The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living – February 24, 2021

I was re-reading my most recent blog post when I got inspired to write this one. 

I started this blog page about two years ago as a place to store the daily updates I made during my first Nanowrimo attempt, and to chronicle my effort to write and publish a novel. Somewhere along the way it morphed into a kind of life journal, and a sounding board of sorts, where I could dissect events in my life and to work out solutions to any issues I was having. 

It’s turned into a catchall of things I want to write when I don’t actually want to do any writing. 

I had originally envisioned it as a way to keep myself accountable, to hold myself on track so I could eventually reach my goal. I saw it as kind of semi-regular progress report, where I’d update all of the people I had told of my goal on any progress I was making. I would imagine that they would be the people reading my blog, and I did not want to either disappoint them by, or give them the satisfaction of having me give up on my efforts.

Many times the fear of doing either of those was the only thing that pushed me to sit down and keep writing when I wanted to do something, anything, else. 

I’m just over two years in now on my revised seven-year plan to write and publish a novel, and I think it’s time to take a momentary step back and take stock of how I’m doing.

So far, I’ve participated in Nanowrimo three times, and “won” each time, writing 50,000 + words in the allotted 30 days, and I have to date completed two first drafts of two different novels. My current writing project sits at just under 60,000 words and it is nowhere near finished. The previous two sit at 250,000 words (Yikes!) and 130,000 words (better) respectively.

It took me until late summer of each year to complete both of my previous first drafts, and I have yet to begin a true second draft for either novel. I’m hoping it won’t take as long to finish the first draft on my current book, but that’s not looking good.

I’m finally able to admit to myself that my long-form prose writing isn’t very good. That’s not me trying to be self-deprecating in the hopes of having you contradict me, I’m not angling for compliments. It’s simply the truth as I see it, and it’s as it should be. Writing a novel-length story is incredibly hard, there are so many factors to keep track of, so many opportunities for the story to go off the rails, so many plot points that are easy to forget and lose the thread of. While shorter fiction is not necessarily easier to write, in my experience it is less complicated, plot-wise at least.

Most of the problems with my novels so far could, and should, be dealt with by writing a second draft. Using the first draft as a blue-print, I should rewrite the entire novel, fixing any mistakes, cutting out what is unnecessary to the story, fixing lost or broken plot threads, correcting awkward phrasing and passive writing, etc. The problem is, I’ve never had to do that to a work of this length.

To be fair, up until a couple of years ago, I’d never written anything of this length. Having finally completed a first draft, I’m sure in time I can figure out how to go about editing and writing a second draft as well. I just need to gather up the courage and the will to do so. And yes, I have to admit to myself that it takes courage.

I’ve come to realize that it’s not just a fear of failure that I have to overcome, but also a fear of success. Succeeding at any step along the way means moving on and attempting the next step. Failure means staying put, working on the familiar, not having to leave the comfort zone. I know how to be a “wanna-be-writer”, an “aspiring author”, and I’m quite good at that. I can come up with lots of awesome story ideas, tons of great characters and settings, I can do loads of relevant research, and I can entertain my friends by explaining to them how I plan to weave all of that into an amazing and compelling novel. What I’m not so good at, yet, is actually realizing that finished novel.

I’ve completed two, and am working on a third, first drafts, which is more than what ninety percent of “wanna-be” writers ever accomplish. Most people who set out to write a book never finish that first step, abandoning the idea once they realize just how hard writing a novel is. It’s something to be proud of, for sure, but it’s still only the first hurdle, and not even the most difficult. Each step beyond that gets exponentially harder.

The next step is to do it all over again, only this time make it less shitty.

All of the work I’ve done up until now will never be seen by anyone else, and by rights it shouldn’t. It’s garbage. Believe me, I’ve read it. But it’s supposed to be garbage. That’s what a first draft is, it’s essentially word vomit, just spitting out the story from your mind onto paper or screen using whatever words work in the moment. It’s not supposed to be pretty.

