I can’t possibly be expected to write

In February, I decided my novel was dead. In March, my father suddenly died. In July, I gave birth.

Needless to say, I haven’t written much. In fact, given the struggles with my novel, I haven’t written anything in nearly a year.

I tried. In the beginning, I set deadlines. I made pacts. I kept fizzling out. Then, I was pregnant and was too focused on both staying awake and also not vomiting to write. Then dad died and my focus went towards that. Then came the end of pregnancy and most of my attention was swallowed up by how fucking uncomfortable I was.

I’m now in the sleepy land of newborns and toddlers. When I have time–which is to say, during the hours I spend trapped under a baby–I have Netflix.

There’s something good about not writing because you couldn’t possibly be expected to write, rather than not writing even though you have every opportunity to do so but still don’t, even if you weren’t writing when you had the opportunity anyway. It’s freeing to drop the expectation.

I’ve started thinking about my novel again. Sometime around May, in the midst of all the Game of Thrones critiques about exactly why the final season sucked so much, an idea clicked. It was the same idea I had for my unfinished revision, but I was simply thinking about it differently. It all made sense. Everything was going to work.

I still haven’t written. I still think I can’t possibly be expected to write. Not yet.

Right before my dad died, but after I’d given up on my novel, I had a bunch of writing-adjacent opportunities open up. People were getting in touch with me to talk about writing. I had a few paid readings come up. Some work I was particularly proud of came out in print. It felt like a sign. You’re still a writer, even without this novel.

I still want the novel to be a real live novel. I don’t know if when the day comes there is enough space in my tired brain to write it, that I will still want to write this particular novel. Part of me feels that I am now a better writer than this novel warrants, but perhaps not yet a better novelist. Part of me thinks I need to test that theory by like, you know, actually writing.

I still don’t think I can possibly be expected to write.

Not yet.

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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.