We all love our novels in the beginning. Their potential is amazing. They could be anything – best-sellers, world changers, a force for good or against evil, or a darned good read on a rainy day. They are rosy, new, blooming with possibility. Our characters are alive in our minds. We see them, hear them, want to spend all our time with them.
We start writing, full of fizz or power or hope. We might write 10,000 words in a day, 30,000 in a week, or we might just whoosh our way through to a first draft. We love every minute of it – the writing, that is. The free flowing ideas, the waking up in the middle of the night with a new plot twist, even finding a picture of someone who looks just like we imagine our main character. We never have a bad day, a down day, we never lose faith in the story or the idea that drives us. We stick to our writing routine, our words per day commitment, and the pages pile up.
Sound like you? Nah, me neither.
I have bad days and good days. I wish there were more really good days, the ones where the words fly out of your brain and through your fingers onto the page. You have no doubt the scene is strong, the characters real, the … you know what I mean. Those days. But more often I have kind-of-good days, ones where I don’t procrastinate too much, and when I sit down, what comes out is OK. It will need work, but it doesn’t make me want to throw up.
The bad days, where I feel like I hate my novel, well, I know now they’re about fear. About worrying I no longer know what the story is, or who these characters are, or why I wanted to write the stupid thing. About being afraid that I’m wasting hours and days and weeks on something people will laugh at, or turn away from and whisper, “Who told her she could write?” The fear of being boring. That’s my worst fear. What’s yours?
The bad days can also be about the rest of our life, and how much it sucks. We try to keep our writing separate, but it often seeps in, undermining our confidence and our creativity.
Years ago, a famous Australian YA writer, John Marsden said he writes every day, no matter what. Even if he’s having a bad day and thinks what he’s writing is rubbish. The funny thing is, he added, that when the book is done, he can never tell which bits were written on the bad days.
So when I’m having a bad day and wanting to go the movies or meet up with friends or read or watch TV instead of writing, I remember that. I tell myself that it’s the writing that counts, the showing up, and that whatever I write is fixable. But if I don’t write something, I’ll have nothing. So I write.
Sherryl Clark graduated from Hamline’s MFAC in 2013. It inspired her to keep writing and studying and she recently completed a PhD on fairy tales at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia. She teaches creative writing and works as a freelance editor and critiquer.