You can’t go the distance
With too much resistance
I know you have doubts…
~ Billy Joel
There seems to be one thing I can always count on as I travel down the highways and byways of the writing life: obstacles. Looking back across a long (and not terribly illustrious) writing career I note there is always something dogging my progress. And it’s not always the same something, morphing in and out of various different guises. It’s a lot of different somethings.
To get traction with our writing, do we need some type of resistance? Is this why, no matter how good a place we are in, obstacles always abound. Is this why, even though I am pretty much in a good place with who I am, what I am and what I want to do, I feel dogged by the phantom of trust.
What If It’s the Wrong Decision?
Trust means being able to predict what other people will do and what situations will occur. If we can surround ourselves with people we trust, then we can create a safe present and an even better future. ~ Changing Minds
I’ve not quite made it to the other side of my decision to take an extended sabbatical from editing and publishing. Part of me wonders as I plough through one crazy week of work after another, if I just doesn’t want to get to the other side: where it’s me and the sprawling grandeur of the open page.
I’m certain I’m struggling because part of me thinks it will go pear-shaped. I don’t whole-heartedly trust this was the right decision to make right now (or at any other point in the future). Hell, I don’t trust myself to make good decisions, full stop. And I don’t trust myself to write a decent novel. I want a guaranteed outcome so I can trust this decision before I start writing, but the thing is, in publishing there are no guaranteed outcomes.
Making Good on a Decision
While I can’t cruise on down to the local supermarket and purchase myself a whoop-arse sized can of trust, I can look at my past work ethic and know I will:
- Turn up to the page every day
- Milk optimism for all its worth—the scale will tip in favour of days with easy words and forward momentum, rather than the days that slap you down
- Believe in the worth of the journey, rather than the value of the end destination.
In practising that holy trinity, I know trust will come incrementally and with trust, the words will flow. I also know I’m surrounded by a bunch of people I admire and trust, who believe in me. If they can, surely I can.
And I keep reminding myself, it’s easy to doubt and second-guess from the sidelines, but in the thick of it, who has time?
What if They’re Not Good Practices?
Trust means giving something now with an expectation that it will be repaid, possibly in some unspecified way at some unspecified time in the future. ~ Changing Minds
At some point I picked up the erroneous belief that a story can only be told once. As such I’ve squirreled ideas, images and snippets of dialogue away in my head. I’ve never formed the habit of writing things down, much less turning to written notes, outlines, or plans as part of my writing practice. As a consequence my head is a cluttered place: ideas go stale, dialogue is forgotten, images fade and the things I do write down, go on scraps of paper that end up getting lost.
As part of the Year of the Novel we are expected to spend at least 10 minutes a day with our notebook, writing down and adding to ideas. The philosophy behind this is the notebook keeps you connected to the story, even when you’re not actively writing. Also in approaching a novel length work I’ve been chipping away slowly at an outline.
Out with the Old, In With the New
I like the philosophy of being in constant connection with your story and of working through the story holes in advance, but the thought of owning a notebook for ideas and of plotting a story in advance has freaked me out. What if I tell the entire story in there and there is nothing left to tell elsewhere? What if in the act of growing the story I actually kill it instead?
Trusting in the process of writing down my ideas and outlining, in part, is reminding myself stories are told multiple times through the drafting process. There is no “one-night only” type of story telling. A single story is retold in varying degrees of divergence from the original idea, in each draft written. Thus, writing notes and outlines is an extension of the process of drafting, a pre-drafting, which compliments the process rather than destroys it.
There is liberation in thinking this way, but it is a liberation accompanied with tentative steps toward a better way of doing things. Of knowing my gorgeous red moleskin is doing half the work for me, freeing my brain from it’s duties of remembering and allowing it to roam to find new ways to expand ideas, to twist premises, to better understand characters and their motivations. And my spiral bound book with my outlines is taking the hard work of unraveling plot threads internally, giving me something to build on when I have time to go back and explore them.
If at any point I need a kick in the pants about the efficacy of notetaking and outlining, I’ll remind myself both helped me to reconnect with the act of writing, something I didn’t expect.
A Parting Shot
At any point in the next six months when I feel like doubt is eating at me and my lack of trust threatens to undermine my writing, I’ll remind myself of Zig Ziglar’s words: When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there.