This post is brought to you by wise things other people have said.
Here’s what Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones: “Right before you are planning to write, a good preparation is to become an animal. Move slowly, stalking your prey, which is whatever you plan to write about, no matter what else you might be doing at the moment — taking out the garbage, walking to the library, watering the garden. Get all your senses intent.”
I’m done with my revisions, and that means it’s time to start writing again — Book 3, the protagonist of which is a 16-year-old girl named Bitterblue. It’s hard to shift gears from one project to another. I come back to Bitterblue not entirely remembering what the book is about, forgetting the essence of what I’m trying to do. And looking at the 75-or-so pages I’ve already written is slightly horrifying, because it’s so tight, so over-controlled… it needs some serious loosening. And so, I’ve been stalking Bitterblue. I’ve been circling her sneakily, sniffing at her, backing off whenever she starts to get suspicious. I’ve been trying to think about who she is, how she copes, what she wants, what things she doesn’t like about herself, who she’s angry with and why. What it’s like to be in her situation — both her larger situation, and the smaller details of her situation. I’ve been trying to stalk her feelings, because I think it’s feelings that will help me loosen the over-tightness of the existing manuscript. I’ve been too focused on facts with this book, and less focused on feeling.
That’s because this book is different from Fire, just as Fire is different from Graceling. When I started Bitterblue, I told myself that it had to be less emotionally difficult to write than Fire was, because two Fires in a row were liable to do me in. But, I still wanted it to be a complex and interesting book, so I intentionally set out to make it a little bit more intellectually difficult than the other books have been. Umm… can I just advise against intentionally trying to write an intellectually difficult book? (Don’t worry, I don’t mean intellectually difficult for the reader, as in Horrible Hegel or Calamitous Kant. I mean intellectually difficult for me, the creator, to build. It’s a little more mystery-like than the other books, so I have to make sure I’m doing things like planting clues in the appropriate places, creating subtle suggestions of this or that thing — tricky, because I’ve never done it quite on this scale before, and it’s proving to be more complicated than I realized. It keeps coming out stiff and contrived.)
This brings me to the next wise thing someone said, and though I’m sure other people have said this, the wise person who said it to me is my writing friend Sandra McDonald: ” Every book you write teaches you how it needs to be written.” This is so true! Even my process is different with this book — I have the most absurdly obnoxious book plan that’s about 20 pages long, single spaced in 10 point font. Not my usual operating style, but the book is telling me that it’s what I need. Also, this book is telling me that I need to be more patient than ever before, and I need to make a point of moving forward even when I’m not satisfied with what I’ve written so far, because I can’t know how what I’ve written needs to be written until I’ve written the next part, too.
I’m completely overwhelmed by my book plan. I’m completely overwhelmed by this absurd project I’ve taken on, imagining somehow that I’m good enough to figure out how to do it. Which brings me to the next wise thing someone said, and it’s something my dear friend Rebecca wrote to me in e-mail: “You are tall enough to ride this ride.”
The ride she was referring to is my writing career in general, and I needed to hear what she said, because I’m definitely on a roller coaster right now, and a lot of the time I feel like I’m not big enough to be on it — I’m going to slip down under the bar and fall out. I’m going to fail. Except I’m not. Because even though I don’t always feel like it, I am tall enough to ride this ride.
Here’s the way another wise person put it: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matthew, as in, The Book Of.) Of course, he was talking about faith in God, or whatever, but I’m talking about faith in me, and when it comes to me and Bitterblue, a mustard seed just about captures the size of it. But I’ve got it. I’ve got that speck of faith. And I believe it’s all I need.
Writers are notorious for being insecure, quivering creatures. But give us some credit — a writer who keeps writing is the frakking epitome of self-confidence. When you’re not really sure you can do it, but you keep doing it anyway, because you know that if you believe in yourself, yeah, you might fail, but if you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll definitely fail — that’s brave! I am brave! (The size of a mustard seed.)