Reassessment. Recalibration.

Ahhhh, yes, we’ve finally turned the corner into fall. Autumn, for you purists out there. I love this time of year, when the temperatures drop along with the humidity and the leaves. The heat of summer in the south never fails to sap my patience and energy. It seems like a feat of endurance just to let the days go by. But we’ve made it to October and, now that our epic bout of rain and gloom has moved out, life in general will be more pleasant. Cooler, anyway. We’ve had clear skies for two whole entire days and I’m giddy with it.

Our leaves haven’t started to change yet, so I’m sharing a picture my daughter took in Boston last week. I suspect she’s trying to stave off winter by documenting the landscape sans snow. Can’t say I blame her, after last winter.

I feel somewhat guilty that I haven’t posted for a while, but I’ve been busy. Sometimes I’m quiet over here because I don’t really have anything to say, other times because there’s too much. It’s been the latter, these past couple months. Frankly, I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with things that are not particularly blog-appropriate. Nothing earth shattering, just the normal stuff we all have to deal with and tend not to discuss in public. Proliferation of cat hairballs, neighbours vs. trees, family drama, ongoing physical therapy. The return of the goddamn raccoons to the attic. You know, the usual.

I also seem to have been in a state of re-evaluation. Thinking deep thoughts about how I spend my time and looking seriously at the things that suck up not just time, but also my attention and energy. Deciding whether they’re worth it. Some are, some are not. Debating changes in my life and how to be more productive.

And of course, there’s the writing. That’s been a big part of my deliberation and I’ve been struggling with it. Writing, deleting, writing some more and not liking that either. There have been days, weeks lately when I wonder why I’m doing this and whether I should just stop. But the prospect of not writing is more terrifying than the struggle to write is frustrating. So quitting isn’t really an option, even though I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and am doing it poorly. Feeling like a giant fraud.

Yeah, I know, supposedly this is normal and all writers feel this way, from time to time. Or always. So I guess that’s comforting. But it’s not really much help when you’re the one feeling it.

My brain keeps replaying a conversation with my older sister after she read the novella I published. There was a note of surprise in her voice when she said, “It was really pretty good. There were parts when I forgot you were the one who wrote it.”

“You mean like it was written by someone who knew what they were doing?”

“YES. EXACTLY.”

So, clearly, not me.

*sigh*

That has got to be the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever received. Well, about writing anyway. She didn’t mean it that way. My older sister has been nothing but supportive of my writing efforts. One might even say she’s been bossy about it. But I can’t help remembering her saying that — even though it’s not the only thing or even the biggest thing chipping away at my confidence lately, not by a long shot — and it reinforces this feeling that I really don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. And after all these years of effort, of learning and practicing, that’s disheartening.

So I was hesitant, to say the least, when an unpublished writer friend asked me to give her feedback on a manuscript. Although . . . now that I stop and think about it, she didn’t ask. I pretty much insisted she let me read it once she was done editing.

Geez. Talk about bossy. This was back at the start of summer and probably I was high on prescription pain meds at the time. That’s my excuse anyway.

But by the time she sent it to me a couple weeks ago, all that hubris had disappeared and I was in the midst of feeling worthless and fraudulent and talentless. And pitiful, let’s not forget pitiful. [cue tiny violin] I doubted whether I’d have anything remotely useful or insightful to say. It took me almost an entire week to even open the document.

Then I started reading. And let me tell you, while she might be at the early stage of writing where you inevitably make a few minor rookie mistakes, this friend of mine can write. Honestly, that was a small part of my reluctance, the concern that maybe she wasn’t very good after all and I wouldn’t know what to say. A very small part, because I’ve known this woman for years and, even though she only recently admitted she was writing fiction, I could tell she was a writer. A terrific writer with a voice that’s perfect for historical romance, which is what she’s writing.

But I also realized something else, while reading her manuscript. I DO know something about writing fiction. I know quite a lot about writing fiction. I was able to tell her what was working and what wasn’t, and specifically why. I think I gave her some coherent feedback that will help make a good story stronger. She might not agree with me, and that’s fine. It’s her story.

So I’m relieved by that realization, but also frustrated. Why does it have to be so fucking impossible to have this kind of clarity about my own writing? Why does it take reading someone else’s manuscript to see my own mistakes and strengths, to be reminded of what I know and realize that I might not be totally screwing things up in my own writing? Does this ever get easier?

Probably not.

There’s a huge difference between reading for pleasure and reading with the intent of giving feedback. If you’re a writer, I suggest you give it a try, if you haven’t. Provided you can find a willing victim. You’ll pretty quickly figure out what you know and don’t know, based on the type of feedback you’re able to offer. You might even realize you know more than you thought you did.

