When it comes to writing, my fears are your fears.
And Mary Ann’s, it turns out.
And Carmela’s, too.
And April’s and Jean Marie’s and likely JoAnn’s.
WHAT IF I do set out to write my story?
…I really can’t write this book?
…I really can’t tell this story?
…my storyline’s been done already at least a thousand times?
…my characters lack life?
…not one reader will care?
…and neither will my editor?
…I really can’t write period?!
each and every English teacher who taught me K through 12 had reason to not even suggest I someday pursue writing?
Just who exactly do I think I am anyway?
Lois Lowry? Maybe Karen Hesse?
Since I began writing for children in earnest, not once have I come to a work-in-progress when all of the above fears didn’t whistle, wink and wave.
And now they’re doing so again, noticeably and often, since I declared my Fall return to my abandoned middle grade novel in verse.
My character Lissy Lev has made herself known, loudly: my heart and my head are big enough, she tells me, to accommodate her story, along with those of the writers I teach and coach.
Give her but one hour a day, she promises, and she and I will be on our way.
This particular story’s time-on-task bests Mary Ann’s current work-in-progress by about 12 years.
I first came at it in the early 90’s, writing the story as an early chapter book.
It’s undergone various iterations, formats, settings, time-lines and all sorts of sub-plots while I circled its heart.
My Writer’s Fears tried, with each and every passing, to rise on their haunches and turn me back.
Fortunately, I kept on; I knew to do what my fellow TeachingAuthors do.
I educated myself – on craft, format, genre, setting.
I hung with talented, caring writers.
I conferenced and submitted and studied my rejections.
This time, though,
after so many years of not writing fiction,
I could feel those Fears whistling Dixie.
last week I did what I recommend my writers and students do.
(What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.)
I remained quiet, re-reading each and every successive draft with its accompanying notes, from 1991 through to 2007.
Then I sat still, remembering the Moment I truly connected with my character, when author Amy Timberlake asked an audience of writers, “What book would you be writing if you knew you had time to write but one?”
Next I studied the words Lissy Lev wrote in 2004, to introduce me to my fellow Paris Retreaters. I repeated her reasons why I must tell her story.
I also spent time paging through Louisa May Alcott’s Diary, Letters and Journals as Lissy does throughout my novel.
Finally, I paid attention to all the Universe was delivering.
In last Saturday’s Chicago Tribune, one of my favorite columnists, Mary Schmich, quoted Steve Jobs’ now-famous Stanford speech: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
Sunday’s Chicago Tribune included an interview with the remarkable Chicagoan Sue Duncan whose eponymous after-school center has immeasurably helped thousands of children: “You do what you can with the time you’ve got.”
Monday’s Chicago Tribune paid tribute to yet another one of my favorite writers, author Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, on the sad occasion of her early death. Her husband remarked, “She would spend years on a book, distilling it, and when she sat down to write, she said it was like watching a movie. It was all there. It came out fully formed.”
Yesterday, through Publisher’s Lunch, I linked to another favorite’s – Ann Patchett’s – book, What Now? and read how she “learned to transfer the contents of her heart onto a piece of paper.”
When it comes to what to do with those Writer’s Fears, I finally realized:
the question isn’t, What if I do write?, its blanks begging to be filled.
The question is truly, What if I don’t?
Louisa May Alcott said it all:
“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my own ship.”