Monday, March 11, 2013
A Matter of Trust
Why is it so hard to trust our instincts in writing? Is it because we secretly believe there is some trick, some fool-proof method to writing that, if only we were privy to it would lead to our certain success, but without it we are doomed?
I question everything. My words, my sentences, my plots, my characters. I find myself wanting to thrust my chapters in others' hands and ask, "Is this okay? Does this work?"
It's been nearly six years since my critique group formed. For a long time we exchanged work every time we finished a chapter. Chapter by chapter, page by page, I worked off feedback. I think really I just needed to hear every few pages someone say, "This is going great!" so I had the confidence to keep moving forward. Because, inevitably, even with all the critiques and comments and correction, that was what my group almost always ends an email with.
Then I went to school and worked with Pete as an advisor and everything was always NOT working. I'd think I'd have something down, I'd send him the 20 pages or so, and he'd email back his extensive comments which I'd always interpret as something along the lines of, "See all that stuff you thought you were doing? It isn't working."
And he was always right.
If I'd left that way, I guess I'd have reason to question my ability to write, but I didn't. By the end, Pete told me I was ready to strike out on my own. That I had the tools and ability I needed to write well. He tried to say I could trust myself on my own.
I didn't believe him.
I've been leaning on people so long, depending on others to tell me what works in my writing and what doesn't, that I've paralyzed myself.
I realized that this weekend when I was re-working the opening chapters of my old novel. After two years of working on that thing, and a year in a drawer, it felt stale and old and tired. I love the idea of it. I love the characters. But the writing just wasn't me anymore, so I began with a blank document. And what ended up on the page was first person present tense.
I'd written this in third person past before, kept it that way, for a very specific reason. This book was too personal - too close. There are some nasty things that happen to the character, awful things she sees, and I, as the author, needed distance. I needed to not be in those dark places with her.
But now - I can see the piece is better for being in her words rather than mine. Seeing it through her eyes makes it more powerful.
But as the words spilled out, all I could think was how first person present is the kiss of death for writing. How many contests I've seen that complain about the over-use of it. How some agents have said flat out they hate it, won't look at queries for stories written that way. And the flood of doubts came back.
I thought about emailing my critique group. But I knew what they'd say: "Go for it!" They are adventurous and supportive that way. And they implicitly trust that I can pull off anything.
I thought about emailing Pete, but that felt weak. Like returning to an old crutch. I googled the topic, found out there are a huge amount of great books out there, including Hunger Games, are written that way. I'd totally not noticed that was in first person present.
I thought about emailing Pete again. Pete is brutally honest, and I knew if he thought it was a bad idea, he'd say, "Stay away from that," the way he's told me to stay away from writing about dead babies for a while. And if he said, "Go ahead, be bold and try the scary way," I'd trust him that it was okay.
I am pathetic.
The only thing that saves me from being the most insecure writer in the world is that I didn't actually email anyone. I finally said to myself, "Heidi, you are pathetic. You've been writing your whole life. You went to graduate school for two years. You have a pack of people behind you that you KNOW would say you can do this. You know that many, many books get published and are wildly successful in first person present. You are not doing it because it's a trend or because it's easy; you are doing it because it's what the story needs, despite all your insistence otherwise. You need to stop asking everyone's opinions and just trust yourself. Just write."
This isn't to say I won't have other eyes look at it when I'm done. I'd be a fool not to have my critique group read it. But I realized this weekend I need to stop expecting someone to hold my hand through the process, encourage me along the way. I need to just do it. Trust that I've gained enough experience and wise advice along the way to just write.
Am I the only one? Do you have others read what you write as you write, or do you save it all up until you're done?