A Terrible Thing has Happened

I did something terrible a few days ago – I started writing a novel.

I’ve only recently become comfortable with the idea that I am, by definition, an author. I continue to struggle with marketing and confidently representing myself and my work, but overall, I’m pretty okay with ‘author’ becoming part of my identity.

The itch to start a new project has been very present recently. I assumed that I would eventually overcome my laziness and start the research for another non-fiction idea I’ve been kicking around. When I think of this idea, I can feel the weight of the undertaking, but there aren’t any overwhelming feelings of anxiety since I’ve proven to myself that I am capable of writing a book.

Unfortunately for me, in a fit of creativity, I have found a fictional story I want to tell. There is nothing inherently negative about this, but there is a catch – I’ve never written anything fictional.

I spent the better part of a day outlining the basic plot and events, and even found a few minutes to start writing. It felt good, and I was proud of myself for starting a new project. This was predictably followed by crushing self-doubt – I have no business writing another book, let alone a fictional one. I then decided that the book was going to be an epistolary novel – a kind of ‘found journal’ thing. Writing in this style allows me to really get into the psyche of the character and grants me the ability to convey that through the character’s writing, but mostly, it seems like a much less intimidating way to write fiction.

I consulted with a couple of people about the idea, and all of them immediately questioned the format. Everyone likes the general premise, and feels like it’s a relatively fresh take on a classic idea, but only if it’s told from an active, first person perspective.

I hear this information, and I know that it’s probably true. Instead of mustering the courage to try and write the opening chapters from that active perspective, I’ve done the necessary mental contortions to convince myself that the story only works if we are reading the main character’s writings. When I step outside of my own doubts, I’m able to recognize that they are right, and I can tell the story in a similar fashion from a first person perspective. But then I see my shadow, and scurry back inside to wrap myself in the warm comfort of self-doubt and familiarity.

I do this because I’m afraid of failing.

At best, I will start writing both versions and see which one is better. At worst, I will write the whole damn thing as a journal and convince myself that it’s good enough, and perhaps it will be. Somehow, that seems better than having to wrestle with the idea that I have a story to tell, but the inability to tell it properly.

This is evidence of my own struggles with self-esteem in its modern incantation, but also the impostor syndrome at work. I feel like an impostor as a writer, because my writing has not been externally validated and over-praised throughout my life. I imagine that there are countless members of my generation that can identify with this feeling. We don’t want to fail, because we all want to continue being special, so we hesitate to do anything new. A more detailed examination of the impostor syndrome’s entanglement with my generation will be reserved for another day.

Whether being aware of my own neurosis will motivate me to start writing with earnest, stepping outside of my comfort zone and attempting to write in a new style, or make it easier to leave the whole project writhing in creative purgatory, only time will tell.

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8 comments

  1. Congratulations. Free advice (and worth every bit of what you pay), don’t over think it. That’s what rewrites are for. Get to know your characters and they will tell you their story. Don’t be surprised when a character wants to take you into an entirely new direction, just go with it. Again, that’s what rewrites are for. And don’t write for the market; the market has no soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sort of an “over the shoulder” view. I read a novel years ago that was something along the lines though your approach sounds very original. I wish I could remember a title or author but alas I waited too long to get serious about writing and age has intruded on memory space.

    Don’t let self doubt slow you down. It took me twenty years to finally finish my first and less than two to write my second and third. Nothing like a flowing stream to unblock an ice dam. Just be sure to write a good car chase or fight scene here and there to keep yourself entertained too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate the encouragement. The more I think about it independently, the more I realize that I’m probably going to write it my way and see how it goes.

      Good call on the car chases for fun – I’ve actually never attempted to write anything excited like that.

      Liked by 1 person

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