I’ve spent years, decades really, trying to gather up enough courage to get as far as I have, so I suppose I should accept that it might take me a while to build myself up to try the next step. Re-reading the mess I’ve made scares me, I’ll be honest. I’m afraid that I’ll find out that I’m an even worse writer than I think I am, and that I’ll never be able to fix my drafts, I’ll never be able to polish them into something even remotely readable.

So, staying here, having completed a couple of first drafts and being a little proud of that achievement is comfortable. I could keep doing that, year after year, never advancing, never pushing myself to do better, and hoping that somehow, against all odds, somewhere along the line I’ll write a perfect first draft, a readable, enjoyable novel right off the bat. 

That won’t happen, but I can pretend it may.

No, for me to reach my goal, I’m going to have to jump off the cliff, trusting that I’ll hit the water and not the shore. I’m going to have to leave this happy little spot where I’ve succeeded in part of my goal, and risk failing again, and again, or worse, succeeding.

Because if I do succeed in writing a second draft, then I have to do it again, and write a third, and then a fourth, fifth and perhaps sixth, trying to hone in on perfection each and every time, and always missing it. I worry that I don’t have the fortitude to weather all of that. And even if I do, that’s no guarantee that the novel will ever find a publisher.

It’s now been over two weeks since I began writing this blog post. I was derailed by my old friend, impostor syndrome, and his companion, boredom, as I was once again laid off from work. It’s frustrating that when I have the most time to write I seem to have the least motivation. Other issues, personal ones that I’ve been dealing with for some time now, have contributed to my recent procrastination, but the main culprit is fear, the fear that I’ve been writing about in this post.

I learned a long time ago that most fears are really just fear of the unknown. We don’t know what lies in that dark room, so our imaginations run amok and we populate the room with all manner of monsters. Once we walk through it, and find there was never anything there to begin with, our fear of dark places diminishes some. That’s the only way to truly overcome fear, you allow yourself to be scared of doing something, but you do it anyway. The first few times will be daunting, but once done, the resulting jubilation will chip away at that fear until it becomes manageable, and then eventually negligible. It’s only by doing that we overcome. Fear is the mind-killer.

That is said easily enough, but putting that into practice is, evidently, much more difficult. I’ve been stuck, frozen in a state of wanting, but unable to move forward. I’ve blamed many things for this state of stasis – lack of knowledge/experience, not knowing how to start/move forward. These were only excuses. All I really need to do is just do it, knowing that I’ll ultimately fail at the start, accepting that and moving on. It’s only through failure that I’ll learn how to advance to the next goal. Giving myself permission to fail, and accepting that failure is part of the process is another lesson I need to take to heart.

So, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. This post has been a bit of a departure from my usual blog entries. It’s been a bit of taking stock of my writing goals, rather than the usual life-journal type of entry.

I’m still dealing with all of the same issues that I usually discuss in these posts, but I wanted to put that aside for a bit and record an entry outlining where I am with my writing. I’m hoping I can look back on this in a few years and use it to compare how much closer I am to my goals at that time.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to move past this time of self-doubt soon, and will still be at this in a few years so looking back will actually be a positive experience. 

I have to say that while I knew going into this it would be a grind, I wasn’t prepared for just how hard it would be. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I also didn’t expect that the biggest obstacle would be me, and my self-doubt. That’s been quite the wake-up call, and is forcing me to confront a lot of things about myself that I don’t like. This project, this goal, is demanding that I come to terms with my self-hatred, the lack of confidence I have in myself and in my abilities, and those near-paralyzing fears of both failure and success. I have to learn to get out of my own way.

I don’t know that I’ll ever overcome all of those issues, but I do hope that gradually I’ll be able to work at achieving my goals despite them. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully vanquish my demons, but maybe I can learn to accept them, learn to ignore them, and even have them work toward my benefit for a change.

I hope you’re all well.

Rob

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