Okay, so I’ve had the kind of crazy weekend that makes me want to lie down for a few days just to absorb it all. Major shifting of patterns and stuff. Some good, some bad, but all for the greater good, I think.
So it started last Thursday when I had my session with Joely Black, The Most Excellent Writing Coach, who is not only the most generously supportive coach on the planet, but who can also do a kick-ass Cartman impression.
Anyway, we’re having the session, and she asks me if I want to talk about my characters, which is pretty great, really, because she lets me lead the sessions. If I want to talk about characters, that’s what we talk about, but I can also choose to talk about plot, or writing, or other blocks I have. She’s flexible, and that makes me think I can be, too.
But, my intention was to talk about the idea of identity and how I think I need to change–or maybe reframe–how I approach my writing and how I think of myself as a writer.
Instead, I heard myself say, “Yeah. I want to talk about my characters, but I want to say something that’s really hard, so give me a minute.”
There was a soft and supportive “Okay” on the other end of the line.
I took a deep breath and I began to tell her what I’ve been thinking lately regarding my characters and my process, mostly that I just need to write the scenes that I’m interested in first, and trust that the rest of the story will unfold from there.
For several months now–I know. I’m slow. It’s all good–I’ve been thinking that I need to sit down and write the really important scenes, the scenes that gave me the idea for this book in the first place, the scenes where my characters come up against their greatest fears, or find out some awful secret or whatever. There’s really only a half dozen or so of them, but they’re the scenes that really pull me to the story.
And I’ve been thinking that maybe I should just trust that if those are the scenes that gave me this story idea in the first place, that they’ll take me where I need to go to tell it.
But I haven’t allowed myself to write them. I mean, I won’t know the details! I won’t know what to write! I’ll have to change stuff later! I’ll get it wrong!
And so we get to the heart of the matter–I can’t get it wrong. I can’t make a mistake. Ever.
And because the stakes are so high, and because my childhood bar for excellence is so ridiculously unattainable, “getting it wrong” means “getting it anything less than perfect.”
I can’t delete stuff. I can’t do it the Wrong Way. I need to do it right the first time.
Part of the reason that I’ve been ignoring this niggling thought at the back of my head is because I really think that this is my process, not just for these few scenes, but for the whole book. Dive into the scenes I care about and before long, the other scenes will crop up. I’ll write those, and before I know it, I’ll have pieced together the entire story, the whole book, just from those first few scenes.
So why am I not doing that?
Because if I jump in and it doesn’t work, I’ve got nothing left. I’ve got nothing left to fall back on.
I’ve tried every other process on the planet. I’ve read a hundred books on how to write, which is both enormously helpful and incredibly damaging. I’ve learned a lot, including lots of ways to avoid listening to myself. If I do whatever someone else tells me to do and it doesn’t work, then I have someone to blame. Then it’s not me who’s completely fucked it all up.
And I’m in the middle of telling Joely all of this when I realize something else: the reason I’m telling her this now is because I want her to tell me that this way is The Right Way. I’m telling her that I think I need to start with these scenes that I love and somehow trust that the rest of the book will follow because I want her to validate it for me.
Then I realize that Joely might not know what’s right for me. Even with all her experience and brilliance, even with seventeen books and all her self-awareness and writing talent, and the fact that she knows more about Buddhism than anyone else I’ve ever met outside another religion major, she still doesn’t know what my process should be.
And that’s when things finally clicked into place.
And I said, “You know, I think I told you all of this because I wanted you to tell me that it was Okay for me to do this, but you know what, Joely? (clears throat and coughs) I…I don’t care what you think.”
There was silence for about half a second.
And then wild cheering and applause from Manchester. “Yaaaay! You’re there! You’re getting it!” And then we laughed together and she cheered for me some more and I rested my head on my desk because slaying dragons is exhausting.
And I’m just trying to settle into this idea. I know I should probably just start writing, but it’s hard. I’m taking it slow. And really, I don’t have a lot of time right now. I’m slammed with website work. It’s funny, I start opening myself to my writing and my process and all of a sudden, my website business is taking off.
It’s good. I’m beginning to believe that things are going to be Okay, even if I don’t yet know what Okay is going to look like.
I’m excited about this week. I don’t have a lot of time, but I’m going to treat myself to writing those favorite scenes. Did you hear that? “Treat myself.” That’s what it is. I might not write the whole book this way. This might not lead to more scenes. I may write these few and the rest will just fizzle out, or I might write myself into a big, black hole, but that’s okay. I’m just not going to worry about that right now.
Right now, I’m just going to write what I want to, what I care about. And I’m going to do it as well as I can. And next week? Well, I’ll worry about that next week.