Letting Go

I’ve been stuck on this novel revision, which is genuinely not a lot of work and could be wrapped up in a month, for over half a year now. It’s not a question of not knowing what to do next or being stumped by a creative problem. I know what to do. I have a plan beautifully laid out in multicoloured sticky notes on my wall. I’m just not doing it.

It’s not that I don’t have time, although certainly, there have been some life events taking up time and mental energy over the last few months. But not an entire six months of time.

I am this. close. And doing fuck all.

I have been telling myself that it’s just resistance. I know a lot about resistance; I teach people about resistance. But the other day, someone planted the thought, what if it’s not just resistance?

That was a tremendously scary thought, and I think what this means is that I have to consider the possibility that this book is done, even though it is not done. That it is time to shelve it. Stick it in a drawer. Throw it in a fire. Let it go.

Fuck. But I put so much work into it. I took time away from my baby to work on this. 

So? That was then. This is now. Now, you aren’t writing, you’re watching British Reality TV shows on YouTube.

You don’t understand. I am so close. I have agents who said they’d like to see it after I revise. And it’s not much work. It really, truly, genuninely is not much work.

Yeah, but you’re not doing any of the work. You could have finished this last year.

But maybe if I just finish this revision, I can put it aside then. Just one small push, send it out one last time, and then call it done. 

How many last times do you have in you? You said you were out of last revisions three revisions ago. Did you ever consider that you really are done?

But I’m so close. I could have a book. I could have that physical proof that I really am a writer. Nemesis has a shitty book! I could have a marginally better book. My mom might realize that I am not a fucking housewife. The timing is so good right now. Who knows when they’ll stop giving lip service to diversity and go back to same-old, same-old? I have been working on this goddamn novel for YEARS, it is fucking TIME to see some kind of a motherfucking RESULT.

I have had it in my head for a long time, that unlike other writers, I do not work for years on projects and shelve them, I will finish, this goddammit, because I am that determined. I am that driven. I am that motherfucking bloodyminded stubborn.

The problem is that I am a stubborn person locked in a mental battle with an equally stubborn person, who is also me.

Part of me hopes that I will trick myself into actually writing the novel, except that if I think of this as a trick, it will not actually work because I’ll be all “yeah, yeah, I’m dropping it” but then secretly berate myself for not working on it and not actually consider the awful truth: maybe I put years of effort into a book that’s never going to go anywhere. This is a reality I have to sit with for a while.

And it’s not because it’s a bad book or unsellable or ill-conceived. I mean, I could accept no success. I think what’s harder to accept is not trying to succeed, especially when the path to finish trying is so short. I really am this. close.

My writing students ask me, how do you know when a story is done? And my answer is always, stories are never done, at some point, we’re just done with them. Am I done with this? It’s hard to be done when I am this. close. It would be so much more convenient if I could just go that little bit further first and be done after the next draft is done.

I’m reminded, in part, of the infertility journey for my first kid. We were told by multiple doctors that the odds were low, and recommended to save our time and money and heartache by not trying. I could accept not having a baby. I could not accept walking away without trying absolutely everything first. We surprised everyone when it worked, me most of all.

I’m reminded, in part, of my last relationship before my husband. I was told by multiple people that this relationship was toxic and recommended to save my time and heartache by walking away for good. I couldn’t accept walking away until I’d tried absolutely everything to make it work first. It surprised no one that the relationship ended, but I was all out of try.

I don’t know which this is. A book that is doomed to failure because I am all out of try, or a book that might actually have a chance of succeeding if I try a little longer. But I do have to acknowledge, in a very real way, that perhaps I am just like every other writer, and that I can, in fact, put years into a project that ends up in a dusty drawer.

I have to sit this this reality that feels a lot like failure, even though I have reassured many other writers that this is not failure. I don’t quite believe that right now. I am not very good at failing; I am that motherfucking bloodyminded stubborn to keep pushing through far beyond what any reasonable person would do.

Maybe I have to learn about walking away without trying absolutely everything first. Leave things unfinished. Be more reasonable in what I ask from myself.

Even though I am this. close.


Fear of Success?

Things have been going really well with my novel, except for the actual writing part.

I have agents (plural!) who said they’d like to see a revision. I have worked with a story editor and I think I have figured out why it hasn’t been working. I have a plan for fixing it and it’s not an overwhelming amount of work. I have time. I’m even kind of excited about the changes, which is a rare thing when you are some years into a project. And yet no writing.

A friend suggested fear of success, which at first seems odd, since I have been so driven for the past few years, but I sat with that thought for a while and I think she is right. Everything seems like it’s about to happen, except that I am not making my part happen.

It doesn’t quite feel like Imposter Syndrome. I don’t feel any doubt about belonging, or feel like I don’t deserve this. I do deserve it. I’m a good writer, and I have been working towards this. I have no doubts about who I am as a writer.

Yet at the same time, I am a kid from Scarborough with immigrant parents; we don’t write books. We get degrees and jobs and marriages and enjoy our outward trappings of success. That’s still me even though it’s not me.

I was thinking about this in the car, getting a bit teary-eyed, and then Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” came on the radio, and I started crying harder since apparently well-placed bubblegum pop music has the power to be emotionally overwhelming.

When I was a teenager, I remember reading Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, which came out sometime in the 90s. It was a major Canadian literary novel, and it contained characters who looked like me. They weren’t exactly like me, since they lived in Mumbai and I’ve only been there on brief visits, and the time period was different. But there was enough familiarity in the novel that it felt like someone was starting to explain my own family to me. Not completely, but the some of the parts around the edges were starting to fill in. There were other authors like this in the 90s. Shyam Selvadurai. Arundathi Roy. Vikram Seth.

I am no Rohinton Mistry. I am not an imposter, I belong, I deserve this, but do I deserve to deserve this? If I feel like an imposter anywhere, it’s not among writers but among those other children of immigrants, born in the suburbs, who went to a good school, got a degree and a marriage and a well-paying career in IT Marketing, and then tossed it all away for a different marriage, a different degree and a burning ambition to not have a job. Who the hell do I think I am, writing a book?

I never actually dreamed of being a writer as a teenager; that idea seemed so wholly unrealistic. This is not one of the five careers South Asian kids are allowed to have. But it’s the dream I would have dreamed if I were allowed to have dreams.

I’m not naive. I know Canlit is not standing out there with arms wide open to welcome a brown girl. We’ve had a number of raging dumpster fires that make that clear. I had one agent reject my book because there were a lot of strong books by South Asian writers recently, and apparently only white people can publish mediocre novels.

Still, I don’t know if there’s a teenager out there who will see themselves in my book, but I know there are some GenX children of immigrants who might What will they think? Are they going to see me as some sort of self-hating ABCD? What happens when people start looking for my life in my book? What if I say something on Twitter and an onslaught of trolls come out of the woodwork to tell me my book sucks?

Will everything change if this all works out? My gut says, no, probably not, but my fear says what if it does?

I am okay if the book comes out and sinks into oblivion. That doesn’t bother me. I’m okay if no one publishes it; that doesn’t mean anything except that publishers make mistakes. The book is good, or at least, it will be. And if it isn’t, the next one will be.

But as long as I don’t actually write it, I never have to face the question of what happens if this succeeds?