I just read two wonderful books of historical fiction:
The reading of both of these books was an absolute delight. The books move quickly, not weighed down by too much historical baggage, with the hero’s problems and needs always the main focus. As a reader, I lost myself in both stories and found excuses to put off other work so I could keep reading and keep reading. And as a writer, I kept hearing myself in the background, saying, “Yes! This is what historical fiction should be. This is what I want to do with my story.”
Those were the ups.
The down, of course, was that other voice in the background, still mine, but the variant that isn’t so sure about things. And that voice was saying, “…if I can.”
It’s a big if.
I’m also reading Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path, by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. My friend and critique partner Terri Thayer bought multiple copies of this book after hearing Nancy Pickard talk at a recent writers conferences. She wrapped them up and handed them around the table at our last meeting, because, she said, we all needed the book.
I think she’s right. So far, I’ve only read up to Step 1, Unhappiness, which the authors identify as the stage before you get writing, when–in a not-so-bad case–you’re itching with unreleased creativity, or–in a pretty bad case, you’re depressed and curled up with misery. I don’t think I’m there right now, not full-blown, anyway, but I recognize the stage. Probably you all do. Because in this stage, whether you’re bursting with the need to write or stressing out that you might not be able to, there’s one common factor.
These days, I’m feeling pretty good about my writing. In the “old days,” I typically had one idea at a time and, if that project was going poorly, I faced the big fear that this was all I would ever think of to write and I wouldn’t even be able to do that. For whatever reason these days, I have more ideas than I can juggle, wishing mostly for more time so I could get to all of them.
But…reading these two novels reminded me that the fear can still lurk. The fear that what I want to do with this historical fiction novel I’m working on, the story that I want to tell, may be beyond me. I’ve looked pretty closely at this, and–honestly–I’m pretty sure this feeling is not jealousy. This is one way I’m lucky, I think–when someone creates a thing of beauty, especially out of words, it motivates and inspired ms, rather than making me feel like I should give up. Still, mixed into the pleasure and the awe is that other, less happy emotion.
I honestly know only one way of dealing with this feeling. And that is to look fully head on at the question I’m asking myself.
That question is: “What if I can’t write Caro’s story, not with the strength it deserves, the power I know a book can have? What if I am not a good enough writer?”
I don’t know the answer to that question. Perhaps that’s a good thing. 🙂
What I do know is this: If I stop trying, if I give up, then, no, I won’t be able to write the book. If I quit, then I drop any chance of success that I might hope for.
Pickard and Lott talk about not hiding from the unhappiness; they say the only way to get through it is to recognize and speak it. I would add that there may or may not be a way to get past the fear, but there is a way not to let it beat us. And that is to choose the option of hope. Possibility. The maybe I can. To keep writing.
And, of course, to keep reading. To remind ourselves why we do this, what we are striving for. Thanks, Joyce. Thanks, Laurie.