pulp with tremendous satisfaction, blood dripping from your weapon.

When we are clinched in the claws of fear, afraid that we don't have it in us to write a novel or land a magazine contract, we are at that crossroad. We take the road that is sure to cause us pain, agony and grief and commit to back-busting, serious struggle on the way to what is hoped to be writing success - or - we take the other road. 

It's really that simple.


Sioux Roslawski said...

I thought it was "Pulp Fiction" but perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps it is "Beat Your Fiction to a Pulp" instead.

Wonderful post, Hope. (And it's not even midnight yet. What's going on?)

Hope Clark said...

Well, it was after midnight my time, and I had this great thought on my mind. Had to cut it loose. Thanks!

Ruthy said...

I am very brand new here - and so grateful that a friend sent me your site -

Hope Clark said...

Glad you found the site, too! Welcome.

Kristen Stieffel said...

Wow. For a minute there, I thought you had a copy of my journal. The bit about dreaming big and performing small sounds especially familiar. What stopped me was the line about going back to work. Well, so what? A lot of us only get to write evenings and weekends. And I've met lots of people who didn't really start writing for publication until after they retired. Everyone has a different path and pace. A dream on the back burner -- as mine was when my child was young-- is better than no dream at all. You might be surprised at how much of a novel can be written during lunch hours, evenings, nap, the whole thing.

BECKY said...

We all need a Daily Dose of Hope!

D.G. Hudson said...

It's that self-doubt that creeps in on our weak days. . .

Thanks, Hope, for the reminder that confidence in our work is a good place to start getting rid of that fear of not being good enough. Fear of failure is a side effect of creativity.

As for confidence in your work, I've reviewed two writing instruction books by D. Maass on my blog. Learning the techniques and practicing are the best ways I've found to help with confidence.

Karen Lange said...

Appreciate this, truly, for I have had several "can't or won't" moments, writing and otherwise, in the past several weeks. I can, and I will. Thanks, Hope.

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Julia Munroe Martin said...

My car is definitely stalled at that intersection.... and I'm out pushing as hard as I can. Thanks for helping me push.

Anonymous said...

I read your thoughts about rewriting and felt liberated. I've been wanting to rewrite my first novel entirely (it is almost completely edited, too). But it felt wasteful to throw away so much work.

When you discarded the first draft and rewrote yours, did you make drastic changes? I began rewriting last night and that's the direction mine is headed. Not even the same characters! It's a little scary, but I'm loving it so far.

Hope Clark said...

Yes, Dana, I made drastic changes. I discarded some characters, changed the setting, added a few scenes, added a character, changed half the names, altered hair colors, you name it. It was indeed liberating.