After writing six full manuscripts, I thought I understood the process of writing a novel. I could finish a manuscript. I knew about the highs and lows of writing, about those days when driving bamboo shoots beneath my fingernails would have been easier than pounding out a hundred words.
That was old news. I had it under control.
But then something happened. I began a novel, got through twenty pages and choked. What was I thinking writing this? It was a terrible idea! I was insane to think that I could actually continue with it. The writing was all wrong, the voice forced.
Besides, I had a better idea. So I started over. I wrote another twenty pages. The idea died. Suddenly I couldn’t go on. I didn’t know where to go from there; in fact I wasn’t even sure it was worth pursuing.
I began to panic. I needed time off from writing, I said. I just needed to relax, to focus on other things, to distract myself.
Weeks went by. Months. I hadn’t written a novel. I wasn’t working on a manuscript and I began to feel useless. I couldn’t write and I couldn’t understand why this was happened. Never before had I encountered this kind of death of the muse.
The panicking continued. I was stiff, I doubted my ability. Was I wrong? Was my dream to become published over? Was I really about to give up?
Had I lost my ability to write?
So here it is; the cheesy Finding Nemo reference. You knew it was coming.
I’d become Marlin. I’d dropped the ball and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it again. It was a doomsday scenario in my mind; I’d lost my ability to write and now my dream was over. OVER! All hope was lost.
To my credit, I sat down and started again. I only got through a chapter this time before I got stuck. I choked back the frustration bubbling up inside me and smothered the need to run outside and scream at the sky. I waited a few days and went back to the opening chapter. I didn’t want to abandon this idea too, there was something there. An energy waiting to be harnessed, a spark, something.
But the fear was overwhelming me. It smothered my inspiration and strangled every idea.
It’s not that the writing was bad; in fact I thought there were some pretty good moments. I was just scared. Afraid that this one would end up like the others, tossed away into the depths of my hard drive. I began to realize that the problem wasn’t in the story. It was me.
I was the problem, because I was afraid.
You see, I’d written six manuscripts, but I’d never been published. I’d gone through the motions, the editing, the researching, the query letters and synopsis, the rejection letters, the crying. I’d run through the process so many times I dreamt about it, but it all ended the same way: sorry, but this isn’t for us.
What I needed was to keep going. Sometimes you need to get past the fear and delve into the murky depths. Yes it may be dark, and yes you may feel uncertain and alone, but just keep swimming.
You’ll find the shore sooner than you think.
Question time! What do you do when the fear gets overwhelming?