Friday, September 23, 2005

I Think I Can, I Think I Can...

I feel a lot like The Little Engine That Could these days, hoping to overcome a mountain of self doubt as I try to convince myself that my writing doesn't suck and that it's fully worth my time and effort to launch yet another novel project, knowing it will consume huge amounts of my time and energy over the next bunch of months. It shouldn't be that hard because I love to write and I have plenty of exciting stories and characters in my head just waiting to be committed to paper (or maybe I'm the one who needs to be committed??). The hardest part should be deciding which story to work on next...and that is hard, but not for the reasons it should be.

I just spent the better part of a year completing my latest novel. It's a story I carried around in my head for several years and I was anxious to get to it as the premise, the plot, and the characters fascinated me. I felt, and still feel, it has great market potential. I approached it with high enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoyed the journey of writing it, except for that mid-book slump phase where working on any book feels about as exciting as writing a research paper on dirt. It's a great story, one I truly believe has potential.

I think.

Self doubt keeps creeping in. Who am I to determine what is or isn't good, what does or doesn't have potential? My taste in things has always been a bit off plum and while I sometimes agree with the masses, I just as often find myself part of a very small minority. My doubts aren't helped by the fact that the novel is currently trapped somewhere in submissions purgatory, bits and pieces of it spread about New York in hopes of finding a fan somewhere in the literary world. It has already been rejected by a handful of agents, and while those rejections were softened by some very kind and flattering feedback in a couple of cases, my skeptical side can't help but wonder if those agents really meant what they said about the book and the writing, or if they were merely being kind.

I'm realistic enough to know the book may never find any home other than a shelf in one of my closets. But acknowledging that on an intellectual level is a hell of a lot easier than accepting it on an emotional level. It's hard to justify spending the better part of a year on a project that may never see the light of day, particularly when it's a labor of love. And all of my books are. I wouldn't write them otherwise.

All this musing and self doubt makes it hard to begin my next book, knowing I may be sitting here a year from now thinking I've just wasted another chunk of my life and committed myself to the wrong project. But I've begun it nonetheless...several times in fact. I keep searching for that perfect launching pad, the right tone in the narrative, the right feel to the characters. I know a lot of writers who recommend just jumping in and writing, not worrying about the beginning until you're well into the story. But I can't do that. I need to play with the beginning until I get just the right mix of story, tone, and character. It's a getting-to-know-you stage, a required step for me if I'm to attain the right level of commitment, zeal, and enthusiasm for the project. I can't always define what it is that makes the beginning right, but I know it when I see it.

And yesterday I saw it. So I'm off and running, trying to push aside all thoughts of my other child, who is doing the literary equivalent of trying to find a prom date, and trying to ignore all my self doubt and fears. Because I have to; not writing isn't a choice for me. And even if none of my books are ever published again, I will continue wasting a year here and a year there, visiting with the stories and characters living inside my head. Because that childhood mantra from The Little Engine That Could has been a guiding force throughout my life: I think I can.


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