Last year, a friend of mine asked me if I could write a story for her daughter for Christmas. I said sure! I’d love to! I’m a writer, and I especially love writing for people.
I should have known it would become more than “a story.” Anything that ever seems short in my head never quite turns out to be that way. Now it’s almost a year later, and I’m still not finished with this “easy project.”
Before you ask- don’t worry, I’ve been giving it to the girl, Julia, in installments, and to be honest, the fact that I’m doing it for her has been my one lasting motivator for this story. I’ve wanted to give up on it. I’ve written other things in between that have become much more enticing and fun to explore. I’ve considered trashing it all and restarting it a million times over.
The thing is, this particular story has been in my head for years. I’ve restarted it over and over and over. I’ve experimented and changed the plot and the characters and setting. I’ve written thousands and thousands and thousands of words and yet it never feels quite write. I’ve never finished a complete draft.
I’ve written long stories before. In high school, all I did was write. I wrote during my classes, when I was supposed to be doing homework. I wish I could bring 16/17/18 year old me back and give her this idea and she’d finish it without nearly as much of the struggle I am now, as a 24 year old.
I think it’s because I know more, which is almost a shame, isn’t it? I studied English in college, and did a focus on creative writing. I’ve read loads more books since then. I love the art of storytelling. My expectations of myself are THROUGH THE ROOF.
Recently, I attended a convention and went to a panel where two authors talked about their lives as writers. I won’t name them, and they were lovely and nice and I enjoyed listening to them, but the truth is- they made me feel like crap as a writer. They made me feel as if I wasn’t a “true” writer at all. They said, “writing isn’t hard.” They said their word counts far exceeded that of NaNoWrimo writers in a month. They locked themselves away for days to write.
Now that’s valid. Maybe that was me in high school. There’s nothing wrong with it. And it’s nothing to take personally, if someone achieves their craft in a different way than you do. We’re all different. But it kind of made me feel like a fake, like I wasn’t a true artist if I wasn’t glued to my keyboard. If I’d rather lose myself in other people’s stories instead of my own. If I wasn’t always inspired, if I kind of really hated my story sometimes. If I sometimes regretted having told people “I’m a writer.” Like I needed to have written more, or better, or have made a certain amount of money before I can say that. It made me want to tell everyone who I’d ever told I was a writer, “Wait- maybe I’m not. Sorry.”
Then I read Leigh Bardugo’s books, The Grisha Trilogy and the Six of Crows Duology (A++ recommend) and wanted to know more about her books, and ended up watching some interviews of her on YouTube. There’s one in particular of her and YA author Maureen Johnson (here), and they began to talk about how they loved their stories- until they hated them.
They said writing is hard. About how it’s fun, and then you’re 50 pages in and suddenly there’s everything you’d rather do, suddenly you hate your story with all your being. About how it’ll eat your legs off. About how it’s all about perseverance. About how It’s fun, we promise- just, it’s not.
Leigh said, “Finish. Just finish. You’ll learn more from a complete dreadful first draft than you’ll ever learn from a thousand perfect first chapters.”
Maybe I just needed some YA lady authors that I could relate to better, but honestly I could have cried. I am a writer. And I AM GOING TO FINISH MY DRAFT. It’s terrible. It’s so terrible. But I’m going to finish it because if I start the second draft before I finish the first draft, it’ll just be another first draft that I’ll quit before its finished. The cycle will continue.
It’s just so easy to read a book and finish it and think, wow, how did the author write that?? It seems so easy!! Imagination is fun!! Then I grab a notebook or open a Word document and get stuck on the first sentence and think, well, I guess I just don’t have what they do.
When I was 13, I wanted to learn to play the guitar. It was fun, and I started out teaching myself. Then I signed up for lessons, and it was just me and my instructor in a tiny room and I hated it, mostly because I was shy and felt so incredibly uncomfortable. Also, I couldn’t name the music notes. I could read them and translate them to the strings, but I couldn’t tell you what was an A or a B or an F. And my instructor wanted me to learn to name them.
It would have helped, probably. It would have made me a better player. And I know people can play without naming the notes, without reading music, which I also might have been successful with. But it was too much to bother with, and I quit those uncomfortable lessons and set the guitar aside. I love music, but I’ve never been drawn to create it since then.
The thing is, it’s almost like writing. It’s hard, there are so many ways to go about it and ways to learn and execute it. But the thing is, I didn’t set it aside. I couldn’t. I took creative writing classes and read my stories out loud in front of my entire class when I’d rather sink into the ground. And I kept doing it, because I love writing, and I love words, and most of all I love stories. I want to learn more, to improve. It’s hard, its uncomfortable, it’s nerve wracking just to post my writing on this blog where the eyes of strangers I’ll never know might see it. But I know if I truly wasn’t a writer, it wouldn’t be what I keep coming back to. It wouldn’t be something I struggle through despite the doubt and hopelessness that sets in at times, and find such joy through over and over again. It’s hard, but its rewarding at the same time, and I know if I gave it up…well, I would end up grabbing a napkin and a pen, or opening the Notes app in my phone, and write something down anyway. Because characters would live on in my head, anyway.
Maybe I feel like I was better at being a writer when I was a teenager because I wrote SO much, and now I feel like I have less to show for myself. Maybe I wrote more then because I was escaping my mind as a socially anxious teen, and now I don’t mind being left with myself so much, and writing helped me stretch my boundaries and achieve that. Maybe writing isn’t just creating a Great Novel, but reading and writing book reviews and getting paid to work for a travel magazine as my day job. Maybe being a writer means I like to be in the mind of any sort of character from any walk of life, and I know that anything worth doing takes an enormous amount of perseverance and hard work, and goodness. Maybe it’s just putting words down on a blog post.
And- funny story, but when I was in the fourth grade, I have a distinct memory of sitting at my little desk, during reading time, and looking at my little chapter book, at all the words on the pages, and saying to myself, “Writing this would take so much work. I would hate to write a book.”
Ah, the irony! I wasn’t even wrong.
Am I great writer? I don’t know. My mind tells me, especially after I read a particularly imaginative or great book, you have no imagination, and that’s another stumbling block I struggle with. Sometimes I need to feel this way to stretch myself.
Sometimes it is easy (but when that happens, I get suspicious…am I doing something wrong? Am I taking the easy and predictable route??), but mostly it’s hard. And then I hear authors talk about their disastrous first drafts of the stories I love and I think, that’s impossible! But it’s not.
Do I want my story to make me famous? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Do I want my story to be famous? It doesn’t really matter. I just have to finish it.
Am I a writer? I am, if I am writing.
And Julia will have her finished story by Christmas. A Christmas later than it should have been finished by, but better finished late than never.