Do you remember that day when I was elated, like on-the-mountaintop-elated that I had finished the first draft of my book? Yeah, me too. That was a great day.
And then I had a month of writer’s block, self-doubt, and the inability to really visualize what I want my book to be.
So much for the mountaintop.
I am having so many conversations with many different people about faith right now. It is making me want to delete about 80% of what I’ve written and start over. The book is supposed to just be a conversion story. But I am starting to wonder if my faith story is far, far deeper than just that. I wonder if I should call it “Imperfect Faith” instead of “Transfigured Faith” because when I look at everything, imperfect is the word that comes to mind.
Part of the problem is I am just in a headspace of questioning right now. (You may have read my posts about my questions or about me wanting to throw out all the rules and search for God on my own.) Do I stick with what I was originally going to write when this manuscript started three years ago, or do I write about stuff I’m grappling with now? Or both? It’s hard, and I feel stuck, and I kinda want to chuck the whole thing out the window and go back to writing that YA novel I started a long time ago. And then my writer voice says, “Well, that’s gonna be hard, too, you know.”
And it hits me: I’m not on the mountaintop, and I never was. I’m still hiking my way up. I’m so tired already, too, and then this:
I am afraid.
There. I said it. Everybody says the first draft’s the easy part and revising is the true hard part, and I’m scared to do it. Some famous writer whose name I should remember right now said, “Give yourself permission to write crap.” Is that all I’ve written so far? I feel like it, I really do. And if I have, I am scared of trying to make it better, because what if I can’t? And if there are a few tiny gems in there, I’m still scared of trying to make it better, because what if I can’t?
I’m afraid because it just feels like So. Much. More. Work.
I am afraid of tackling the hard issues deep in my heart and mind and memory.
I am afraid of continuing to try to make it as a writer while working my regular job and taking care of the kids and the house and trying to keep all my relationships and commitments going and trying not to get distracted during writing time. (As I write this, my daughter is banging away on the piano and my son is whining at me because he wants to eat supper upstairs in the bonus room.)
I am afraid that even if I do make some halfway decent book, that day when I get a contract and that first time I hold my own book in my hands and that first time I autograph a book will never come.
I am afraid that I’ve done too much dreaming and too little work.
It would be so, so easy to just give up right now.
I can hear Donald Miller’s voice (or what I imagine his voice to sound like; I’ve only ever read his books, not actually heard him talk.) say, “Here’s the thing about telling stories with your life. It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you’re going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it.” (BTW that’s from his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.)
Well, shit. Thanks, Donald Miller. What a mood killer! (But actually that is a really good book – you should read it.)
Then I hear the voice of Brene Brown (I’ve actually heard her voice thanks to her TED talks that I watched online) say, “What’s worth doing even if I fail?” (From her book Daring Greatly)
Is this worth doing even if I fail? Is it?
Then I think about the mountaintop metaphor and how much that applies to faith as well. I’ve had so many moments in churches where I was on the mountaintop and the emotions were high and the God felt right there and I was in the midst of this incredible experience. But then I had to come home and go back to real life and figure out how to still believe in all that truth and realness and beauty when I was back in the valley. And all THAT kinda relates to being imperfect and being transfigured and the messy work of life with faith, which is kinda what my book is about anyway. And all THAT relates to writing a book in general – how that book gets rewritten and reimaged again and again until it gets the least imperfect that it will get.
Hmm . . . I think I just came up with some more content for my book. At least, a tipping off point for some additional material. So does that mean it’s worth it to keep trekking up the mountain?
I hope so.
Yes. Yes it is.
I have felt so many of these same emotions, Karissa. Still feeling them now, having completed four book-length manuscript–two novels and two memoirs. For me, the memoirs have served a different purpose than the novels. Excerpts from each of them have ended up being published as essays in various journals and anthologies, but neither memoir ever became a really excellent book. And I don’t want to publish anything that isn’t excellent. The novel I’m currently revising has the potential to be excellent, but the revisions are the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Thing is, I KNOW THIS IS THE BOOK I WANT TO WRITE, so I can hang with the work at this point. All this to say, I think the question for you is, WHICH IS THE BOOK YOU MOST WANT TO WRITE RIGHT NOW? If your spiritual journey is too much in flux to publish a book about it, WRITE THE YA NOVEL, and keep working on the memoir “in the background.” It may resurface as your journey continues. Feel free to submit the best parts of it for publication, to satisfy that need for gratification for the hard work. And to get your readers’ response to your spiritual work. And when you write the novel, set aside any “agenda” (which it’s easy to have in writing a spiritual memoir) and let the characters and stories go where they want to. Make some fucking ART. You can do it. I believe in you.
Thank you, Susan. I think this is the book I want to write right now. I just feel a little stuck. I guess it feels like it took me so long to really have an agenda with this book, and now my agenda is turned upside down and about to change.
BTW I’m reading The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse: A book for Creators by Michael Gungor right now. (He’s a musician in the band Gungor – heard of them?) It is a really great book about creating!
As long as you know this is the book you want to write NOW, go for it. Stuckness is temporary. Ask Winnie the Pooh. Never heard of Gungor… I’ll check them out. You go, girl!