Second Draft Terrors

If novel writing is a marathon, then my first draft was running a marathon after years of working on short sprints. In other words, it was exhausting. I don’t know how I did it. Except now I am rewriting the whole thing and have to do it all over again.

Is it any wonder I avoided my second draft for months?

I’m afraid of the work. I’m afraid I am lazy. I’m afraid I am really a short-fiction writer with delusions of novel-writing. I’m afraid that after I write this entire draft I will have to find the fortitude to re-write the entire thing again. I’m afraid I won’t find it.

I’m afraid it all sucks. I am likewise afraid that I am writing something good and not good enough to live up to the task of doing it. I’m afraid that I bit off more than I can chew. I’m afraid that it will be too short because there’s not enough there. I’m afraid I’m not as over my revise-o-phobia as I thought. I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t have the mental will to stubbornly do it anyway.

I’m afraid that my own newfound impatience with other writers for having fears is really impatience with myself. GETOVERIT, Sonal. Write anyway.

I’m afraid that everything I have written here about getting past fear and writing in spite of it reveals me to be a fraud.

I’m afraid that if I don’t get this draft done for my thesis deadline I will be THAT student, and I am also afraid that once I am out of this MFA I will never be able to write anything this long again because there is no deadline pressure or fear of being THAT student. I’m afraid that left to my own devices I will write jack shit.

I’m afraid that my life is too chaotic right now for me to be doing this. I’m afraid that my life will never be less chaotic. I’m afraid that the things I say about the chaos of my life are a weak excuse for not writing because somehow I still find it in me to keep up with Masterchef.

I’m afraid I like discipline. Scratch that, I know I lack discipline. I’m afraid I won’t be able to develop enough to really be a writer.

I’m afraid I’m not really a writer. (There’s a fear I haven’t felt in a while.) I’m afraid I’m just playing at this.

I’m afraid there is no point in talking about any of this because everyone has those fears including the people who write fifteen drafts per novel. (Bastards!)

I’m afraid that I already know better than to get mired up in fear. I’m afraid that I’ve been giving lip service to courage all this time because deep down inside I just don’t have the guts. I’m afraid I’m all talk, no writing. I’m afraid all the magic courage fairy is not coming for me because there is no magic courage fairy.

I’m afraid I should be writing my book instead of this blog.

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Congratulations! You failed!

If there’s anything consistent about the creative life, it’s that you will get rejected. A lot. I’m sure you know that already, but probably, when you first started sending out work, a part of you assumed that wouldn’t apply to you.

The first time I sent out a story, I had this fantasy–we all had this fantasy–that the very next day an editor would send me an email saying “I love this story, and I’d like to publish it and pay you money for it.”  And then I would tell all my friends and family and they would all run out and buy copies and they would all read it and tell me that they loved it and would notice (accurately) where they’d been slyly included in the story and think it a wonderful compliment.  (I had a counter-fantasy where this lead to a big, destructive argument, because it’s a more dramatic ending.)  That would lead to more stories, and some novels and the editor and I would become best friends who talked about my work over chilled white wine in my fabulous back garden.

This is not what happened.  Nor what happened the second time or the third time or the, I don’t know, hundredth time? (And my back garden is literally a pile of mud and debris.)

You get used to rejection, most of the time anyway.  You remind yourself it’s part of the process.  You remind yourself that you’re early in all of this.  But then, one day, it just stings. You’re not always sure why this one particular rejection stings so much, but it does.  And you start thinking “Why am I doing this?”

At that point, all the stuff about love and joy and creativity seems like much bullshit. You wonder, what’s the point of trying if all you do is fail, fail and then fail again.

The thing is, failure is success.

I know this sounds like DoubleSpeak (War is Peace. Failure is Success.) but what failure is, is proof that you tried.  You put yourself out there.  You gave it a shot.

Cold comfort, I know, until you think about how many people are not brave enough to try at all. How many people have a book in their head that they’ve never tried to write.  How many people have stories on their computer that they’ve never shown anyone.  How many people have paged through an old Writer’s Digest to look up places to send work and never sent out anything.

There comes a point in your writing career where sending stuff out starts to feel a bit routine. We forget what an act of vulnerability it is, to share our creative work with the world to be judged, or worse, ignored.  We forget, in the grind of getting stuff out there, that we are being brave.  That the first time we sent anything out we were scared, nervous, terrified and yet at the same time, enormously proud.  “I’m doing it,” we thought.  “I’m on my way.”

You’re still doing it.  You’re still on your way.  Don’t let rejection make you think otherwise.  Success lies in the process, not the results.