Brave or Not Brave? AKA There’s No Light in the Story

Last week, I had a bit of insomnia. I get it periodically, nothing horrible, but where I just lay in bed not sleeping. I may have been exhausted two minutes before, but once my head hits the pillow, the sleepiness disappears (not the tiredness, drat!), and the thoughts & worries come in. Like I said, this bout wasn’t bad. I wasn’t all stressed, or tossing and turning, but just…awake. And thinking.

And I ended up thinking about my WIP.

I wasn’t sure if/when I would post about this. But as usual, I got the nudge I needed from “out there,” or in this case, from Jeannine Atkins, who blogged earlier today about her very special kind of bravery–speaking out. Read the whole beautiful post for yourself, but here’s what got me today:

I was scared to post my new year’s theme of loudness, to risk stating that I want something that I might not be able to achieve. I don’t want to jinx even luck I don’t entirely believe in, don’t want to annoy any listening spirits, who might mock me for sounding greedy. It’s embarrassing to display hopes and make them look big and fabulous and like we mean it.

Yeah. I know. This hit me right over the head, because–yes, I know what I want to do this year. I knew that night, with the insomnia, and it’s only been confirmed in the past few days by the emotions I’ve been feeling about the decision and the pull I’ve been experiencing back toward my writing, a pull that’s been gone for a while. But I wasn’t going to blog about it. Because, what if I’m wrong. What if I look foolish? What if I sound like a rank amateur? What if I’m actually not being brave, but am giving up? Quitting? Wimping out? I’m not afraid of the choice or the change–okay, yes, I am afraid of it, but I’m also excited and relieved and dancing just a little bit. What I was/am really afraid of is stating the new step out loud. Here. In public.

But I’m gonna.

I’m putting the YA Historical  novel (YAH) in a drawer. I have been working on this book for over two years now. I have written a full draft and a half and plotted the thing pretty fully twice. I have changed stories and tried to change characters and tried to play with voice. I have done GOBS of research about people and events I find fascinating and admirable and awe-inspiring. But what I’ve been denying to myself for quite a long time, and what I finally faced up to last night, is in the title of this blog. There is no light in this story for me.

I’m not really talking about the light of hope for the character or the lightness of a humor thread, although both of those are missing, too. I’m talking about the spark of light that, for me, creates the pleasure in the writing, creates the reason for opening the file and doing all that struggling to get things down and get things right. It’s really a spark of love for something that I’m putting on the page. And I can’t find that anywhere in the YAH. When I think about working on this book, I see the story that I thought to tell, and I know it’s a good one. I see the character I imagined, and she is powerful and strong and active. Both the story and that character disappear when I sit down to write about them.

I lay there that night and asked, am I just not trying hard enough. Let me quote Charlie Brown for a minute: AAAAARGH! Yeah, sure, very possibly, I’m not trying hard enough. I’m not sure how I would try harder, though, and the thought of it just makes me feel even more trapped by this book than I already do. Is it just that I’ve taken on more things this year, and a book of this size seems insurmountable? Sure, that’s part of it. Am I not good enough yet to write a historical novel? I sure as heck wouldn’t take odds against that thought. Is YA the wrong age-genre for me? I’m starting to wonder if…yeah? But, honestly, it comes down to the light. Because I believe that, if the light were there, none of those things would matter.

That night, I compared how I’ve been feeling about this book with how I feel about other ones I’ve written or am writing. The books I’ve finished: The middle-grade mystery, my first picture book, and the new Hounds book from Capstone? Oh, yeah, they have the light. Okay, sure, but they’re finished. So of course I love them, right? Well, two are finished but not published, and while they’re getting nice responses, they haven’t been snatched up. I still love them, though, with that feeling that is completely heart-based and absolutely non-cerebral. And how about the other books that aren’t finished, that still need a lot of work before they’re even close to done. Three picture books from last year’s PiBoIdMo that need plenty of revision, and one idea from this year that I still need to draft. Light? Oh, yeah. But every time I pick one up, I feel guilty about spending time with it instead of the YA Historical. Guilt?! SO not an emotion I need to mix in with my writing!

I thought of Debbi Michiko Florence’s YOW (Year of Writing), and I thought, what if I were to give myself a YOWF (Year of Writing Freedom)? What would that be like? And a picture of four brightly colored file folders popped into my mind, laying invitingly on  my desk, ready for me to pick up whichever one I wanted to, on any given day. I pictured my filing cabinet, too, with some ideas that I’ve stashed there over the past two years. One title joined the colored folders on my desk. The boy in it had a name and some problem that was rushing toward him, some problem for which he’d developed a coping mechanism that was causing…problems. An irritating sidekick joined him, and she told me her name. At that point, I got out of bed and dug out a new notebook, because her name was too perfect to risk forgetting. And suddenly I realized that YOWF, for me, was not just about being free to explore these projects, but it was even more the idea of being free from the YA Historical.

Am I actually being brave to make this change, to start going for what I really want? Or am I just being distracted by the sparkle of something bright & shiny? Is this the right choice? Well, if you’re asking me about the future, I have no idea. It’s very possible I’ll get to the end of this year and feel just as miserably unproductive and wrong-pathed as I’ve been feeling up ’til now. But the idea of working on the YAH for another twelve months, on the assumption/hope that it’s the right future decision just feels so completely wrong for my now. I know I haven’t been hating it this whole time I’ve been working on it, but I think if I try to work on it now–tomorrow or next week–I will hate it. So I’m tucking it away

So what WILL I be writing this year? Well, maybe this new idea. Maybe the pb revisions. Maybe something from another file. Maybe something that I haven’t thought of yet. But I am going back to freedom, to writing for the love of what I’m working on. This year, I’m writing for the light.

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6 thoughts on “Brave or Not Brave? AKA There’s No Light in the Story

  1. I think you’re making a good decision here, Becky. It’s true that I worked on Chantress for many years, through many drafts, but it was always the book I wanted to be working on. Without that, it’s hard to keep going. I love the idea of a “Year of Writing Freedom”! Can’t wait to see what you tackle.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Amy. I admit, I do worry that letting this go is letting something go that just needs a bit more persistence. But you said it well–Chantress was the book you wanted to be working on. That’s what I’m looking for this year! Your encouragement means a lot. 🙂

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  2. Becky, that was a beautiful and brave post. Your realization that you need to have a spark–your light–in order to do true justice to your story, and to yourself as a writer, can only be beneficial. Bravo to you for taking the step to do what you need to do for yourself and your career.

    I understand your feelings. I spent a very long time mired in a novel draft that was serviceable and pretty good, but it had become a chore. I began to resent it for taking me away from other idea but, most of all, there was no light. Putting it aside was the best thing I ever did, for me and the story. Perhaps I’ll go back to it, perhaps not.

    You are wise, my friend. I hope your Year of Writing Freedom is filled with light.

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