There is this collective wisdom among many novelists that one should write through to the end. In my mind this means–get to the finish line and then worry about figuring out what you have created. Only after typing the last sentence should you angst about discovering your theme, and maybe what your true beginning should be, as well as continuity issues. You have–and probably do have–entire chapters that are unnecessary. The second draft is not usually about fine-tuning so much as about hacking. An axe may be necessary.
This counsel resonates with me. I have several–okay, maybe more than several–starts on something where I have the first ten pages, sixty pages, even one hundred pages and have obsessively worked on the beginning without plowing through to the end. Obviously, none of these WIPs are published. And while they all feature some writing that I’m proud of, none of them are ready to show anyone other than a few trusted readers. Why? Well, because I haven’t gotten to the end, which means they haven’t gone through the full drafting process, which means I don’t know my characters well enough, which means that the story world is populated by ghosts, figuratively speaking. In other words, my characters don’t always have enough substance because I haven’t loaded them up with enough backstory. Yet.
The old get-to-the-end trick seems to work. Sorry, as much as I hate to admit it, you’re only going to publish novels that you finish. Rats. I really wish that there were some way out of that one. Even my dreams know this.
You see, I had a dream last week where I was lumbering up this huge mountain and it was really exhausting. Switch backs, a heavy pack and then it was icy cold outside. I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave, even though the scenery was filled with magnificent sweeping vistas of snow-topped peaks.
But in my dream there was this voice, the voice of one of my best friends, going, “you can do it! There is abundance. All of the riches are there.” And that voice, that cheering, positive voice kept me going. I hated the switchbacks and the heavy pack full of equipment and not being able to feel my toes, but I remember thinking—I can do this.
Well, obviously, my dream was telling me to keep on believing, to keep on trudging through my manuscript, that the writing journey won’t be easy but it will be worth it. Furthermore, I have anxiety about being out in the open wild. In fact, I have only taken two serious backpacking trips, and during one of them when I got close to being above the alpine level, I remember panicking about not having enough water and every ten minutes I wanted to fill my canteen with water from a meandering stream. I desperately needed my canteen to be always full, which drove my then boyfriend crazy. I didn’t have faith that when my canteen was low I would be able to find adequate water (even though we were following a stream!). And then when I set my pack down to refill my water for the 99th time, a huge black bear prowled up next to me and trundled off with my pack.
I was petrified, of course. The great big bear seemed to manifest all of my fear. But my boyfriend didn’t carry around a backpack of fear. Nope, he heaved a big rock at the bear and actually got him (I’m only assuming it’s a him) to drop the pack. I got it back, filled with a little bit of bear drool and one claw mark.
Now I’d like to tell you that after this up-close-and-personal experience with bravery (foolhardy as it might have been), I changed my ways. I didn’t shoulder my fear from that moment onward. Sorry, it didn’t work that way. I became even more riddled with anxiety and I made my boyfriend promise that we could camp for a night or two and turn around and Not trek to the top of the mountain (a peak near Mt. Whitney).
So what did I learn? Well, that I can manifest fear and successfully not make it to the top. And I learned my lesson well. For years, I successfully started my novels only to turn around when the going got tough.
But I did finally finish a book. For about seven years I worked on this idea of completion and when I completed my WIP, I made my first sale. Not on the book that I completed actually but on the promise of another book. The editor liked my voice so much that while he did not buy my middle grade novel, he auditioned me for a chapter book series, and that’s how I got my first big break. And the great thing about getting a contract on six books you have not yet written is that someone out there believes you can do it. That editorial voice cheering me on allowed me to finish my work because of the faith in my abilities. We all need to believe we can do it. And if we believe—as corny as it may sound—that we can do it, we can. There will always be challenges along any journey, and anxiety will always manifest when we doubt our abilities to meet a challenge. And that’s okay, momentarily. Admit your fear, then say goodbye to your worries and shoulder on up that road.