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Facing the Blank Page
Lately, whenever I "finish" a novel I find myself thinking, "I couldn't possibly have written that story. Someone else sat down at my computer and did it for me. How did I make this happen?"
I submitted my first draft of Taken's sequel to my editor about a month and a half ago, and just a few weeks back, I sent a revised version of a stand-alone WIP to my agent. (It's these kind of major milestones—finalized first drafts, revised mss, etc.—that I'm speaking of when I say "finish" a novel.)
Since turning in these projects, I've caught up on a lot of reading, blogging, and emailing, but every time I sit down to write, I stall out. It's not that I don't have an idea. I do. I have three different mss on my desktop that all have somewhere between one and five chapters written but haven't been touched in months. It's not that I'm not inspired. I am. I think about these three potential stories almost daily. I want to be working on them.
The truth is, I'm paralyzed.
I've been trying to figure out why. I think most of it comes from this weird irrational fear that I don't have another story in me. That the ones I wrote so far were flukes. That I got lucky. That there's no way I can bring the magic again. Another part of me thinks I'm just overwhelmed by the fact that I'm standing at the base of a very steep mountain, well-aware of the sweat and tears and hard work that will be necessary to complete a new novel. Having just turned in a refined, polished ms, I know perfectly well how bumpy the road of blank pages will be. I know how many hours I'll have to put in. I know how lost I'll sometimes feel. How many times I'll need to revise before it's even half the story I want it to be.
The silver lining is I know I'm not the only writer that gets this how-did-I-possibly-write-that-last-book-and-how-will-I-ever-write-a-new-one feeling. An established author recently told me she still gets it. Every. Single. Time. She had it starting book two, and she had it starting book twelve.
This is reassuring and also somewhat daunting, but I've found it always helps to talk about these things, because chances are if I'm struggling with it, one of you readers is too.
I know I'll find my stride again. I always do. Sometimes I need to take some time off and just read. Sometimes I need to acknowledge that I'm being a wimp and force myself to sit down, to kill twitter and gmail and force the words onto paper. Sometimes I need to write longhand poetry if only to silence my inner editor and get the words flowing until I fall in love with writing all over again.
Brian Yanksy, one of my agent-siblings, recently wrote a blog post that I think so wonderfully sums up this weird Blank Page Phobia. You can read the full post here, but he said this:
In spite of this initial panic, I do, eventually, get started. I write the only way I know how. One word after another. Sometimes the words fall out of me and sometimes I have to pull them out. Usually they make sentences as awkward as a middle school dance. But eventually one paragraph is made and then another and another...Slowly, a story starts to emerge and once that happens the panic fades and I’m writing.
And gosh, isn't that the truth? You put down one word after another. It really is that simple. And at the same time, this is exactly what makes it so hard. You just have to keep going. Even when you know it's going to be tough. Even though the first draft might be an atrocious, unreadable mess. Because those previous books you wrote weren't flukes, you just didn't stop putting down the words. And when you reached the end, you went back and revised. Again and again and again until it was done.
That's it. Each and every time. One word. Then another. It's not a miracle. It's hard work and a labor of love. I did it before. I can do it again. Many times, actually. I'm pretty sure we all can.
I think I'll go work on a New Shiny now. Happy Writing, everyone! :)