Yesterday I had finished a good writing session, getting through an integral part of my main character’s journey to self-realization.
At this point you’re not familiar with my current and biggest project I endeavor to see in print, in a book store. At a glance, it is about a man who, six months before the novella begins, lost his father to the tides of war in Afghanistan. Unable to cope with the trauma of losing a father, the main character, Arthur, turns to alcohol and drugs, using his knack for making people feel bad for him to do any work he needs to for him. When a life changing event takes place, Arthur realizes he needs to come to terms with his father’s death and travels to the remote Taktsang monastery, or Tiger’s Nest, in Bhutan in order to fulfill his father’s last wish for him to run a trail that possess magical healing properties and can allow one to ‘see’ what it is they could not before.
That is a loose summary, but it gives a feel for the progression of the story. I am not here, Sam, to give you a synopsis for Project Stripes but to let you know what many writers face on a daily basis.
When I took my first creative writing class at Appalachian State University, my professor was revered as being what I would call an “Oz” of scribe knowledge. She helped through much turmoil those first few months I was at Uni, and I have tried to keep what she told me in my mind almost four years after that critical first course. One thing she told me was that writers experience doubt all the time. It’s a daily battle we cannot ever escape no matter our experience. Similarly, my literary hero, Jo Rowling, said something of the same on numerous occasions. This internal conflict with doubt refers to what I now call The Old Battle.
I had another bloody tussle with my internal critic last night as I was putting the finishing touches on Project Stripes. I decided, on a whim, to look back at a random place earlier in the novella and just have a look. While reading, I became concerned. It did not take me long to come to one dreaded suspicion: what if my precious baby is…boring? The very word forming in my head sent me reeling. I laid in my bed unable to get comfortable. What if it doesn’t get any reader’s interest? What if I never make it to the skill level to get published? Being a senior, a lot of life’s finalities and realities are creeping toward me like the shadows sometimes do when my imagination keeps me awake at night. The adult world from this point of view seems cold, unmoving, and inflexible. I don’t expect to be published by the time I leave Uni, but I have been devoting more time than a normal college student should to the cult of my dream: to become a full time writer. Indeed, I have sacrificed much of a ‘normal’ social life to one of frequent solitude. Subsequently, I went to bed last night with that gnawing feeling under my skin that all my efforts to perfecting Project Stripes might be in vain. Last night I let The Old Battle go to the inner critic.
Upon awaking this morning, I felt reasonably better. I guessed I might be if I let my mind rest. I went to Facebook and noticed a post on our little writing club’s page: The League of Guilds. It was an article devoted to showcasing writers who had not ‘made it’ until they were over 30.
It seemed the Universe was waiting for me when I least expected it.
I read through the article and understood that I should not be so hard on myself. I know even as I write this that that will be a hard thing to do. I am always hard on myself, mentally and physically. Nevertheless, I read about many writers: Toni Morrison, Song of Soloman, Helen DeWitt, The Last Samauri, Bram Stoker, Dracula, George Elliot, Adam Bede, Anna Sewell, Black Beauty, and Thomas the Tank Engine‘s Rev. Wilbert Awdry. All of these writers, many of whom I have read and can’t believe they were their first works, were not as lucky at Fitzgerald or Smith when getting noticed early on. It amazed me to remember that some had a harder life than me, and they all still pursued their dreams. George Elliot, who is really Mary Ann Evans, had to fight gender stereotypes during her time in order to be published. Reading these testaments to great writers overcoming adversity comforted me in the aftermath of The Old Battle.
I know right now I am still a little rattled by the doubt of my story’s engaging qualities. I also know that it will pass over. The forces of progression will tire the agents of doubt. I am more motivated to push the boulder uphill. As much as it pains me, I know I will not get it perfect the first go. Plenty of drafts of short stories have taught me that. I’m not sure how long, how many revisions it will take, but I will keep chipping away at Project Stripes, until I see the greatness I know my baby can be. I will find those spots I think are weak and make them strong, just like every time I go to the gym and work on a certain muscle, making what is weak and small, strong and prominent. Even though I know The Old Battle always goes on in the back of my mind, I will keep going. I have to.