But there’s also a difference between being able to see what is or isn’t working in a story and being able to put that into practice. A difference between being a good reader and a good writer. It’s all about the execution.

So, I’m struggling, with all sorts of things, and I imagine I’ll continue to do so. But I will try to get back to blogging more regularly. Now that fall is here and I’m feeling more human. Perhaps The White Ninja will cooperate and do something blog-worthy.

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Or perhaps not. Don’t anyone hold your breath.

 

9 Comments

Filed under deep thoughts, health and well-being, writing

9 responses to “Reassessment. Recalibration.

  1. Merry, who is practicing the subtle approach to hinting delicately

    I think it makes perfect sense that you can’t see the issues in your own writing. It’s your creation, your baby as it were. (Um… not really. Your babies were perfect on the first draft, while manuscripts rarely are.)

    But I’m a little concerned with that tagline. You’re not really thinking of quitting because you don’t have clarity about your writing, are you? I hope you don’t stop writing. I like reading good books and there aren’t enough around. And I have read your stuff before. It’s good. (I’m not just saying that. No, really. I’m not.)

    Maybe you could have someone else read your manuscript? And after they tell you what parts they liked and what parts they didn’t, you can curse them for a fool, shake your fist, mutter imprecations, and then rewrite it the way you and only you want it to be written.

    It doesn’t have to be perfect.

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  2. “It doesn’t have to be perfect.” — Yep. Merry, I think you nailed it right there. I need to stop worrying about whether it’s “perfect,” or even particularly good, and just get it done. I’ve been overwhelmingly stressed about so many other things lately, I’ve lost sight of the fact that what I’m writing is pure and simple entertainment. And while I think fiction as entertainment is really important and necessary, there’s no need for it to be perfect. Even if someone could define what that means.

    And no, I’m not going to quit (although I DO think about it, often). Sometimes I just need to vent frustration, realize how silly and pitiful I sound, and get back to work. Thank you for the pep talk. It helps.

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  3. CMS

    I just had a similar conversation with two writer friends yesterday. None of us have objectivity about our own writing. We need external editors. We need readers. Often our reaction to their feedback tells us much about our writing as their suggestions. You’ll be surprised how much you know.. keep writing. You’re good at it.

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  4. MinO

    It the midst of chaos, it is important to remind yourself that you do KNOW stuff. Stuff good enough, valuable enough to share with others. It is OK to cut yourself some slack and give up on the drive for perfection. During the drama/trauma/obstacle course staying up right and moving at all is more than good enough. All those things you would say to another are right and true for you too.

    It is always easier to see the way through the work of another than it is to see through your own. You treated your friend to honesty and respect in regards to her work. Others may be willing to do that for you. The buddy system in action.

    Congratulations on putting fingers to keyboard ( and yes I first typed “pen to paper”) and putting your frustration outside your head and home. When life sucks the most it is very difficult to reach out to others.

    (And remember – I am a reader and an editor not so much a writer . . . so read between these lines for the intent. I should have drafted this after eating the ice cream and before the sugar coma! But, forward is the only way for all of us even in the messiest days.)

    If you write it, we will read it! Keep going.

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  5. CMS, I know I’m not the only writer who feels this way, but when I’m stuck in my own head it’s hard to remember that. Thank you.

    MinO, now I want ice cream! Thank you for the reminder to be good to myself (especially when life seems determined to beat up on me). I know darn well I’m my harshest critic and forget sometimes that other people have faith in me. That means so much, really, there are no words. 💕

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  6. CBPen

    Dammit, James, you’re a writer, not a perfectionist!!!! 😉

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  7. *snort* Thanks for the laugh McCoy, Pen!

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  8. rssasrb

    You are a very good writer and I enjoy your writing. I understand completely what you have been going through and identify with much of it. But daggone it woman, you can WRITE and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

    Ain’t no such thing as perfect so quit beating yourself up for not achieving it. (I’m telling myself this too.)

    Autumn—I love it too and am thoroughly enjoying the cooler weather. Our leaves have finally begun changing. It seemed that overnight this weekend we went from summer green to falls palate of beautiful colors. At least this year we don’t seem to be going from green to brown with no stops in between.

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  9. Thank you, RSS. I should really know better than to write a blog post when I’m feeling so pitiful. It’s just so frustrating, when you KNOW so much about writing but can’t seem to manage to DO it. Or not do it well, anyway. I’m trying to be kinder to myself on that score.

    The leaves are finally starting to turn here. I was beginning to wonder whether we’d have one of those green-to-brown seasons this year too. Speaking of good writers . . . now that your son’s wedding is over, when can we expect some fiction from you?

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